'U' was aware of previous sexual misconduct allegations against Provost Martin Philbert

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 2:47pm

University Provost Martin Philbert was placed on administrative leave for allegations of sexual misconduct.

University Provost Martin Philbert was placed on administrative leave for allegations of sexual misconduct. Buy this photo
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University of Michigan administrators and faculty were aware of several complaints about Provost Martin Philbert while he served in various roles within the School of Public Health, according to The Detroit Free Press. Philbert was placed on paid administrative leave on Wednesday, Jan. 22 following several allegations of sexual misconduct.

Thomas Komorowski, a former research associate for the University who worked in Philbert’s lab at the School of Public Health in 2003, claimed in a 2004 lawsuit he was wrongfully terminated because of an inappropriate relationship between Philbert and a female researcher. Philbert denied that Komorowski was laid off due to his relationship with the female researcher and claimed Komorowski’s grant aid had run out.

In 2005, the University settled the lawsuit for an unknown amount.

The Detroit Free Press reported that more than 20 women have filed complaints of sexual misconduct against Philbert, according to anonymous sources. In 2009, when Philbert was leading research at the School of Public Health, an anonymous woman notified her supervisor in the dean’s office that Philbert had sexually harassed her. 

Philbert was one of several candidates who applied to be dean of the School of Public Health in 2010. When the search committee moved Philbert’s candidacy forward, an anonymous email accusing the committee of manipulating the process was sent to the leader of the committee and copied to the entire school. Then-Provost Phil Hanlon replied with an email to the school.

“This kind of vicious, personalized and anonymous attack threatens the collegiality of the School and violates all standards of professional behavior,” Hanlon wrote.

Hanlon said he received two similar emails that summer. These emails reportedly warned Hanlon to investigate Philbert’s behavior. Hanlon was also allegedly told in person that there were previous complaints about Philbert.

When the University was informed of allegations of misconduct on Jan. 16 and 17 this year, the University hired Washington D.C.-based law firm WilmerHale to investigate Philbert’s history.

Philbert first came to the University as an assistant professor of toxicology in the School of Public Health in 1995, later becoming an associate professor in 2000. He was the associate chair for research and development in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences from 2000 to 2003. 

Philbert was promoted to professor in 2004 and served as the senior associate dean for research at the School of Public Health before being appointed as dean in 2010. He was approved and began serving as provost in 2017. As provost, Philbert presided over the Office of Institutional Equity, which is responsible for investigating claims of sexual misconduct.

In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen emphasized the importance of letting the investigation run its course.

“It is critical that we all allow the outside investigators to determine the facts,” Broekhuizen wrote. “While that process is ongoing, there is very little that we are able to say.”

Reporter Arjun Thakkar can be reached at arjunt@umich.edu.