Mark Schlissel, University of Michigan president, was ousted from his position over the weekend after an internal investigation revealed that he carried on a sexual affair with a subordinate.

In a trove of emails uncovered by the probe and released in a redacted form, Schlissel appeared to exchange sexual and personal messages with the university employee, who was not named. 

University officials said they began reviewing his personal correspondence after they received an anonymous tip about the affair. He was fired “effective immediately” on Saturday. 

Mary Sue Coleman, who previously served as university president from 2002 to 2014, was appointed as interim president by the state Board of Regents. The search for a permanent replacement is underway, officials added. 

Interim President Addresses Controversy

In a statement to the campus community issued Sunday, Coleman publicly addressed the scandal. 

“I want to express my deep appreciation to all of you during a difficult time for U-M,” she 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.” 

While deeply saddened by the circumstances of the invitation, I accepted the interim appointment because of my love and respect for this institution,” she added. 

After the firing of University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel Saturday, interim president Mary Sue Coleman said the campus community with 'move forward' from what happened.
After the firing of University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel Saturday, interim president Mary Sue Coleman said the campus community with ‘move forward’ from what happened. Photo credit: Michigan Board of Regents

“I welcome the opportunity to work with you once again in moving forward with the critical agenda of the University of Michigan.” 

Coleman, who was the first woman to serve as University of Michigan’s president, was asked to return to the office by the Board of Regents on a temporary basis on Saturday. According to state news outlets, she is not planning “scheduled media availability” during her interim tenure. 

At the next Board of Regents meeting on Feb. 17, the body will finalize Schlissel’s ouster. Education officials have not given a timeline for the search for a permanent replacement. 

What Happened?

According to a statement from the Board, administrators received an anonymous tip in early December that Schlissel “may have been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a University employee.” 

“After an investigation, we learned that Dr. Schlissel, over a period of years, used his University email account to communicate with that subordinate in a manner inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the University,” the statement read. 

“In the interest of full public disclosure,” the board has released dozens of email conversations between Schlissel and the unnamed employee. 

The Board of Regents said Mark Schlissel carried on an affair with a subordinate for years, in violation of school policy.
The Board of Regents said Mark Schlissel carried on an affair with a subordinate for years, in violation of school policy. Photo credit: Shutterstock

In the open letter to Schlissel, the Board singled out a handful of messages that they believe confirmed allegations of an intra-office affair. 

In a July conversation, the Board wrote, the unnamed employee “states that her ‘heart hurts’ to which you respond ‘I know. Mine too.’ You state that ‘this is my fault’ and that you are ‘in pain too.’ You finish with ‘I still wish I were strong enough to find a way.’”

No context was given. 

Schlissel also reportedly called the subordinate “sexier” in a September exchange, and wrote on Dec. 3 — less than a week before a tipster blew the whistle — that the subordinate “can give me a private briefing.” 

What happened to Mark Schlissel? University of Michigan president ousted after a probe uncovered his affair with a subordinate.
What happened to Mark Schlissel? University of Michigan president ousted after a probe uncovered his affair with a subordinate. Photo credit: University of Michigan

“These emails demonstrate that you were communicating with the subordinate […] using an inappropriate tone and inappropriate language,” the Board wrote.

Media reports have noted that in July, while allegedly carrying out the affair, Schlissel announced new university policies for sexual misconduct and harassment. The new guidelines called for zero tolerance for employees who “solicit a personal or romantic relationship with someone they have a supervisory authority or career influence over.”

“That’s exceptionally important because of the power dynamic,” he said at the time. “It makes it difficult sometimes for folks to effectively say no, then you put an employee in a very difficult circumstance.”

Schlissel, 64, is married with four children.