The procedure to fire a University faculty member is long and confusing. There are, in no particular order, investigations, hearings, long letters and reviews by the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, depending on the specifics of the case. But every case has one thing in common: the president of the University must make the final recommendation to the University’s Board of Regents.
But who makes the decision to dismiss the president? The answer is simpler than it might seem.
The regents, a board of state-elected representatives who oversee major University decisions, appoint the president, and they can just as easily dismiss one.
In the 87 pages of the board’s bylaws, there are no specific procedural guidelines for the removal of a president. However, Section 14.04 of the Board’s bylaws provides that the regents have the power to dismiss any faculty member, including the president, who they have appointed.
President Mary Sue Coleman’s contract provides that her five-year appointment is “subject to satisfactory performance, as reasonably determined by the Regents.” She undergoes a performance evaluation each year, but a decision to terminate her appointment would not necessarily have to follow an annual evaluation.
Rev. Henry Philip Tappan, the University’s first president, is also only president to be dismissed by the board. The archives of board’s minutes show that on June 25, 1863, the board unanimously voted for his removal, dubiously citing the “interests of the University” as justification.
Tappan’s removal was abrupt and unceremonious.
Just after appropriating $1,000 to the Library Committee, Regent Ebenezer Lakin Brown proposed a resolution to dismiss Tappan. After it passed, the board quickly elected Erastus Otis Haven as his replacement and removed Tappan’s son, John, from his post as University librarian. From there, the meeting continued without Tappan to the next item on the agenda, “improving the heating and ventilating apparatus in the Chemical Laboratory.”
Wilfred Byron Shaw’s book “The University of Michigan” explains that although the University was prospering under Tappan’s leadership, personal grudges between himself and the board ultimately led to his downfall. According to Shaw, most of the regents had no background in academia and resented Tappan because they found him to be condescending.