Mark Schlissel
Mark Schlissel (JN File)

Former University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman has been appointed interim president.

The University of Michigan Board of Regents said Saturday it unanimously voted to remove Mark Schlissel as president due to an alleged “inappropriate relationship with a university employee.”

They said an anonymous tip came on Dec. 8 alleging that Schlissel and the subordinate were having an affair.

“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 regents wrote in a statement.

The board released copies of the emails and text messages in question, which date back to September 2019, as well as its letter to Schlissel informing him he was being fired, in which it outlined some of the most concerning comments. Those include innuendo, Schlissel referring to the person as ‘sexy’ and references to emotional distress that seemingly stemmed from the relationship.

Other emails the regents released included references to making plans together, an article about sex that Schlissel forwarded to the subordinate and information about gifts he bought the person.

“These emails demonstrate that you were communicating with the subordinate through the University of Michigan email system using an inappropriate tone and inappropriate language,” the regents’ letter to Schlissel reads in part. “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.”

“Your conduct as summarized above 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 and other inappropriate conduct,” the letter continues. “…There can be no question that you were acutely aware that any inappropriate conduct or communication between you and a subordinate would cause substantial harm to the dignity and reputation of the University of Michigan.”

Among those exchanges was a flirtatious email from Schlissel, who is Jewish, to the employee involving a box of knishes he received as a gift. The savory, doughy pastries, which are typically filled with potatoes, are a classic Ashkenazi Jewish food.

“I can lure you to visit with the promise of a knish?” he wrote to the employee on Oct. 10, 2019.

Before coming to the University of Michigan as its second-ever Jewish president in 2014, Schlissel served as the provost at Brown University. Schlissel told the Detroit Jewish News at the time that he grew up in a traditional Jewish home in Brooklyn and had a bar mitzvah but did not consider himself observant as an adult. He still identified with Jewish culture, Schlissel told the newspaper.

Former University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman has been appointed interim president. Schlissel succeeded Coleman as president in January 2014. He had been provost at Brown University. In a statement, Coleman said that while she was “saddened by the circumstances” under which she was being called back, she was “honored” to fill the role.

Schlissel had a base salary of $927,000 a year. He announced last October that he would step down in June 2023, a year before his contract was to expire.

The board expects to find someone to take over as president on a permanent basis as early as this summer.

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