Report: UM officials did not heed 'credible reports' of abuse by Anderson

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

More than two dozen University of Michigan employees were alerted to reports of sexually inappropriate behavior by former university Dr. Robert Anderson, reports that could have stopped the doctor who is accused of molesting more than 800 men, according to a highly anticipated report released Tuesday.

The 240-page report, commissioned and paid for by UM, concluded Anderson sexually abused patients, 90% of whom were men, on "countless occasions." 

Anderson is the former head of University Health Service, and later, team physician for the college's Athletic Department. He worked for UM from 1966 to 2003. He died in 2008.

READ MOREWho at UM was told about Dr. Robert Anderson's alleged sexual abuse? Report names names

READ MOREComplete WilmerHale report of UM's Anderson probe

Rumors about his inappropriate behavior in exam rooms with athletes and gay students began circulating almost immediately after he arrived on campus, according to the report issued Tuesday by the WilmerHale law firm. Although the report does not estimate any number of victims, UM is currently in mediation with about 850 accusers. 

Anderson's alleged misconduct included unnecessary hernia and rectal examinations on patients who went to him for unrelated ailments, manual stimulation of male patients and arrangements in which he provided medical services in exchange for sexual contact, according to the report. 

His misconduct led some athletes to quit their teams, prompted other students to question their sexuality, negatively impacted the academic performance of some students and forced others to leave the university, the report says.

"The trauma that Dr. Anderson’s misconduct caused persists to this day," the report says.

Officials who were alerted to Anderson's behavior, according to the report, including former legendary football coach Bo Schembechler. There was “always locker room talk” about Anderson and student-athletes referred to Anderson by names such a “Handy Andy,” “Goldfinger,” “Dr. Handerson,” and “Dr. Drop Your Drawers Anderson,” the report says.

The WilmerHale report is based on information from more than 2 million documents and 800 people including interviews with 300 former patients and 200 current and former UM employees. It also involved 2 million documents from the archives housed in UM's Bentley Historical Library. Investigators also retained experts.

"The medical experts we consulted confirm what many patients suspected: Dr. Anderson’s conduct was not consistent with any recognized standard of care and was, on the contrary, grossly improper," the report says.

Investigators acknowledged that due to the years that have passed, lack of records and the number of people involved who are now deceased, they could not confirm all of the allegations against Anderson occurred as reported.

"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 says.

Robert Julian Stone, who last year became the first man to publicly accuse Anderson, said it is disturbing no one took action especially with the nature, scope, and duration of Anderson's misconduct. 

"It is past time for the trustees to take responsibility for Dr. Anderson's reign of terror and compensate his victims," Stone said. "And although the report is damning, the public deserves a full release of redacted case reports, not just this summary, in order to understand the scope of the damage Anderson inflicted."  

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and the Board of Regents issued a statement noting they received the report at the same time it was released publicly on Tuesday.

"The University of Michigan offers its heartfelt apology for the abuse perpetrated by the late Robert Anderson," the statement says. "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."

The report recommends the university improve its training and resources related to reporting sexual misconduct. It also recommends the university increase the accountability of individual departments by looking into how they respond to sexual misconduct issues as well as improve the procedures for investigating “concerning information about physicians.”

Other recommendations include improving communication and coordination between the Office for Institutional Equity, university police and the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, as well as ensuring OIE has the resources it needs to do its job.

Jon Vaughn, a former UM running back who played four seasons in the National Football League in the early 1990s and a reported victim of Anderson, said the report is “a step, but it’s not even close to being enough.”

“Something this egregious with so many victims, UM can’t even reach out and personally apologize because the institution is still involved in downplaying the severity of what we have to live with?” Vaughn said.

“The trauma doesn’t go away because of the report."

Four early complaints

Four complaints could have uncovered Anderson's behavior early in his career, the report says. Among them was a 1975 letter written by former UM wrestler Tad DeLuca to coach Bill Johannesen and assistant wrestling coach Cal Jenkins complaining about the doctor. But neither coach asked about Anderson's behavior or referred it for an investigation, according to WilmerHale.

DeLuca wrote a second letter in 2018 that triggered the UM police investigation that became public when Stone came forward in 2020.

Jokes, banter, and innuendo about Anderson’s conduct were widespread but did not cause concern among UM officials, the report says. 

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least three separate complaints reached Thomas Easthope, the former associate vice president for student services, according to the report. But Anderson wasn't fired. Instead, he was moved to the Athletic Department and Michigan Medicine, according to WilmerHale.

"The university never terminated Dr. Anderson’s employment or moved him to a role in which he would no longer see patients," the report says. "Instead, in July 1981 Dr. Anderson transferred to the Athletic Department, for which Mr. Easthope had no oversight responsibility. Dr. Anderson continued to work at the university, including in the Athletic Department and in various capacities at Michigan Medicine, until his retirement in 2003.

"He continued to provide medical services to student athletes and other patients — and to engage in sexual misconduct with large numbers of them — for the rest of his career."

A woman who claimed she felt violated by the doctor during a medical exam needed for employment filed a lawsuit against him in 1995. 

"Dr. Anderson himself disclosed the lawsuit on an application for Michigan Medicine credentials in September 1996," the report says. "The university did not conduct due diligence."

Lawyers Mike Cox and David Shea, who filed the first lawsuits and now represent more than 100 reported victims, said the WilmerHale report makes the allegations from 14 months ago official.

"UM knew for decades that Dr. Anderson was sexually preying on vulnerable scholarship athletes and gay students, yet it did nothing," the lawyers said in a statement. "Rather UM’s culture of enablers encouraged this predator to run amok and damage hundreds who remain wounded today. UM can never again be the Leaders and Best until it atones for its legacy of tolerating sexual predators. "

Attorney John Manly speaks of the alleged sexual abuse by former University of Michigan doctor Robert E. Anderson during a press conference in Ypsilanti on Thursday, March 5, 2020. 
Sterling Riethman (left) and Kaylee Lorincz, survivors of abuse by former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, were present to give their support to the victims of Dr. Robert E. Anderson.

The report names several other people who alerted UM to Anderson's behavior.

Jim Toy, UM's gay male advocate in UM's Human Sexuality Office, told Easthope in 1978 or 1979 of reports that Anderson was behaving inappropriately with male patients in exam rooms, according to the report. Two counselors who worked for the university’s Counseling Services Office also reported concerns about Anderson’s conduct to Easthope. 

Easthope told UM police Lt. Mark West that he tried to fire Anderson. But Anderson voluntarily resigned as director of University Health Service in January 1980 and he continued working at the clinic as a senior physician with the title of Director of Athletic Medicine, the report says.

Easthope recently died but gave a deposition under oath to lawyers in which he said his boss at the time, then-Vice President for Student Services Henry Johnson, overturned the decision to terminate Anderson. 

Johnson, who is retired, declined comment Tuesday.

"Despite having heard about Dr. Anderson’s misconduct, Mr. Easthope himself signed documentation related to Dr. Anderson’s continued employment at UHS in January 1980 and approved a salary increase for him in or around August 1980," the report says.

In the report, Johnson told WilmerHale investigators that he was never told about Anderson's behavior, and they didn't find any evidence to the contrary.

Others who were alerted included Schembechler, who died in 2006. 

According to the report, a member of the football team in the late 1970s told UM police that he received a genital examination from Anderson, who fondled his testicles, and a rectal examination during which he pushed Anderson’s hand away.

"The student athlete told police he asked Mr. Schembechler 'soon' after the exam, 'What’s up with the finger in the butt treatment by Dr. Anderson?'” according to the report.

Schembechler, the report says, told the player to “toughen up.”

WilmerHale also noted Schembechler was named in a civil lawsuit by an athlete who he allegedly sent to Anderson for migraines in the early 1980s and who Anderson allegedly gave rectal examinations on at least three occasions.

“The student athlete allegedly told Mr. Schembechler, who instructed him to report the matter to Athletic Director Don Canham,” the report says. “The patient alleges that he did so twice, in 1982 and 1983, but Mr. Canham took no action.”

Canham died in 2005.

University employees told WilmerHale investigators that Schembechler wouldn't have allowed the alleged abuse.

"Multiple university personnel who worked with Mr. Schembechler told us that had he been aware of Dr. Anderson’s misconduct with patients, he would not have tolerated it," the report says.

UM hired WilmerHale in March 2020 one month after Stone, a former student, publicly accused Anderson of sexual misconduct nearly 50 years after an alleged incident. Stone shared his story with The Detroit News. That brought to light an 18-month UM investigation of Anderson that began after DeLuca's 2018 letter but had not been publicly announced.

UM apologized after the allegations emerged and asked other potential victims to call a hotline to report complaints. The university also offered free counseling and promised an investigation.

Reported victims, their attorneys and sexual assault advocates lobbied the university to ask the Michigan Attorney General's office to lead an investigation as it did in the sexual assault cases involving former Michigan State University sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar. The MSU investigation ended earlier this year after the college declined to waive attorney-client privilege and release thousands of documents.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she would not investigate UM's handling of complaints against Anderson unless the university waived attorney-client privilege. 

UM did not waive privilege or ask Nessel to get involved but instead hired the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson to investigate. UM later dropped the firm in March 2020 after learning it had defended the late financier Jeffrey Epstein and film director Roman Polanski against allegations of sexual abuse.

Attorneys Mick Grewal and Steve Drew said they represent more than 200 UM athletes, business professionals and others who have reported sexual assaults by Anderson after they were sent to him for medical treatment.

On Tuesday, they again called for Nessel to begin an investigation, for UM to waive attorney-client privilege and release all documents and interviews with university officials that were part of the WilmerHale investigation.

Dr. Robert E. Anderson

The report is the second outside investigation of a UM faculty member involving sexual misconduct by the firm.

The university hired WilmerHale in January 2020 to investigate sexual misconduct allegations involving former Provost Martin Philbert, who was fired from his post amid the investigation. He retired from the faculty and relinquished his academic tenure in June.

In July, WilmerHale's report showed a long and pervasive history of sexual harassment and misconduct by Philbert before and during his time as UM's second-highest official. In November, UM announced that it agreed to a $9.25 million settlement with eight women who said they were victimized by Philbert.

Staff Writer Hayley Harding contributed.