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Education

Report: Late U of M Doctor Anderson responsible for "countless occasions" of sexual misconduct

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U of M Bentley Historical Library
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The late Doctor Robert Anderson committed sexual misconduct on “countless occasions” during his nearly four decades at the University of Michigan.

That’s the conclusion of an independent investigation conducted by the firm WilmerHale, and released on Tuesday.

Anderson worked in various capacities at the University of Michigan from the 1960s through his retirement in 2003. He was director of the University Health Service during the 1960s and 70s, until he resigned from that post and moved over to the Athletic Department and subsequently to Michigan Medicine. Anderson died in 2008.

WilmerHale interviewed more than 300 former Anderson patients, as well as dozens of former university administrators, athletic officials, and other employees during its investigation. It also reviewed extensive documentation to corroborate people’s accounts and recollections as much as possible.

The report admits that, due to missing paperwork and the deaths and advanced age of some of the people involved, it’s impossible to verify many pieces of the puzzle. “But we have no doubt based on the evidence available to us, including the first-hand accounts of his patients, that Dr. Anderson engaged in a pervasive, decades-long, destructive pattern of sexual misconduct,” the report’s authors wrote, adding that “hundreds of patients, many with no other connection to one another, described strikingly similar patterns of misconduct by Dr. Anderson…[we believe] based on the totality of the evidence, that Dr. Anderson engaged in sexual misconduct with a large number of patients over an extended period of time.”

Anderson’s misconduct “ranged from performing medically unnecessary hernia and rectal examinations on patients seeking treatment for wholly unrelated issues, to manually stimulating male patients and causing them to ejaculate, to quid pro quo arrangements in which he provided medical services in exchange for sexual contact,” investigators found.

The report recounts how Anderson’s reputation for misconduct was widely known among many students and student-athletes during his career. It also highlights instances in which university officials and athletic department personnel were informed of Anderson’s misconduct, and either dismissed the complaints or failed to act on them.

“At least a small number of University personnel were aware from early days of concerns about Dr. Anderson’s conduct with patients,” the report found. “In addition, there were other indications, including widespread rumors about Dr. Anderson, that could have led to discovery of his misconduct had they been understood and pursued.”

The report cites the following examples:

First, in July 1975, Tad DeLuca, a member of the wrestling team, sent a letter to head wrestling coach Bill Johannesen and assistant wrestling coach Cal Jenkins that, among other things, included a complaint about Dr. Anderson. Neither Mr. Johannesen nor Mr. Jenkins inquired about Dr. Anderson’s conduct or referred the matter for investigation by others. Second, in or around 1979 to 1981, senior University administrator Thomas Easthope received complaints regarding Dr. Anderson’s misconduct on at least three separate occasions. Mr. Easthope, who had supervisory authority over UHS, was told directly and explicitly about Dr. Anderson’s misconduct and failed to take proper action to address it. Third, the University failed to investigate persistent and widespread rumors about Dr. Anderson. We found that at least some personnel in UHS and the Athletic Department heard or were aware of jokes, banter, and innuendo about Dr. Anderson’s conduct with patients, but they did not recognize such comments as cause for concern. Fourth, the University did not conduct due diligence with respect to a 1995 lawsuit alleging that Dr. Anderson assaulted a patient during a pre-employment physical. Dr. Anderson himself disclosed the lawsuit on an application for Michigan Medicine credentials in September 1996.

The full report also lays out further suggested actions the university can take to protect students and staff from sexual misconduct within the institution.

Some Anderson survivors and others have criticized the WilmerHale investigation. They questioned whether it would be truly independent, since the firm was retained by the university’s Board of Regents.

Mick Grewal and Steve Drew, attorneys for some 200 Anderson survivors, issued the following statement about the WilmerHale report:

“The investigation of Dr. Robert Anderson’ sexual misconduct at University of Michigan by the law firm WilmerHale reveals more than three decades of horrendous sexual abuse by Anderson which was enabled by the negligence, active cover-up and lies by high-ranking U of M officials. It acknowledged that Anderson’s misconduct was first reported in the early 1970s and that former Assistant Vice President of Student Services Thomas Easthope lied when he claimed to have “fired” Anderson in 1980 after receiving multiple reports of his misconduct. Instead, Anderson was given a salary increase while he remained a Senior Physician and Director of Athletic Medicine. It is particularly disturbing to survivors of Dr. Anderson that several former high ranking University officials would not co-operate with the WilmerHale investigation. It is also true that several survivors declined to be interviewed. This is because, despite the claims of independence, this investigation was commissioned by the University, lacked subpoena power, and was not trusted by many of the more than 200 survivors we represent. Today we call upon Attorney General Nessel to undertake a fully independent criminal investigation, like the one that was conducted in the Larry Nassar case. We also call upon the University to waive all claims of attorney client privilege and release all documents and interviews with University officials that were conducted as part of the WilmerHale investigation."

 

WilmerHale, however, writes that “No one on the Board of Regents or at the University directed, inhibited, or sought to influence us in any way. We had the freedom and resources to follow the facts wherever they led, to contact every individual we thought might have relevant information, and to access and review every document we thought might be relevant.”

In response to the report, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and the Board of Regents released the following statement:

“The University of Michigan offers its heartfelt apology for the abuse perpetrated by the late Robert Anderson (deceased in 2008). Today, we received WilmerHale’s 240-page report at the same time it was released publicly. The report is available on the U-M Board of Regents website. We will thoughtfully and diligently review and assess the report’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations; and we will work to regain the trust of survivors and to assure that we foster a safe environment for our students, our employees, and our community.”

Editor's note: The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's license.

 

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