UM asking thousands of former student athletes about sexual abuse by campus doctor
The University of Michigan is contacting nearly 7,000 former student athletes who were on campus decades ago during the tenure of Dr. Robert E. Anderson and asking them to speak with investigators if they were sexually abused by him, or know anything pertinent to an investigation of his conduct and the university's response.
The information gathered will show the institutional failures at UM and "will allow the university to better prevent abuse from happening in the future," according to a letter written by UM Athletic Director Warde Manuel.
But some questioned the content of the letter and independence of the investigation while saying the members of the gay community, who also alleged abuse by Anderson, would not get the same outreach.
Manuel, who was a UM student athlete, will send the letter to every former student athlete who was on campus from the mid-1960s to the early 2000s, during the tenure of Anderson. The former director of University Health Service and team physician of the UM Athletic Department, who has been accused publicly and in lawsuits of sexual abuse, worked at UM from 1968-2003 and died in 2008.
Manuel will send the letter via email to every student for whom the university has an email address — about 4,400 students. Manuelwill also send a letter via the U.S. postal service to 6,800 students. Some will get both.
The letter, dated April 8, will inform the students of the investigation being conducted by an outside firm the university has hired, WilmerHale, into alleged sexual misconduct by Anderson.
"The university takes seriously the safety and well-being of its students and condemns the misconduct that has been reported," the letter begins.
“WilmerHale’s mission is to follow the facts wherever they may lead in order to help the university understand how the abuse that has been reported could have occurred," according to part of the letter, published Tuesday in the University Record, a UM publication for faculty and staff.
"That knowledge will allow the university to better prevent abuse from happening in the future.”
Manuel's letter also addresses confidentiality.
“WilmerHale will not disclose to the university or anyone else the names of any person who provides information in the investigation and WilmerHale will protect the identity and confidentiality of former patients and witnesses to the greatest extent permitted by law,” Manuel wrote.
Jamie White, an Okemos-based lawyer who represents dozens of Anderson's victims, said WilmerHale has contacted several of his clients without his consent and this has caused confusion among many of the victims.
"I am not necessarily opposed to the interviews taking place but it needs to be executed in coordination with their attorneys," said White. "I represent 40 of Dr. Anderson's victims, who are in large part African American men and they have a particularly unique story to tell about the circumstances that led up to them being abused. These stories are important and will be critical to accomplishing any resolution, but the university should exercise the requisite care and legal duty before reaching out to them directly."
Meanwhile, John Manly, a lawyer who is representing dozens of Anderson's victims, called letter, "deceptive and filled with falsehoods."
He said the university cannot promise confidentiality because a subpoena could unveil the confidentiality of those who come forward. He also said WilmerHale is not an independent firm because it works for the university.
"Lawyers rarely find their clients guilty of anything," said Manly, who helped victims who were sexually abused by the now-incarcerated former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar land a $500 million settlement.
But Ron Weiser, chair of the Board of Regents and also one of Anderson's victims, said the regents are doing everything within their power to ensure that UM does not make the same mistakes that other institutions made in similar situations.
"As a victim and as a regent, we are doing everything within our power to make sure this is independent and transparent investigation," said Weiser.
Allegations against Anderson emerged in February, when former UM student Robert Julian Stone came forward and shared his story about allegedly being assaulted by Anderson in 1971, at a time when he was coming out as gay.
Since then, scores of others have come forward and reported abuse by Anderson, including gay men who weren't athletes at the school.
Thomas Easthope, then UM associate director of students, fired Anderson in 1979 for "fooling around with male students" in exam rooms after being alerted by activists in the gay community; however, the doctor stayed on at UM for another 24 years, according to a UM police investigation.
When asked if the university would be attempting to reach out to gay former students regarding abuse by Anderson, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald he was not aware of any additional targeted outreach.
"Student-athletes are easily identified," Fitzgerald said. "The university and the news media have shared broadly the message of the independent investigation and the availability of counseling resources."
Reached at his home in Palm Springs, Calif., Stone said he was disappointed by the lack of outreach to the gay community.
"I find it incredibly sad that the gay men who Anderson began molesting will never have the benefit of such an outreach," he said. "I understand that the university can reach out to the subset of students who were athletes by virtue of their curriculum. There is no such curriculum that would identify the gay students."
WilmerHale will release a "non-privileged report" about the investigation into Anderson after it is completed, and it will release it to the public at the same time it is released to the University of Michigan Regents, UM officials said last month.
WilmerHale is also conducting an investigation of former Provost Martin Philbert, who was put on leave in January amid allegations of sexual misconduct and has since been removed from his post.
UM has set up a call center for the investigation at 855-336-5900, which is staffed Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
More than 168 calls have come in to the university regarding Anderson, UM officials said Tuesday.
UM is asking people to contact WilmerHale directly at 877-428-9667 or UofM@wilmerhale.com.
The university is also providing counseling to alleged victims facilitated by the national firm Praesidium. Call 888-961-9273 for more information.