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UM students, faculty, Anderson victims applaud decision to remove Schlissel

Ann Arbor — Students, instructors and alleged victims of sexual assault on Sunday applauded the ouster of former University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel as they stopped to snap photos of signs supporting victims of sexual assault in front of his on-campus residence. 

Signs seen at the University of Michigan near the president's residence in Ann Arbor on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022.

Several said they particularly liked a new sign that appeared overnight: "Oh Bye, Mark!" 

On Saturday, UM's Board of Regents unanimously voted to fire Schlissel after an investigation found inappropriate conduct with an employee, the board said, and announced that Schlissel's predecessor, Mary Sue Coleman, will serve as interim president. 

This sign and a cake are at the front door of the president's residence at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Jan. 16, 2022. A knish, a traditional Jewish food, was mentioned in one of the emails released by the university after the firing of President Mark Schlissel.

Tad DeLuca, a wrestler in the 1970s who wrote to Athletic Director Warde Manuel in 2018 with claims against the late sports doctor Robert Anderson, said it's obvious Schlissel failed to keep students safe. At the time of his alleged abuse, DeLuca was 20 years old.

"The Schlissel dismissal is a very important, small step towards making things right," said DeLuca, who now lives in Gaylord. There's a tremendous culture of sex abuse, assault and rape on campus. Dating back to even before me, there's a history of it going back to 1968 on campus. This is a small step in exposing hypocrisy and integrity."

Rebekah Modrak, a UM professor in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, said the ordeal is embarrassing and trickles down to leadership in all units of the university.

"I and many others are celebrating his departure and glad to see him leaving because he was not responsive to students, faculty and staff and promoted (former UM Provost Martin) Philbert to the chief officer even after reading allegations against him," Modrak said. "Many of us feel he should have been fired in 2020 when Philbert was fired. And many of us believe he wasn’t being fired because of this but that this is just a front reason."

It's a consistent problem Modrak doesn't believe will be resolved with a new president, she said.

"I’m sure another Schlissel-type will pop up in his place. He’s a type of administrator, and many others on campus are similar, in their arrogance and they won’t listen to their own ethics committees that they appoint," she said.

A report commissioned by UM in 2020 after a group of women brought complaints against Philbert, then the second-highest-ranking official on campus, showed that sexual misconduct was prevalent throughout his 25-year career, beginning after he joined the faculty in 1995 as a toxicology professor before ascending to dean of the School of Public Health and, in 2017, to provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. The university reached a $9.25 million settlement with eight women who said they were victimized by Philbert.

Silke-Maria Weineck, a UM professor in German studies and comparative literature, agreed with Modrak that "Schlissel has done such enormous damage to the university with the full support of the regents," she said.

"I think what this is an example of is Schlissel thinking of himself as unaccountable," said Weineck, who has worked at the university since 1998. "It's unsurprising that this brings him down."

Students expressed support for the decision to remove Schlissel, citing multiple controversies in which the university has been involved during his tenure, but said they hoped it would not lead to instability in their education. 

“I hope that they find someone quickly enough, who will do a good job, keep us safe during the pandemic, and really listen to the needs of the students and make sure that we're taken care of,” said Lexi Reynolds, a sophomore majoring in computer science and cognitive science. 

Lexi Reynolds, 20, a sophomore in computer science and cognitive science, talks about the firing of Mark Schlissel at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022.

"There's a lot that's up in the air and volatile, and I think that we need that stability. So I hope that they're able to provide that to us," added Reynolds, 20. 

Hanan Rakine, a candidate for a master's degree in public health at the university who joined protests outside Schlissel's residence held by Jon Vaughn, an alleged Anderson victim, said she felt the university was taking steps to address a history of "systemic sexual abuse," despite the instability it may create.  

Hanan Rakine, 24, a masters student in public health at the University of Michigan, talks about the firing of President Mark Schlissel near the president’s residence in Ann Arbor on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022.

"I’m better with uncertainty than I am with a president who's not upholding the ‘Michigan standard,’" said Rakine, 24. "So I'm very glad that he's gone, finally, but I can understand why some people are worried about it."

Andres Bonilla, 20, a junior in molecular biology, looks over during a FaceTime call with his parents, where he was showing them that the word "lonely" had been added to the M on the Diag at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. “Lonely M” was how President Mark Schlissel signed one of the emails released by the university Saturday.

Citing the university's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Graduate Employees Union strike under Schlissel, junior Andres Bonilla, 20, said the emails from his university account that the school released Saturday documenting an apparent relationship between Schlissel and a subordinate was "the straw that broke the camel's back.”

"We were wondering, is he just dumb, or does he think he's invincible?" said Bonilla, a student in molecular biology, about Schlissel using his university email in his correspondence with the employee. "Given his actions, we think it's possibly the latter.”

Matt Reed, 30, of Columbus, puts up a sign near the president's residence at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. Reed said he is a former gymnast at Ohio State and is among the many survivors of sexual assault during his time as a student-athlete.

Chuck Christian, a university football player from 1977-81 who said he was abused by Anderson, said he believes Schlissel is just the "tip of the iceberg."

"It's shocking to me that UM can’t get it right when it comes to sexual assaults on campus and when it comes to people in positions of power who abuse their authority for their own gratification," Christian said. "I hope we’re one step closer to accountability at UM as this has been going on for 50 years that we know about. I think there will be many more."