President Mary Sue Coleman said she is confident students, faculty, staff and alumni will come together “to advance the values and the excellence that define the University of Michigan” as it moves forward after the removal of former president Mark Schlissel.
The Board of Regents asked Coleman on Jan. 15 to return in an interim capacity to the position she held from 2002 to 2014. The request came the same day regents unanimously voted to immediately remove Schlissel for what they determined was an inappropriate relationship with a university employee.
“While deeply saddened by the circumstances of the invitation, I accepted the interim appointment because of my love and respect for this institution,” Coleman wrote in a Jan. 16 email to the university community. “I welcome the opportunity to work with you once again in moving forward with the critical agenda of the University of Michigan.”
The interim appointment marks a return to U-M leadership for Coleman, who previously served 12 years as the university’s 13th president, retiring in 2014. She has agreed to serve until a new president is selected.
“I want to express my deep appreciation to all of you during a difficult time for U-M,” Coleman wrote. “I know some will feel a sense of loss. What we can do now is to renew our commitment to learning together, as well as to doing research and public service as a collectivity.”
Following her retirement from U-M, Coleman was president of the Association of American Universities from 2016 to 2020. She also served as president of the University of Iowa from 1995 to 2002, before coming to U-M.
“I have spent my entire academic career at or advancing public research institutions and their teaching function,” she wrote. “My deep and profound belief in the students, faculty, staff and alumni of this institution’s three campuses gives me great confidence that we will come together during this period to advance the values and the excellence that define the University of Michigan.”
Schlissel’s removal came eight years after he was hired as U-M’s 14th president to succeed Coleman.
In a Jan. 15 letter to Schlissel, regents said they were removing him for cause after receiving information about an alleged sexual affair with a university employee and determining that interactions with the employee “were inconsistent with promoting the dignity and reputation of the university.”
The board will affirm its decision during its Feb. 17 meeting on the Ann Arbor campus.
In a message to the university community, the university’s publicly elected board said the president’s removal was made with “great disappointment,” but also that the U-M community and the state “deserve as complete an understanding of this situation as possible.”
Regents wrote that “in the interest of full public disclosure, we have released dozens of Dr. Schlissel’s communications that illustrate this inappropriate conduct, as well as the letter that our board sent to Dr. Schlissel explaining our decision.”
“These emails demonstrate that you were communicating with the subordinate through the University of Michigan email system using an inappropriate tone and inappropriate language. They also demonstrate that you were using official University of Michigan business as a means to pursue and carry out a personal relationship with the subordinate,” the letter states.
“Your conduct … is particularly egregious considering your knowledge of and involvement in addressing incidents of harassment by University of Michigan personnel, and your declared commitment to work to ‘free’ the university community of sexual harassment or other improper conduct.”
Schlissel came to U-M in 2014 from Brown University where he had served as provost. He announced last fall that he would leave the U-M presidency in June 2023.
Regents said in their message they had “full confidence” that Coleman, as interim president, “will provide the leadership our university community will need during this time of transition.”
Regents also said they will move quickly to launch the search for the university’s next president.
“As has previously been communicated, we had already planned to search for the next president in the coming year, and that process has now been accelerated,” the board message said. We will soon provide updates to the university community as the process takes shape.”