An independent investigation into the allegations of misconduct by former University of Michigan provost Martin Philbert found that even in his early years as an assistant professor in the School of Public Health, Philbert sexually harassed multiple members of the university community, including graduate students who worked in his lab, and U-M employees.
The report says this harassment continued for two decades, including his six years as SPH dean — when he had sexual relationships with at least three school employees — and after he was appointed provost. Philbert joined the U-M faculty in 1995.
The report by the WilmerHale law firm also says its investigation found instances where the university could have taken more action to investigate Philbert, but it found no evidence that information about Philbert’s alleged misconduct was learned by President Mark Schlissel in advance of Philbert’s selection as provost in 2017.
The 88-page report was released July 31 by WilmerHale, which the university’s governing Board of Regents hired to conduct an independent investigation into the matter. It was released to the public at the same time it was shared with university officials.
WilmerHale said the firm collected more than 6 million documents and reviewed relevant emails, handwritten notes, materials associated with the dean and provost search processes and other university records. The firm interviewed 128 individuals, some multiple times.
Philbert, however, did not participate in WilmerHale’s investigation. He declined to be interviewed and he declined the request to identify witnesses with relevant information or provide relevant evidence.
The university says in an initial statement that, as they begin to review the report, U-M leaders will do “everything in our power to prevent such misconduct from ever happening again at the University of Michigan.”
In a separate initial statement, the Board of Regents said it would “carefully review the findings and recommendations presented by the independent investigators. We are committed to taking the specific actions necessary to address the past and move the university community toward a future that avoids situations like those described in this report.”
Additionally, the board said, “We appreciate all who courageously shared their voices to aid in the investigation. We extend sympathy to those affected and continue to feel outrage about what we are learning about breaches of trust.”
The report from the experienced team of independent WilmerHale investigators detailed repeated acts of sexual misconduct by Philbert over two decades and cited times when the university failed to take action that may have stopped further misconduct.
Among other findings highlighted in the executive summary of the report are:
- Philbert’s sexual harassment started while he was an assistant professor and continued through his time as provost, a span of two decades.
- While dean of SPH, Philbert was in sexual relationships with at least three staff members of SPH, including having sexual relations in university offices and sharing explicit photos that Philbert stored on his university-owned devices.
- For nearly his entire tenure as provost, Philbert was in simultaneous sexual relationships with at least two U-M employees. He engaged in sexual contact with them in university offices, including with one woman on a near-daily basis for a time.
- U-M officials were alerted to his behavior early in his U-M career, but official investigations by the Office for Institutional Equity were not launched.
- At no point during the provost search process did the search committee as a whole, or Schlissel individually, learn any information about Philbert’s problematic conduct toward women.
The president placed Philbert on administrative leave in January, four days after allegations of misconduct were shared with the president. Philbert has never returned to campus. He was removed as provost in March and relinquished his tenured faculty position at the end of June.
The university statement, released July 31, said the WilmerHale report contains a “shocking description of improper and unacceptable behavior by a university officer as well as failings by this institution.
“We will thoroughly review the recommendations made by the WilmerHale team. … Necessary changes to processes and procedures will be implemented promptly.”
The statement also acknowledges that many at U-M have worked hard for decades to eliminate sexual misconduct, “but this report makes it clear that we have much more work to do.
“We are committed at all levels of the university to do whatever is required to address these matters and to support those who bravely step forward to report misconduct and help us make our community safer for all.”