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Stateside Podcast: A pink slip for University of Michigan's president

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel at podium
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Mark Schlissel was dismissed from his job as president of the University of Michigan at a closed-door meeting of the Board of Regents over the weekend.

This past weekend, after a closed-door meeting, the University of Michigan’s Board of Regentsfired President Mark Schlisselfor allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a university employee.

The board also released more than 100 pages of emails and text messages between Schlissel and the unnamed woman. They show the then-president of the university sending messages about making plans to travel together, buying the employee gifts, or discussing their dinner plans for the night.

At the meeting, regents also appointed former U of M president Mary Sue Coleman as interim president while the university searches for Schlissel’s replacement.

Attorney Sarah Prescott is a partner at the law firm Salvatore, Prescott, Porter, and Porter who specializes in Title IX cases. She said she’s been waiting for something like this to happen for years.

"I had long since drawn the conclusion that Mr. Schlissel was not the leader that this incredible institution deserves," she said. "And I have been waiting for the regents to catch up with that reality for a long time."

Prescott also represented several plaintiffs in their sexual harassment complaints against former university provost Martin Philbert.

She said the university deserves credit for enacting stricter rules around supervisor and employee relationships last summer—the same policies that led to Schlissel's firing. Those rules state that a supervisor cannot initiate an intimate relationship with an employee, and any consensual relationships must be immediately disclosed.

"The policy, the university has said, is if you can't come forward and be clean about it, we don't want it happening here. It doesn't serve the institution and the taxpayers and the people," Prescott explained.

The university, and Schlissel specifically, have also faced criticism over how they have handled the revelations of sexual abuse by former U of M doctor Robert Anderson. Prescott said while Coleman is only appointed to be university president on an interim basis, there is some chance she could shift the way the university is talking to victims and the public about the case.

"I don't know that she's going to crank hard to the right or to the left and really turn the ship in any really big, appreciable ways. But that could happen, and we might not all see it immediately in the public."

Ultimately, Prescott said what she would most like to see on a systemic level is some clarity and stability in how Title IX laws are enforced. Different presidential administrations have taken very different approaches to their enforcement of the law, and she said that uncertainty dissuades some victims—whether they are in K-12 schools or graduate students—from reporting.

"This is an area of the law that really needs to be cleaned up for everybody's benefit: for the clarity of those who are accused; for the institutions, as you say, that are dumping huge amounts of money into this to always feel like they're getting it wrong; and of course, ultimately for the kids."

Stateside reached out to the University of Michigan about this story. The members of the Board of Regents declined to comment. We’ve also requested an interview with interim president Coleman and will have her on if and when she’d like to join the program.

Editor's note: The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's license.

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April Van Buren is a producer for <i>Stateside</i>. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.