To All Members of the U-M Ann Arbor Community:
I have spent the last few days reading carefully the report issued Friday by WilmerHale following their investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against Martin Philbert. The behaviors uncovered by this investigation are both awful and unacceptable, and our institution failed to properly and effectively address earlier reports of Philbert’s misconduct despite our often-stated values.
I apologize to everyone who has been affected by Martin Philbert’s misconduct and for our institution’s failings.
The university has fallen far short of creating a culture that rejects harassment and misconduct and ensures that no one in our community fears retaliation for reporting. What kept coming through to me was how many people were badly hurt by Philbert’s behavior, but also how afraid they were about coming forward.
The highest priority for our regents and leadership team is to make our community safe for all. The regents have been stressing with campus leadership the importance of diminishing sexual harassment and misconduct for many years. To achieve this, we will need an environment where it is safe to report, free from the fear of retaliation. It is appalling that we have been unable to accomplish this.
The University of Michigan Board of Regents engaged the WilmerHale firm in January to conduct an independent investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct by Philbert. The report was released simultaneously to the Board of Regents, the university and the public. The investigation’s major findings were outlined in the University Record on Friday.
I want to thank everyone in the University of Michigan community who spoke with the investigators, particularly those who bravely reported sexual misconduct by Philbert. During review of the WilmerHale report, I was moved by the incredible courage of the individuals who came forward.
The report also includes several recommendations that deserve careful consideration, as they could form the basis of necessary new policies and procedures in the months ahead:
- Establish a standalone policy regarding consensual relationships between employees that requires notice and recusal and/or mitigation of possible conflicts of interest.
- Ensure that students and employees are aware of the avenues for reporting sexual misconduct.
- Enhance the visibility and training of University personnel who are required to report information about sexual harassment that is reported to them or that otherwise comes to their attention.
- Provide alternative oversight of sexual misconduct allegations involving members of the Provost’s office, which is ordinarily responsible for overseeing the Office for Institutional Equity (OIE).
- Conduct a climate survey regarding sexual misconduct for faculty and staff.
- Evaluate OIE investigative practices to ensure that OIE is identifying and, as appropriate, pursuing additional investigative avenues when complainants decline to participate in an investigation.
- Establish a process for formally reviewing OIE investigative files to provide quality assurance and confidence in investigation procedures and outcomes.
- Ensure that findings of policy violations and other misconduct by internal candidates are collected and accessible, and establish a formal written process for obtaining and considering such findings in promotion, tenure, appointment, reappointment, and other hiring decisions involving internal candidates.
- Review its procedures for vetting external candidates for faculty and staff positions, and consider implementing a pilot program that enhances its ability to identify findings by previous employers of sexual or other misconduct.
The Board and I, along with the appropriate units, are reviewing the recommendations carefully, and I will report back soon with a way forward on these important issues. We will also have to look beyond these recommendations at additional ways we can make our environment safe for all and free from sexual misconduct and harassment.
Additionally, we will determine what we need to do to address the fear of retaliation in our community and build a culture that does not accept misconduct or harassment at any level. It is clear from the report that our institution must work to support and empower individuals to report misconduct. The university also needs to develop ways to better capture and, when appropriate, act on anonymous reports and information we receive from those who do not wish to file a formal specific complaint.
When I received an anonymous letter indicating several allegations of sexual misconduct by Philbert in January, we immediately began an internal investigation, and over the next three days engaged our Division of Public Safety and Security, and directed Philbert not to return to work, as the Board of Regents retained an external firm to handle an independent investigation.
Subsequently, I placed him on administrative leave, then removed him as provost. He has now relinquished his position as a tenured faculty member and is no longer a U-M employee.
As part of the WilmerHale investigation, I provided access to all of my documents for their review. It was in those materials where they discovered something I had missed in 2019 – an anonymous allegation of misconduct by Philbert. I sincerely regret that. Had I seen it, I would have reported it immediately to the Office for Institutional Equity for evaluation.
The findings of this report are deeply distressing, both as to the harms to members of our community and to our institutional failings. The safeguards, policies and procedures we had in place were inadequate.
I fully agree with our regents that we should make any changes necessary to prevent this from happening ever again. Information on support, reporting and confidential assistance are available on our Sexual Misconduct Reporting and Resources page.
Mark S. Schlissel