From The Daily: Our Provost and sexual misconduct

Thursday, January 30, 2020 - 1:03pm

In a sudden and surprising email sent to University of Michigan students on Jan. 22, President Mark Schlissel announced that Provost Martin Philbert had been placed on administrative leave after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him. This news came just a day after state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, filed a sexual misconduct complaint against state Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Twp., for an encounter in November 2018 where Lucido inappropriately touched her very low on her back and made suggestive remarks. That filing came in the wake of Lucido’s inappropriate comments toward a young reporter, 22-year-old Allison Donahue, on Jan. 14. In this interaction Lucidio said a group of high school boys “could have a lot of fun” with Donahue. These stories serve as a glaring reminder of the pervasive issue of sexual harassment by men in positions of power against the women around them.

The Michigan Daily Editorial Board stands in solidarity with those who have come forward over the past two weeks, and continue to encourage others to speak out when necessary. Coming from a newsroom comprised mostly of young, female, aspiring journalists, we support Donahue for her bravery in deciding to speak up about the incident. Too often, young women remain silent for fear of backlash or professional repercussions. Even McMorrow, an elected state official, felt at risk of losing her constituents’ support by coming forward, but was moved to speak out after hearing Donahue’s story. 

Unfortunately, we at the University are not immune to this systemic problem. In 2018, ABC 7 disclosed that reported cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment were up 61 and 37 percent respectively on the U-M campus. The details of the claims against Philbert have not been made public, but from Schlissel’s email, we know that an investigation was immediately opened after the allegations were made, bringing in outside legal counsel. Three days later, Philbert was placed on paid leave. The Editorial Board commends Schlissel for the swift response and hopes this sets a new precedent, while also reiterating the importance of transparency in the proceedings.

Since activist Tarana Burke began the #MeToo movement in 2006 and it later saturated the mainstream with Alyssa Milano and the Harvey Weinstein scandal, more women have been empowered to speak out. Equally as important is the need for unbiased tribunals to evaluate evidence in these cases, weighing this against personal claims. But beyond judicial bodies, this is an issue of culture. How do we instill the treatment of women into the minds of our young men? How does this treatment undermine our universal values or prop up our definitions of masculinity? Where is the line between friendly socialization and workplace harassment? It is our job as a community to continuously ask ourselves these questions. To change our culture, we will need empathetic thinkers who set their sights on communal well-being, even at the cost of social convenience. We will need courageous men and women who are ready to self-analyze the social constructions they have built around themselves. We will need leaders and the best.

Though instances of sexual harassment predominantly impact women, these behaviors and institutions exist at men’s expense as well. According to a 2018 report from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, men were the victims in 20 percent of all sexual harassment charges. To change the culture we must encourage those who face sexual misconduct to speak up and reassure them that they will be heard and given the opportunity to support their case. Another imperative step is promoting female representation in positions of power to disrupt traditionally male dominated hierarchies. If a woman — instead of Harvey Weinstein — chaired one of the largest film studios in America, it’s likely many of these industry workers would have not fallen prey to Weinstein’s persecution.

We’d like to highlight the resources available to our readers in the event they are needed. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC) provides free and confidential crisis intervention, advocacy and support for University students, faculty and staff survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking and sexual harassment. SAPAC can be found on the fourth floor of the newly renovated Michigan Union. In addition, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers free counseling services to all University of Michigan-Ann Arbor students.

Finally, we’d like to remind our readers that the The Daily has a tip line for these types of stories: tipline@michigandaily.com. This is a private tip line viewable by a small team of reporters committed to responsible reporting on sexual misconduct and its allegations. The Michigan Daily is listening.