UM provost accused of sexual misconduct ends his employment with university

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Martin Philbert, the former University of Michigan provost who was fired from his post and banned from campus amid allegations of sexual misconduct, has given up his tenured faculty position and is retiring from the university as of June 30.

University officials announced Wednesday that Philbert, a top-ranking UM administrator, sent a June 7 letter to UM President Mark Schlissel. In it, Philbert informed the president of his decision in two sentences.

"This letter serves as notice of my voluntarily and irrevocable retirement from the University of Michigan effective June 30, 2020," Philbert wrote. "With retirement, tenure attendant to my appointment is relinquished."

Martin Philbert, during commencement exercises at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, May 4, 2019.

While Schlissel removed Philbert from his administrative post in March, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the provost position is an at-will position. Philbert had earned academic tenure prior to his administrative duties and had the right to return to the faculty.

"It will end his employment with the university," Fitzgerald said of the letter.

The specifics have not emerged around the alleged sexual misconduct that led Schlissel to put Philbert on administrative leave in January and then remove him from his post in March following a preliminary internal investigation. But it involved several allegations from people who were not students, and an outside investigation by the law firm WilmerHale is continuing.

Susan M. Collins, an economics professor and former dean of the UM Ford School of Public Policy, is serving as interim provost.

The letter brought an end to Philbert's 25-year career at UM, where he started in 1995 as a toxicology professor and later served as the dean of the School of Public Health. He ascended to the provost's job in 2017 and also held the title of executive vice president for academic affairs.

He earned $570,340 annually.

Philbert's employment letter as provost, dated June 7, 2017, indicated that he would accrue one month of administrative leave, and an additional month for completing his five-year term.

However, it also said that "In the event that your appointment as Provost and EVPAA is terminated for cause or you accept another position outside of the University during the term of your appointment you will forfeit any administrative leave earned during your Provost and EVPAA appointment."

The letter said he would also "retain the seven months of administrative leave accrued during your service as Dean. Compensation for the administrative leave described in this paragraph will be at your final Provost and EVPAA base salary rate. It may not be converted to a lump sum cash payment and there are no service or return to the faculty requirements associated with this leave.”

Asked to clarify the terms of Philbert's retirement, Fitzgerald said in an email Wednesday: "Martin Philbert is not eligible for either of the leaves outlined in this letter. He remains on the U-M payroll through June 30."

The investigation of Philbert by WilmerHalewill be made public when it's complete, UM officials said.

WilmerHale is the same law firm that is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson, who served as head of UM's University Health Service and team physician of the Athletic Department from the 1960s to 2003. He died in 2008, and hundreds of former students, mostly men, have alleged he sexual assaulted them. 

UM has employed other staff involved in high-profile sexual misconduct allegations.

Among them are Stephen Shipps, a renowned violin professor in the university's School of Music, Theatre and Dance. He retired Feb. 28, months after a published report by the Michigan Daily, the UM student newspaper, outlined allegations of sexual misconduct that spanned four decades.

In March, UM Board of Regents fired and revoked the tenure of David Daniels, a music professor and renowned opera singer. The move came after a UM internal investigation showed Daniels harassed nearly two dozen students, solicited some for sex, sent them nude photos and more. A grand jury in Texas also indicted the countertenor and his husband, William Scott Walters, in the sexual assault of an incapacitated man in 2010.