Who is Martin Philbert, the U-M provost placed on leave for sexual misconduct allegations?

Wednesday, January 22, 2020 - 10:00pm

University of Michigan provost Martin Philbert was placed on administrative leave following several allegations of sexual misconduct.

University of Michigan provost Martin Philbert was placed on administrative leave following several allegations of sexual misconduct. Buy this photo
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University of Michigan Provost Martin A. Philbert, executive vice president of academic affairs, was placed on administrative leave on Jan. 21 following several allegations of sexual misconduct.

According to an email sent to the campus community by University President Mark Schlissel, these allegations were first reported to University administration on Jan. 16, prompting a three-day investigation by an outside law firm and the Division of Public Safety and Security before Philbert was placed on leave on Jan. 20. 

In a message to The Daily, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen confirmed Philbert will continue to be paid while on leave “following our normal process that is afforded all employees.”

He is one of several University officials in the last few years to face scrutiny for sexual misconduct, following allegations against School of Music, Theatre & Dance professors Stephen Shipps and David Daniels last school year.

As provost, Philbert is the second-highest ranking University administrator and earns about $570,000 a year. In this position, he serves as both the chief academic officer and the chief budgetary officer. Philbert primarily works with Schlissel to set academic goals for the University and allocate funds towards them. 

All school deans report to Philbert, as he oversees the University’s 19 schools and colleges as well as several interdisciplinary centers across the University. Prior to his appointment as provost in 2017, Philbert served as dean for the School of Public Health.

Typically, the Office of Institutional Equity handles cases of sexual misconduct, but this office reports to Philbert and the Office of the Provost. In the email sent Wednesday afternoon, Schlissel said the reporting line for all matters related to investigations surrounding Philbert will be directed to Richard S. Holcomb, associate vice president for human resources. It is unclear what will happen to pending OIE investigations. 

“The U-M Board of Regents and I are committed to a full and thorough investigation, and we will continue to work to ensure the integrity of the process, following the same policy and practices that apply to all employees at U-M. It remains early in the investigation, and no findings or conclusions have been reached,” Schlissel wrote.

OIE began directly reporting to Philbert instead of the University Human Resources and the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in September 2019 to streamline OIE processes. Since then, he has faced questions about the length and effectiveness of the investigative process. 

At a November 2018 meeting of Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, Philbert responded to criticism of OIE investigations, defending the process by which the office handled misconduct cases.

“I’ve heard concerns about the length of time it takes to complete some OIE investigations,” Philbert said. “We’re always working to ensure that those investigations are fair, thorough and timely.”

During Philbert’s time as provost, the University Board of Regents approved mandatory sexual misconduct training for all faculty and staff. At the September 2018 meeting, Philbert applauded these initiatives and encouraged education as the best means to prevent future misconduct.

“The University’s mission of education, research and service requires that every member of our community feels welcomed, valued and able to work free from the threat of sexual misconduct,” Philbert said. “Sexual misconduct is a very serious matter, something that we seek to prevent and that we are committed to addressing immediately and effectively should it occur. Our work to prevent and address such misconduct begins with education.” 

In the fall semester, Philbert was also involved in organizing a faculty group to look into amending the bylaws on dismissal and severance pay of tenured faculty. These groups were formed following controversy around the ongoing process of firing Daniels. Since being placed on paid leave in August 2018, Daniels has made over $100,000 in salary from the University.

At an October 2019 SACUA meeting, Philbert said amending the bylaws was necessary to react more promptly to faculty wrongdoing. 

“We have to be very careful and thoughtful, and quickly amend the bylaws to protect tenure and to protect our faculty and to protect society from the bad behavior that is frequently in the headlines,” Philbert said. 

At a 2017 reception held in honor of his provost appointment, Philbert said his goal in the position was to encourage national investment in academia. He was also a supporter of the campaign to add a Middle Eastern/North African ethnicity designation to University documents. 

Philbert first joined the University as a toxicology assistant professor in the School of Public Health in 1995 and became an associate professor in 2000. Since then, he has climbed the administrative ladder of academia.

From 2000 to 2003, Philbert was the associate chair for research and development in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. After promotion to full professor in 2004, Philbert served as the Public Health senior associate dean for research until he was appointed dean in 2010. Philbert was approved as provost in June 2017 and assumed the position in September 2017.

He came to Michigan after leaving Rutgers University, where he was a research assistant professor at the Rutgers Neurotoxicology Laboratories. Originally from the United Kingdom, Philbert earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Arts and Technology in Cambridge in 1984 and his doctorate from the London University Royal Postgraduate Medical School in 1987. 

Daily News Editor Claire Hao can be reached at cmhao@umich.edu.