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A former University of Michigan vice president overturned a 1979 decision to fire Robert Anderson, the late University athletic doctor accused of sexual misconduct, documents filed in U.S. District Court Thursday reveal. 

Thomas Easthope, former vice president of the Division of Student Life, said in a deposition that he took steps to fire Anderson upon learning of these allegations. Easthope later changed this claim, telling investigators he actually gave Anderson the option to resign. Easthope recounted his experiences working with Anderson, whom he described as “authoritarian” and “in a position of supreme authority” at the University, in a deposition held on July 28 and Aug. 4. 

According to the amended class action complaint, the University received “credible allegations” of Anderson’s behavior in 1979 but chose to conceal them, allowing Anderson to retain his position at the University until his retirement in 2003. Anderson died in 2008. 

Instead of returning to private practice, Anderson transferred from his role as director of health services to a position as senior physician with health services in 1980. His personnel file states the reason for this transfer as “resuming former position.”

“U of M had and has a duty to protect the health and safety of its students, and this duty includes protecting them from sexual assaults by U of M employees, and responding properly if a sexual assault does occur,” the complaint reads. “U of M violated this duty by failing to implement and enforce appropriate policies and procedures to prevent, and properly respond to, sexual assaults of its students.”

In his deposition, Easthope accused former Athletic Director Don Canham of ignoring the allegations and allowing Anderson to take on a more formal and increasingly influential role within the University Athletic Department. Canham served as athletic director from 1968 to 1988 and is now deceased. 

“U of M, through its most senior administrators, employed a false artifice and misrepresentation that Anderson was an ethical and competent doctor,” the complaint says. “In that regard, U of M continued to hold Anderson out as a leader in its healthcare community.”

In March, the University hired the law firm WilmerHale to investigate the sexual misconduct allegations against Anderson after initially hiring Steptoe and Johnson LLP. WilmerHale is also the firm that released the 88-page report detailing its investigation into sexual misconduct by former Provost Martin Philbert, who was removed from his position in March.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined to comment on Easthope’s deposition due to the ongoing investigation into Anderson’s behavior.

“We don’t have anything to add, while the WilmerHale investigation remains active,” Fitzgerald wrote.

In June, the University began reaching out to more than 300,000 former students who attended the University between the 1960s and early 2000s, asking them to report any interaction they may have had with Anderson. In a letter to the University community, Schlissel stressed the importance of protecting students’ privacy during the investigation. 

“Safeguarding the confidentiality of Dr. Anderson’s former patients is of paramount importance,” Schlissel wrote. “Accordingly, WilmerHale will not disclose any identifying or confidential patient information to the University, and the identity and confidentiality of Dr. Anderson’s patients will be protected from disclosure to others to the fullest extent permitted by law.”

University lawyers representing alleged victims of Anderson are preparing to speak at mediation next week, according to the Detroit News.

Daily News Editor Liat Weinstein can be reached at weinsl@umich.edu.

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