Michigan president will step down a year early in 2023

Embattled Mark Schlissel is slated to serve out the next two years as controversy swirls around his tenure.
By: | October 6, 2021
Jillian Bogater/University of Michigan Record

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, whose tenure has been marked by bouts of controversy and sound leadership, announced on Tuesday he will vacate his position in the summer of 2023, a year before his contract is set to expire.

Schlissel, 63, came to the decision during a meeting with the Board of Regents in late September but waited two weeks before sending a letter to the Michigan community to say he was stepping down.

“To support a smooth and thoughtful presidential leadership transition, I am announcing that I plan to end my service as president in June 2023,” said Schlissel, who is in the second of two terms. “I decided that this timing is appropriate. The new horizon gives the Board time to consult with our community, think about the future and thoroughly plan and conduct a search for my successor, while allowing us to continue momentum on important and time-critical efforts that are underway.”

Schlissel will stay on at the university as president, receiving a boost in pay from $900,000 to $927,000. After that, he will become president emeritus and become special advisor for a year, according to a report in the Detroit News. There was no immediate word on a search for a successor.

Schlissel replaced longtime president Mary Sue Coleman in 2014 after serving as Brown University provost and dean of biological services at the University of California-Berkeley. At the time, his appointment was heralded by Brown President Christina Paxson, who wrote, “I credit the University of Michigan’s presidential search committee for their exceptional wisdom and judgment in choosing Mark to lead one of our nation’s preeminent public research universities.”

Under Schlissel, Michigan launched the successful Go Blue Guarantee program that gives free four-year tuition to high-achieving students whose families earn $65,000 or less. That’s been expanded to two more campuses. The university also has been at the forefront of healthcare research, and Schlissel noted it set a record for private support of a public university.

“I am very proud of all the university has accomplished thus far during my term as president and remain excited about what we are currently planning for the years ahead,” Schlissel wrote. “Thanks to you, U-M is addressing major societal challenges such as poverty, firearm injury prevention, inequality, human health and the climate crisis with interdisciplinary strength.”

However, Michigan also has endured its share of criticism for its handling of sexual abuse scandals both prior to, and during, Schlissel’s arrival, most notably those accusing late former sports physician Dr. Robert Anderson and former provost Martin Philbert of misconduct. Schlissel also has been criticized for his university’s response during COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a huge failed project called the Detroit Center for Innovation. In 2020, faculty gave him a vote of no confidence.

Yet, Schlissel is still in charge for now.

“What keeps me energized and passionate about this university is the important work of our students, faculty and staff and the alumni, donors and other partners who support us,” he wrote. “The work we do matters. It’s work that the president of this university has the immense privilege of leading and being a part of. Every day we heal, discover, teach and serve – advancing a public mission and strengthening the immutable Michigan bond of knowledge and values. But as long as challenges remain in our society, the University of Michigan’s work will remain unfinished. I’m eager to support all of you as you strive to make our world and university a better place.”

Schlissel said he plans to talk about the future – or at least his next two years – during his Leadership Address on Oct. 7 at  umich.edu/watch.