Independent report: Ex-University of Michigan provost had history of sexual misconduct

Report claims school officials were made aware of leader's actions several times

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – An independent law firm hired to investigate allegations of sexual harassment by University of Michigan’s former provost has come to some disturbing conclusions.

Martin Philbert was removed as provost in March, weeks after being placed on leave, but he remained on the payroll as a faculty member until he retired in June after the allegations of sexual harassment became public.

The University hired the law firm WilmerHale to conduct an independent investigation into the former provost. After a six-month investigation, the report found Philbert harassed multiple women -- including graduate students -- for years as he rose through the ranks at UM.

The report WilmerHale released Friday said Philbert “had a significant impact on the employment and/or academic experience of several University employees and students and created an intimidating, hostile, offensive, and abusive environment.”

The report said he made comments about women’s bodies; redirected conversations with women to the topic of sex; and insisted on getting hugs. Before some women began working for Philbert, they were warned of his reputation for such conduct and not to be alone with him.

A man who worked lab employee in 2003 told university officials Philbert had fired him, while a woman coworker that Philbert was allegedly in a relationship with was not. Subsequent litigation in 2004 did not uncover any evidence and the lawsuit was eventually settled -- but It wasn’t the only time some officials were made aware of Philbert’s behavior.

In 2005, two women who worked in Philbert’s lab told a professor he had kissed them on their neck. The professor alerted multiple University officials. In light of the unwillingness of the two women to speak, the Office of Institutional Equity did not open an investigation.

The report claims multiple women told the law firm they made efforts to avoid Philbert and one woman even quit her job because of his conduct.

The report concluded much of Philbert’s conduct never came to the attention of University officials and recommended the University ensure that students and employees are aware of the avenues for reporting sexual misconduct and enhance training of personnel who are required to report information about sexual harassment.

School officials said the report “contains a shocking description of improper and unacceptable behavior by a university officer as well as failings by this institution. We will do everything in our power to prevent such misconduct from ever happening again at the University of Michigan.”

“Necessary changes to processes and procedures will be implemented promptly. Many people have worked hard for decades to eliminate sexual misconduct from our community, but this report makes it clear that we have much more work to do.”

The full report and statements from the U-M Board of Regents can be read here.

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