July 15, 2022
Mark S. Schlissel, who was fired in January as president of the University of Michigan, is still earning a paycheck from the university. Despite an investigation of his “alleged sexual affair” with a subordinate — a direct policy violation — Schlissel exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to remain as a tenured professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology on the Ann Arbor campus.
Schlissel took advantage of what’s known as his faculty-retreat rights, a common feature of many higher-education administrators’ contracts that gives them the right to “retreat” into the role of a professor, often tenured, after leaving an administrative post. Some contracts do not rescind retreat rights even if the administrator is fired for cause, as Schlissel was, creating a significant loophole for administrators who leave their positions in disgrace.
That could soon change. Michigan and the California State University system, where faculty-retreat rights were at issue in recent scandals, took steps this week to limit their use.
At Michigan, the contract of the incoming president, who was hired this week, specifically states that if he were fired for cause, he would forfeit his faculty-retreat rights. (A university spokesman would not comment on the reason behind the shift in contract language.)
Meanwhile, Cal State’s Board of Trustees voted this week to standardize its contract policies across the system’s 23 campuses, to require administrators’ appointment letters to specify the terms of faculty retreat, and to revoke them if an investigation finds misconduct or if one is still underway.
Michael Uhlenkamp, a Cal State spokesman, said the new policies were a direct response to the use of faculty-retreat rights by administrators accused of wrongdoing. In February, Joseph I. Castro, the system’s chancellor, resigned after it came to light that he ignored sexual-harassment allegations against another administrator when Castro was president of Cal State at Fresno, and then made a deal with the administrator that included a $260,000 payout, retirement benefits, and a clean record in exchange for a promise that he wouldn’t exercise his retreat rights or work on a Cal State campus again. And in 2016 a dean at California State Polytechnic University at Humboldt retreated to the faculty after he was fired over allegations of sexual harassment, Uhlenkamp said. The former dean remains a professor at the university.