UM sued for name of woman in relationship with Mark Schlissel

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Who is the woman who was in a relationship with former University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel that prompted his firing by the board of regents?

Charles Blackwell wants to know.

He submitted a Freedom of Information request to UM for an unredacted copy of an incident report generated from an anonymous complaint made to UM against Schlissel. UM released the report to Blackwell, but redacted the name of the woman, who is a university employee.

In releasing the document to Blackwell, UM Chief Freedom of Information Officer Patricia Sellinger wrote, "Enclosed find the responsive record. One individual's name has been removed pursuant to Section 13 (1) (a) of the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, which allows the University to refrain from disclosing information that would constitute an unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy."

On Thursday, Blackwell filed a lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims against UM.

Charles Blackwell says the public should know the name of the woman involved in a relationship with former UM President Mark Schlissel and has sued the university to obtain her name.

"The University cannot demonstrate how the release of a employee name in a consensual sexual affair with the University President would constitute an clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy," according to the lawsuit.

Blackwell is a 28-year-old Farmington Hills resident and activist who says he files public records requests across the state involving government and police. He added that he has frequently encountered public institutions redacting information that the public has a right to know.

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined comment.

"We have nothing to share at this time," he said.

Blackwell said he skipped appealing UM's decision because he finds appeals with public bodies, "to be futile."

He says the public should know the name of the woman in the relationship with Schlissel, pointing out in the lawsuit the regents have said Schlissel, who is married with four adult children, used university resources such as UM email accounts and travel funds "in furtherance of their romantic affair."

“The Legislature has stated in their public policy of the FOIA Act that the public is entitled to full and complete information regarding government affairs," said Blackwell. "The public is entitled to know both parties of inappropriate and improper conduct in which university resources were used."

The regents last month fired Schlissel following an investigation that found emails showing he had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate that began in 2019.

The name of the woman has not become public.

On Jan. 15, the regents sent a letter to Schlissel informing him of his termination. It stated that his firing was based on grounds that he breached the section of his contract that said his "conduct and comportment shall at all times be consistent with promoting the dignity, reputation, and academic excellence of the University."

In the wake of a sexual misconduct investigation of former Provost Martin Philbert, which found that sexual misconduct was prevalent throughout Philbert's 25-year career, UM updated numerous policies.

One of the new policies banned supervisors from initiating romantic relationships with subordinates.

Prior to July, UM required disclosure of relationships between supervisors and subordinates to one's supervisor so a management plan could be developed to mitigate any inherent conflict of interest. 

July's updated policy banned supervisors from initiating romantic relationships with subordinates, and it created a new department to investigate sexual assault and harassment whose director, for the first time, was to report directly to Schlissel.

The law firm that conducted the investigation, Chicago-based Jenner & Block, is also examining Schlissel's use of university funds, according to UM.

Blackwell is currently being represented by the ACLU in a lawsuit after he was blocked from Facebook pages of the City of Inkster for making critical comments.

He filed the lawsuit against UM without a lawyer.