Report details decades of sexual misconduct by former provost Philbert

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.”


  1. Patricia Deldin
    on July 31, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    I sure hope our HR department learns that their system is woefully a failure. They only even are willing to write down some cases.

  2. Hannah Sherman
    on August 4, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    As a UMich alum, this is hugely disturbing to see. The clear lack of oversight and seemingly willful ignorance is not surprising, but is shocking. It is not enough to replace the Provost. President Schlissel and those cited in the report should resign, as they did not live up to his duty as a leader of this institution. It is not an excuse to say you did not see the comment about a “sexual predator” — it is their responsibility to see these comments and respond accordingly.

  3. Jason White
    on August 5, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Very important story that should lead your email. Not be buried, 3 scrolls down.

  4. Omer Ismail
    on August 5, 2020 at 10:28 am

    There is absolutely nothing surprising about this report with regard to the fact that these activities and behaviors occurred by a school official. Based on my experience at the University, it is not at all surprising that such behaviors would be covered up or ignored. It is certainly happening and has happened previously with other staff members.

  5. Tiuska Santana
    on August 5, 2020 at 3:18 pm

    Clearly, the system is broken. Not only here, at one of the most prestigious universities in world, but also in every other corner of the world. Traits that lead to sexual misconduct/assault doesn’t just happen overnight. My thought provoking question is: when are we really going to focus on education? And I don’t mean academic performance and excellence. I refer to the formation of individuals with admirable values and character. As an alumni and current staff, I’ve seen and experienced disappointing actions by both faculty and students. People like Philbert, David Daniels, and Stephen Shipps would do anything to come up on top. This is extremely shameful. Is this how we become leaders and the best? I don’t think so. I want no part in prestigious academia for this reason. You’ll think it is merit but when you uncover cases like this… you find coercion or nepotism. I found wonderful, noteworthy people here at the University of Michigan; both faculty and staff. However, there were those that really hurt me… I had a far better experience at the community college in Miami Dade, Florida. Sometimes, I really regret coming all the way here. Nonetheless, I have great expectation for this institution in the years to come. Let’s not ignore this. Conduct psychological assessments. Don’t let people like these be tenured. You’ll be surprised. Go beyond the credentials and GoBlue

  6. Kirsten Herold
    on August 5, 2020 at 7:04 pm

    The report is sobering to be sure, especially in how this conduct continued for years, and how what I believe to be well-intentioned people managed to overlook it time and again. The fear of the victims was well captured — the guy’s total lack of compassion and compulsion is truly pathological. However, the report has limits in that much is not discussed: the excessive institutional deference towards a successful full professor (a lecturer would have been fired on the spot), the incredible power a faculty member can have over graduate students in “his” lab, where financial support is tied to the individual advisor. I came out of the English Department and while there were problems there as well, students could at least drop their adviser and finish their dissertation with a different person and not have their careers destroyed. Finally, it is clear that there was a strong institutional interest in seeing Philbert be successful at the highest level, which blinded people to what must have been pretty apparent. A very troubling account.

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