University begins implementing WilmerHale recommendations


The University of Michigan has begun to implement recommendations from the July 31 report that detailed decades of sexual harassment by the university’s former provost.

President Mark Schlissel said at the Sept. 17 Board of Regents meeting that he and regents were committed to making “any changes necessary to prevent the behaviors in the report from happening ever again.”

The report from the WilmerHale law firm was the culmination of an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct by Martin Philbert. The investigation found that Philbert sexually harassed multiple members of the university community, including graduate students who worked in his lab and U-M employees.

The president said he and regents are working with the appropriate units on campus to address each WilmerHale recommendation, “whether they may require new policies and procedures or be implemented in the context of other improvements we have made over the past few years.”

He said the university would continue to look beyond the WilmerHale recommendations “for any measures we can take to make our environment safe for all and ensure that no one fears retaliation for reporting misconduct.”

The president outlined three areas for initial steps. They include:

  • Hiring a consultant to help implement recommendations in a timely manner.
  • Having any reports of misconduct involving senior staff members in the Office of the Provost handled outside of the Office for Institutional Equity, which reports to the provost.
  • Developing a policy on consensual relationships within the university community.

Schlissel said the university would seek the assistance of an outside firm to provide “an important external perspective” and to help implement recommendations.

“Timely and effective implementation of the recommendations are priorities for the board and me, and we are seeking proposals from consultants to support these goals,” Schlissel said. “The consultant will engage with us on all of our work related to the WilmerHale report.” He said the goal is to announce the consultant soon.

The university will change its policy on reporting incidents of misconduct to OIE, Schlissel said, “to ensure that any reports of misconduct involving senior administrators in the Office of the Provost will be handled by the executive vice president and chief financial officer.”

The president said the change removes the possibility of a conflict or hesitancy in reporting because the provost oversees OIE. He said the change implements one of WilmerHale’s recommendations that the university provide alternative oversight of sexual misconduct allegations involving members of the Provost’s Office.

Additionally, Schlissel said the university was developing a new policy regarding consensual relationships, which was another WilmerHale recommendation. Schlissel said the process of developing the policy “will require engagement with our community, due to its many complexities.” He said the aim of the policy is to address the possibility of exploitation, conflict of interest and favoritism.

The president said, however, that the university’s commitment to improve the campus climate around sexual and gender-based misconduct goes well beyond the implementation of the WilmerHale recommendations.

“We need to grow a culture at U-M where sexual and gender-based misconduct are not tolerated, where all members of the community feel empowered and safe to report such issues, where there are many conduits for reporting and that all reports get acted on appropriately and quickly,” he said.



  1. Rebekah Modrak
    on September 18, 2020 at 9:30 am

    As a member of the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee, I sat at the table with Provost Philbert last fall as he shepherded us through the process of developing a new sexual misconduct umbrella policy. Having read the WilmerHale report, I am betrayed and outraged by the hypocrisy and deceit we all experienced.

    I fail to see how any of the steps proposed by President Schlissel would have remedied the problems that occurred in the case of Philbert, who was promoted, first to Dean, and then to Provost, even though multiple survivors had reported misconduct, some to OIE. The problems here come from the fact that President Schlissel and other members of the search committees chose to willfully disregard information. We all know the policies around misconduct: Professors should not solicit sex from students, and should not tell employees that their breasts feel good. We don’t need more policies and consultants. When will the Regents hold people accountable when they fail to perform due diligence and when they promote known sex offenders?

    • Tracy Artley
      on September 18, 2020 at 9:50 am

      Thank you so much for including this comment! I think that you’ve voiced what many members of the U-M community are feeling about this issue and what came out of the report. As an alum and staff member, I’m so disappointed in our University.

  2. Michael Atzmon
    on September 18, 2020 at 10:06 am

    As mentioned at a recent Senate meeting, president Schlissel refused to include a SACUA representative on the provost search committee at the time. Any current talk about “working together” rings hollow.

    If, indeed, President Schlissel did not read faculty feedback, it should come as no surprise to those who have served in faculty governance. Despite asserting how much he valued our perspective, he routinely dismissed it.

    I had felt for years that the UM policy on faculty-student dating should be stricter. Yet, the SPG introduced in early 2019 that defines faculty-student “dating” is totalitarian in the sense that it is so vague that you never know what is forbidden — it can be weaponized against anybody. Any innocent interaction between two people can be arbitrarily defined as “dating.” This SPG allows the administration to assert it’s doing something against sexual misconduct. Even Philbert, at a meeting of the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee, enthusiastically defended this SPG. Does it mean we can count him as a defender of victims of sexual abuse? It should be obvious by now that what we need is a change in attitude within the administration and not further erosion of faculty rights.

    The information we currently have comes from law firm WilmerHale. Even a district judge questioned the assertion that it is independent.

  3. Silke-Maria Weineck
    on September 18, 2020 at 10:15 am

    Echoing Professor Mondrak and Professor Atzmon. To our knowledge, nobody who was *knowingly* involved in the appointing a known sexual harasser and assaulter to Provost has been held accountable. Should those people identified in the WilmerHale report not step down from all positions other than their basic appointment? That might convince us skeptics that UM is serious.

  4. Kristen Verhey
    on September 22, 2020 at 8:07 am

    Why do we need to hire a “consultant that will engage with us on all of our work”? We have faculty who are world leaders in research and scholarship on sexual harassment. Three U-M faculty were part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) committee that produced the 2018 Consensus Study Report “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.” doi:
    The NASEM Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine (CWSEM) continues to work to identify promising practices in the prevention, response, remediation, and evaluation of sexual harassment on campuses.

  5. Rebecca Welzenbach
    on September 22, 2020 at 9:50 am

    What steps will the university take to ensure that policies regarding access to office spaces are transparent, appropriate, and enforced? Among the many other outrageous findings in the Wilmer Hale report, I was shocked to find buried near the end of the report that some of the misconduct was enabled by a request to move and office and to re-key it so that none of the individuals who ordinarily would have the ability to access that room could do do. I’m shocked that such a security failure did not rise into the recommendations for steps to the university to take. Along with the other comments made by colleagues above, I want to know how the university is going to ensure that individuals cannot treat U-M facilities, where all staff, students, and faculty should be able to assume their personal safety, as their own private property.

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