Regents fire David Daniels for sexual misconduct, address COVID-19 outbreak in virtual meeting

Thursday, March 26, 2020 - 9:41pm

University President Mark Schlissel speaking at the Board of Regents Meeting at the University golf course Thursday, September 20.

University President Mark Schlissel speaking at the Board of Regents Meeting at the University golf course Thursday, September 20. Buy this photo
Danyel Tharakan/Daily

The Board of Regents held its second meeting of the year remotely on Thursday to vote on firing David Daniels, a former Music, Theatre & Dance professor accused of sexual misconduct, and address the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on University of Michigan operations. All Regents and public commenters called in online and the meeting was live-streamed.

Early in the meeting, University President Mark Schlissel asked the Board to take note of his recommendation to dismiss Daniels without severance for allegations of sexual misconduct. The Board voted unanimously to dismiss Daniels without severance.

“I have determined that Professor Daniels’ conduct is inconsistent with the character of tenure at the University of Michigan and therefore constitutes cause for dismissal,” Schlissel said. “I therefore recommend the dismissal of Professor Daniels from his tenured position at the University of Michigan, effective immediately.”

Daniels has been on leave from the University since allegations of sexual assault were made public in August 2018. A Michigan Daily investigation found that the University awarded Daniels tenure in May 2018 despite having knowledge of allegations against him. The University began the process of formally firing Daniels in July 2019.

Before voting to dismiss Daniels, the Regents allowed public commenters who signed up to comment on the motion to speak first. All three speakers spoke out against the charges against Daniels. 

Stephanie Blythe, professional opera singer, said students and colleagues have praised Daniels for supporting other artists and the University would be making a mistake by dismissing him.

“I ask the members of the Board of Regents to look at David Daniels as a separate entity from the well-publicized difficult history the University has had with actual criminal acts in the recent past,” Blythe said. “Those acts should not cast a shadow on David’s case and I hope the University will recognize the distinction … The U of M family has a terrific opportunity here to rehabilitate a relationship with a wonderful teacher who can still be a credit to their legacy as well as his own. Please help to stop this reprehensible juggernaut of injustice, which is based on nothing but lies and deceit.”

Nicholas Phan, Music, Theatre and Dance alum and lyric tenor, also said the dismissal was part of a double standard applied to LGBTQ+ faculty members and criticized the rush to dismiss the tenured professor.

“There has been zero exploration of alternative possibilities or remedies,” Phan said. “It’s crystal clear why there is this discrepancy — Daniels is an openly gay man. In a moment where the #MeToo movement has made such important progress bringing light to hidden predatory behavior we cannot allow false allegations poisoned with homophobia to undermine these gains.”

Schlissel said he was grateful for how the University responded to rapid changes and adjustments in operations. In response to the spread of the coronavirus, Schlissel canceled all in-person classes on March 11 and shifted the University to remote learning formats online. Most University facilities have also reduced operations in accordance with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order since Monday, March 23.  

“While the pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on our community, the response of our community members has exceeded the extraordinary,” Schlissel said. “So I want to take time right now to thank the entire UM family - our students, faculty, staff and supporters, the UM parents that expressed their concern, not only for their children, but for all students. The faculty who moved to remote instruction in a matter of days, and have worked tirelessly to preserve or advance their research… and of course the health professionals on the front lines fighting this epidemic, and literally saving lives in our hospitals and clinics.”

Schlissel updated the community on the University’s response to COVID-19. According to Schlissel, Michigan Medicine launched in-house testing for the disease and the labs are processing results for up to 60 specimens with same-day results. These processes are increasing the number of patients that can be diagnosed, Schlissel said. 

Additionally, interns from the College of Pharmacy developed hand sanitizers for Michigan Medicine and Michigan Human Resources groups created special paid time off banks for employees affected by COVID-19.

Marschall Runge, executive vice president of medical affairs, dean of the medical school and CEO of Michigan Medicine, discussed the current status of patients at Michigan Medicine. As of Thursday, the facility had 48 COVID-19 positive adult patients and no pediatric patients. They have 24 patients under investigation for possible COVID-19 infection. Because of the rapid increase in patients, they are increasing capacity by postponing non-essential procedures. However, they also may need to use buildings on campus to treat non-critical COVID-19 patients. 

Schlissel commented on the news from earlier this week that WilmerHale, the independent law firm hired to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against former Provost Martin Philbert, has also been hired to investigate the allegations against the late Robert Anderson, a former University athletic doctor.

“The change in firms will not in any way impede the ability to investigate what happened or compromise the independence of the investigation,” Schlissel said. “WilmerHale will produce a full accounting of the harms caused to former patients by Anderson as well as any institutional failings that allowed him to keep practicing, and that report will be issued to the public and the University simultaneously.”

The Board appointed Susan Collins, a professor of public policy and economics, as interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. It also approved two supplemental appointments: Rebecca Cunningham as vice president for research, who has been acting as the interim VP for the past year, and Martino Harmon as vice president for student life. Harmon is currently the senior vice president for student affairs at Iowa State University. 

Public Comments

Beyond the three public commenters who spoke in support of Daniels, five other individuals called in as well. They discussed an increased need for the University’s support for physician assistants at Michigan Medicine, inequities across the three University campuses and faults with the University’s method of communication for students living in University housing when classes shifted online.

Jill Hasen, committee chair of the United Physician Assistants of Michigan Medicine, spoke about how the group is seeking recognition from the University for the more than 350 physician assistants at Michigan Medicine. She said the PAs are treated differently from nurse practitioners in terms of benefits, compensation and the ability to resolve workplace concerns in an orderly and systematic way despite the fact that the two positions often work closely with one another.

According to Hasen, UPAMM has been meeting with PAs within the institution for more than a year and has created a petition for union recognition that garnered support from the majority of PAs at Michigan Medicine. 

“Our mission is to represent, advocate and serve as the democratic voice for its members - physician’s assistants,” Hasen said. “Through collective bargaining, we will ensure high quality. We strive to achieve a fair work life balance, equity and transparency in a diverse, inclusive, safe and professional work environment. Together we see partnership with the university to contribute to Michigan Medicine’s highest standard of quality patient care.” 

Regents Mark Bernstein, Shauna Diggs and Paul Brown responded positively to Hasen’s comment, thanking her and all of her colleagues for their brave work on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bernstein expressed his support for their unionizing efforts and urged the University to codify a neutral position with respect to organizing.

“Speaking as an individual, I want you to know that I fully support your organizing efforts, and as I’ve said before … I also support the ability of all of our UM employees to determine and certify their bargaining unit in a way that enables workers to obtain the protection of collective bargaining,” Bernstein said. 

Alyssa Treviño, senior at U-M Flint and member of the One University campaign, explained the need for the board to focus on the U-M Flint and Dearborn campuses, especially now with the spread of COVID-19. She said the crisis has and will continue to have a large economic impact on these cities which will cause enrollment and retention to suffer.

“This is why now, more than ever, investment in the Flint and Dearborn campuses must be made,” Treviño said. “This is not an issue that can be set aside for later discussion, because it is ultimately tied with the situation at hand, and it is the responsibility of one of the wealthiest public institutions in the nation to support its mission of serving the residents of the state of Michigan.”

LSA freshman Dominic Coletti criticized the way the University Housing office communicated with students about adjustments in operations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who were still living in University housing received an email on March 17 asking students to justify their reasons for staying in under 24 hours, leading many to believe they had to move out by the next morning. A follow-up email later clarified that students were not required to move out on March 18. 

“The simple lack of understanding, the tone of the email and how it would be read by students who are justifiably concerned about their living situation is irresponsible in a time of crisis,” Coletti said. “I would hope the University, in going forward, looks at every communication it sends out and ensures that every word, every phrase, every sentence is clear and provides the best possible guidance.”

Daily Staff Reporters Parnia Mazhar and Arjun Thakkar can be reached at parniam@umich.edu and arjunt@umich.edu