National News

Report: U-Michigan's academic official was serial harasser

Posted July 31, 2020 4:34 p.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2020 4:36 p.m. EDT

FILE - In this May, 4, 2019, file photo, University of Michigan Provost Martin Philbert speaks during commencement exercises in Ann Arbor, Mich. According to an investigation released Friday, July 31, 2020, Philbert, who became the school's top academic officer committed sexual misconduct during his long career, harassing graduate students and staff and regularly having trysts in campus offices. (Max Ortiz/Detroit News via AP, File)

— A University of Michigan professor who became the school's top academic officer committed sexual misconduct during his long career, harassing graduate students and staff and regularly having trysts in campus offices, according to an investigation released Friday.

Martin Philbert was fired as provost in March, weeks after being put on leave by President Mark Schlissel, who had promoted him in 2017.

Philbert spent 25 years on campus, rising from toxicology professor to dean of the School of Public Health and then provost, a job that paid $570,000 a year.

The university hired the WilmerHale law firm to investigate the allegations. The report is an unflattering portrayal of a man who is described as repeatedly talking about women’s bodies, turning conversations with women to the topic of sex and insisting on hugs.

WilmerHale said Philbert declined to participate in the investigation. He couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

“For nearly his entire tenure as provost, he was in simultaneous sexual relationships with at least two university employees, sometimes more,” the report states. "He pressed some of these women to send him explicit photos, which he stored on his university-owned devices. And he engaged in sexual contact with them in university offices, including with one woman on a near-daily basis for a time.

“These relationships took a toll on the environment in the provost’s office and created uncomfortable dynamics among some staff,” according to the report.

Investigators found that allegations about Philbert's conduct, going back many years, had reached campus officials at certain points. The report said the provost search committee wasn't aware during its deliberations, although a member apparently was familiar with some allegations “but did not think about it.”

Schlissel learned about a 2004 job-related lawsuit involving Philbert after he selected him as provost but before the job began. A male lab employee had accused Philbert of favoring a female employee. The case was settled.

“Schlissel gathered information about the lawsuit and found no reason to reverse Philbert’s appointment,” the report states. “We did not identify any further steps that should have been taken in response to the information President Schlissel learned.”

In response to the report, the university said it would adopt “necessary changes” to procedures.

The report “contains a shocking description of improper and unacceptable behavior by a university officer as well as failings by this institution,” the school said.

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