Ann Arbor schools: No evidence accused doc worked in district

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor public school officials said Friday they found no records to prove a former University of Michigan sports doctor accused of sexual abuse worked in the district, despite statements by a former UM wrestler who says he recalls Dr. Robert E. Anderson examining students at Forsythe Middle School.

Dr. Robert E. Anderson

Ann Arbor schools superintendent Jeanice Swift issued a statement that the district immediately investigated media reports this week that Dr. Robert E. Anderson was connected to the school district by reviewing state and district records.

"And (we) found no evidence that the physician was employed within the school system," Swift said. "While no records confirm that Dr. Anderson served as a volunteer in the school system, what is important is that if any student — past or present — has experienced a troubling event with any district volunteer or employee that they immediately contact the district or law enforcement."

Joe Neely, a former student at Forsythe Middle School, told The Detroit News for a story published Wednesday that has vivid memories of an exam with Anderson more than 50 years ago when Neely was a seventh-grade basketball player and track runner.

In an interview with The News, Neely said Anderson checked him for undescended testicles and joked about his genitals, making him feel extremely uncomfortable. He said classmates who had the same physical shared similar feelings.

"He examined us all and seemed to spend too much time and take delight in examining us for undescended testicles," Neely told The News. "We talked about it, and we all had the same experience and felt it was inappropriate. He took too much pleasure in his work."

On Friday, Neely reiterated that Anderson performed exams in the school district.

"I have no idea what his employment status was," Neely said. "He was there, maybe he was volunteering. He did sports physicals for a number of years at Ann Arbor schools."

A former UM wrestler interviewed by university detective Mark West in November 2018 said he went to see Anderson in the 1970s for a swollen elbow and remembered the doctor asking him if he "had sex over the weekend" and adding, "you probably banged it."

The former wrestler said he found the comments strange. He told West that he had attended Forsythe and Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor and remembered Anderson performing sports physicals at both schools.

He said he did not remember being abused by Anderson but told a detective a friend of his had told him of being abused during an examination.

Meanwhile, Neely said he felt something was off about Anderson's exam.

"A lot of it was the feeling that it was odd and weird," said Neely, who was 12 at the time. "It came from the fact we had been to other doctors in the past and had not had the same experience."

In November 2018, a former UM athletic trainer who worked with Anderson, Russell Miller, told West that the doctor had worked in athletic training for Flint schools before coming to the university. Miller called Anderson an "unbelievable team doctor" and told UM police that learning of the allegations against his former colleague "shatters him."

School officials with Flint Community Schools said Wednesday they were unable to locate employment records but confirmed a person named Robert E. Anderson was once an employee of the district. The time frame of employment was unknown.

“The district is aware of deeply disturbing allegations against a late physician who worked with schools and universities around the state,” the district told The News in a statement. “While we can confirm an individual named Robert E. Anderson was once an employee of the district, we do not have information about his employment history.

“We take our responsibility to the health and safety of students — past and present — very seriously, so we encourage anyone with information regarding this matter to contact local law enforcement.”

The university became aware of sexual abuse allegations against Anderson in July 2018, when a former student-athlete wrote to Athletic Director Warde Manuel to detail abuse during medical exams by Anderson in the early 1970s.

A former UM student, Robert Julian Stone, became the first public accuser, telling The News for a story published Feb. 19 that Anderson had made him touch the doctor's genitals during an exam in June 1971.

In August 2019, Stone, who lives in Palm Springs, California, sent an essay to UM officials titled, "My Michigan Me-Too Moment, 1971," in which he discussed the alleged abuse.

Stone shared his report with The News, and when UM responded to questions about it, the university revealed that a UM police investigation around Anderson began in 2018, when a former UM wrestler wrote a letter to Manuel. In the letter, the wrestler detailed abuse by Anderson when he was a student during the early 1970s. 

UM also revealed it had identified several individuals who described sexual misconduct from decades ago.

The UM police documents obtained a few days later by The News showed university officials in 1979 decided to move Anderson from his position as director of the University Health Service to clinical instructor and reduce his salary. It's unclear why Anderson was transferred.

For 24 years after the transfer, Anderson served as the athletic department's top physician, working with football teams led by Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr, until his 2003 retirement.