‘Our institution failed’: Schlissel responds to Philbert investigation report

Monday, August 3, 2020 - 12:26pm

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Allison Engkvist/Daily

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel responded to the WilmerHale report on allegations of sexual misconduct against former University Provost Martin Philbert in an email to the University community early Monday. Schlissel specifically addressed the report’s finding that an April 2019 faculty survey of his performance contained a comment alleging Philbert as “a notorious sexual predator, physically cornering and emotionally coercing his female graduate students in his toxicology lab.”

“As part of the WilmerHale investigation, I provided access to all of my documents for their review,” Schlissel wrote. “It was in those materials where they discovered something I had missed in 2019 – an anonymous allegation of misconduct by Philbert. I sincerely regret that. Had I seen it, I would have reported it immediately to the Office for Institutional Equity for evaluation.”

The report did not find that Schlissel, or anyone in the Office of the President, had knowledge of the comment about Philbert in the survey. In its analysis, the report said the survey is not a reporting channel.

“However, the AEC survey is a way for faculty to make statements to senior officials, and the premise of the upward evaluation process is that the official being reviewed will receive and read those statements,” the report read. 

The report found an April 2019 email in which Schlissel encouraged administrators to review their comments. 

“I also want to encourage all administrators being evaluated to take the feedback received from the faculty survey seriously, as it provides an important perspective on the work of the university,” Schlissel wrote.

In Monday’s email, Schlissel condemned Philbert’s behavior as “awful” and wrote that the University, as an institution, “failed to properly and effectively address earlier reports of Philbert’s misconduct despite our often-stated values.”

Schlissel apologized to those affected by Philbert’s misconduct and “for our institution’s failings.”

“The university has fallen far short of creating a culture that rejects harassment and misconduct and ensures that no one in our community fears retaliation for reporting,” Schlissel wrote. “What kept coming through to me was how many people were badly hurt by Philbert’s behavior, but also how afraid they were about coming forward.”

Schlissel acknowledged and thanked community members who spoke to investigators and wrote that the report’s recommendations could be implemented into new policies and procedures soon. Recommended changes include a standalone policy for consensual relationships between employees, stronger reporting avenues and review of OIE investigations. The report also recommended more robust vetting processes for both internal and external candidates applying to University positions. 

“The Board (of Regents) and I, along with the appropriate units, are reviewing the recommendations carefully, and I will report back soon with a way forward on these important issues,” Schlissel wrote. “We will also have to look beyond these recommendations at additional ways we can make our environment safe for all and free from sexual misconduct and harassment.”

As many people in the report declined to file official complaints against Philbert due to fear of retaliation, Schlissel wrote the University needs to “support and empower” those who report misconduct.

“The university also needs to develop ways to better capture and, when appropriate, act on anonymous reports and information we receive from those who do not wish to file a formal specific complaint,” Schlissel wrote.

Summer News Editor Calder Lewis can be reached at calderll@umich.edu.