Investigation reveals University of Michigan provost had history of sexual misconduct

Independent investigation report finds long history of misconduct, makes recommendations

Former U-M provost Martin A. Philbert speaks in 2014.
Former U-M provost Martin A. Philbert speaks in 2014. (University of Michigan)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Former University of Michigan Provost Martin Philbert sexually harassed U-M students and employees during his time at the university, according to a report released Friday.

Assembled by Washington DC-based law firm WilmerHale after a six-month investigation, the report details a long history of sexual harassment, engaging in multiple sexual relationships with subordinate employees and other misconduct by Philbert.

Philbert was placed on administrative leave in January when the university learned of the allegations of sexual misconduct. U-M president Mark Schlissel removed Philbert as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs in March. He relinquished his tenured faculty position from U-M on June 30.

In addition to instances of misconduct by Philbert, the WilmerHale report notes several times when the university was made aware of the misconduct and times when it failed to further investigate claims.

Instances noted in the report include:

  • A lengthy history of sexual harassment by Philbert towards graduate students and university employees during his time working at the university. This included “comments about women’s bodies; redirected conversations with women to the topic of sex; and insisted on getting hugs,” according to the report.
  • A 2003 wrongful termination lawsuit when a male employee alleged that a female employee was not let go because of her relationship with Philbert.
  • A failure of the university to further investigate 2005 allegations of sexual harassment by two women. One of the women said that Philbert “propositioned her for sex, asked her to marry him, to run away together,” among other things. This allegation resurfaced in 2010 when Philbert was a candidate for dean of the School of Public Health and again in 2013 when a then-graduate student, involved in the 2005 allegations, withdrew from classes and filed petitions with the university due to distress from Philbert’s previously alleged misconduct.
  • Sexual relationships between Philbert and junior staff members or subordinate employees on university property during his time as dean of SPH.

WilmerHale’s report states Philbert’s conduct did not come up when he was a candidate to be Provost or during his renewal as the dean of SPH in 2015.

The report makes numerous recommendations to U-M, including conducting a climate survey regarding sexual misconduct for faculty and staff, evaluating OIE investigative practices and making sure information reaches university officials, and a review of the university’s vetting procedures to make sure the hiring decisions are informed by past findings of policy violations.

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Find the full report below:

In a statement released on Friday, the U-M said:

“We have just begun to carefully review the full report and take all of its findings into account. Yet, it is clear in the executive summary that the WilmerHale report – released publicly today at the same time it was shared with university officials – 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.”

In its statement, the university said that it would review recommendations made by WilmerHale and implement changes “promptly.”

The U-M Board of Regents also released a statement extending its sympathies to those affected by Philbert’s conduct and said that it would review findings and recommendations in the report.

“We are committed to taking the specific actions necessary to address the past and move the university community toward a future that prevents situations like those described in this report,” the U-M Board of Regents said in its statement.

The U-M has also hired WilmerHale to conduct an independent investigation into sexual abuse claims against former athletic doctor Robert Anderson.

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