Former U-M president Mark Schlissel’s separation from the university is complete: according to a May article in the University Record, a settlement agreement “grants Schlissel a one-year leave of absence, pays him for earned but unpaid deferred compensation, and includes an apology for his poor judgment and the disruption it caused.”
A medical researcher, Schissel had been a dean at Berkeley and provost at Brown before the regents hired him to succeed Mary Sue Coleman in 2014. They renewed his contract in 2018 and stood by him two years later after a faculty “no confidence” vote.
So last fall’s announcement that Schlissel would step down a year early, in June 2023, came as a shock. The regents were unhappy about the sexual misconduct scandal surrounding provost Martin Philbert—who they’d promoted on Schlissel’s recommendation—and reports of setbacks in the high-profile Detroit Center for Innovation.
Then, in January, they fired Schlissel for conduct “inconsistent with promoting the dignity and reputation of the University of Michigan.” An anonymous letter alleged that he was having an affair with a subordinate—backed up by a cache of emails. Released after the firing, the exchanges revealed an emotional attachment but fell far short of proving an affair. The settlement appears to concede as much: it quotes Schlissel’s statement that the relationship was “entirely consensual” and “never physical.”
Both Schlissel and the university are paying a very high price for what seems to have been a flirtation. It remains to be seen whether the onetime rising star will ever find another job in academic administration. And though the firing “for cause” nullified some sweet post-presidential perks, the regents agreed to pay Schlissel nearly $1 million and affirmed his right to a faculty position if he chooses to return to teaching and research. The only clear winner is the still-anonymous tipster, who single-handedly brought down the university’s most powerful person.