Editor’s Note: The following article contains potentially triggering accounts and mentions of sexual assault
The law firm WilmerHale released a report on Tuesday summarizing their year-long investigation of sexual abuse allegations against Dr. Robert Anderson, finding “no doubt” that hundreds of allegations against Anderson are credible and represent a devastating pattern of misconduct The report tells of Anderson’s misconduct, awareness of Anderson’s misconduct at the University, and recommendations for the University “to help prevent, identify, investigate, and respond to the kind of misconduct in which Dr. Anderson engaged.”
Anderson was first hired as a physician at University Health System (UHS) in 1966, and was promoted to UHS director from 1968 until 1980, when he resigned from his position as director but remained a physician at UHS. In 1981, Anderson transferred to the athletic department, where he remained a physician until 1999. Anderson remained at the University as a faculty member until 2003.
WilmerHale outlined three main goals in their report: to “investigate the nature and scope of any misconduct by Dr Anderson as a University employee”, to “determine who at the University knew or should have known about such misconduct and what was done to address it” and to “recommend measures the University should take to help prevent, detect and address such misconduct in the future.”
More than 300 patients told WilmerHale about Anderson’s misconduct in multiple positions he held during his 37-year tenure at the University. More than 200 current and former U-M employees were interviewed for the investigation. WilmerHale additionally hired medical experts to better understand relevant standards of care, as well as social science experts to better understand how and why reports of sexual misconduct may not be noticed in institutional and medical settings.
WilmerHale wrote that the investigation was completely independent from the University, and that no person or department at the University sought to interfere, influence or impede the investigation. They also said that they are fully confident in the patterns of abuse revealed in the investigation because of certain behaviors and details that were consistent across all interviewed patients.
The investigation outlined how exactly Anderson typically engaged in misconduct: conducting invasive procedures that patients “perceived as unnecessary, performed inappropriately, or both” under the guise of legitimate medical treatment.
“For example, approximately one hundred patients described inappropriate prostate or rectal examinations; nearly 150 patients detailed inappropriate hernia and/or genital examinations; and a half-dozen patients told us about inappropriate breast and/or pelvic examinations,” the report said
Victims of Anderson’s misconduct experienced various appalling forms of sexual abuse, as reported to WilmerHale and DPSS. In 1965 or 1966, one patient was instructed to “‘strip down’” and “perform jumping jacks while naked.” Following the jumping jacks, Anderson inappropriately performed a prostate exam and “‘stroked’ the patient’s penis until he ejaculated.” After the patient ejaculated, Anderson said, “Nice color.”
The report mentioned an undergraduate student who sought treatment for a rash in his genital area in 1968 or 1969, where Anderson egregiously exposed himself and sexually abused the patient.
“After examining the patient’s genitalia, Dr. Anderson pulled down his own pants and underwear, exposing himself and stating that he wanted to illustrate how a ‘penis and balls’ should look,” the report said. “Dr. Anderson then instructed the patient to touch Dr. Anderson’s genitals, and as the patient did so, Dr. Anderson instructed him to ‘milk me.’”
In 1971, an undergraduate student consulted with Anderson regarding treatment for a urinary tract infection or STI. As Anderson drew blood from the patient, Anderson began to “‘grind his crotch’ into the patient’s hand.”
“With the needle still inserted in the patient’s arm, Dr. Anderson informed the patient that the medicine he might need for treatment would be expensive, but that Dr. Anderson could ‘handle’ the cost if the patient agreed to give Dr. Anderson oral sex,” the report said. “The patient performed oral sex on Dr. Anderson in exchange for the medication.”
Many of Anderson’s victims were part of at-risk populations, which made them less likely to report Anderson’s abuse, the report said. This included student-athletes who feared they would lose their scholarships; members of the LGBTQ+ community who feared that reporting the abuse would identify them as part of said community at a time when it was stigmatized; patients who grappled with conditions they felt insecure about such as STIs and fertility issues; and patients who needed Anderson’s help to get medical exemptions from the Vietnam War draft.
The report also noted that Anderson not only targeted these more vulnerable groups, but intentionally avoided “engaging in sexual misconduct with patients who were more likely to recognize and report it.” This could have included athletic coaches and their family members, among others.
An undergraduate student saw Dr. Anderson at UHS in the late 1960s after hearing rumors that Dr. Anderson liked to fondle students in exchange for a draft exemption letter. During the appointment Anderson fondled the patient’s scrotum and spent an excessive amount of time examining the patient’s rectum. While examining the patient’s penis, Anderson began “‘stroking’ the patient as if to masturbate him, causing the patient to obtain an erection.” Anderson followed this examination with a letter stating the patient had medical issues that should exempt him from the draft.
Additional reports similar to these are further detailed in the report.
WilmerHale concluded the University never took adequate measures to address Anderson’s allegations. According to the report, information regarding Anderson’s misconduct was shared with a senior University administrator between 1978 and 1981 in addition to information shared with other University employees that was never handled appropriately.
“Although the information these individuals received varied in directness and specificity, Dr. Anderson’s misconduct may have been detected earlier and brought to an end if they had considered, understood, investigated, or elevated what they heard,” the report said.
When Anderson arrived at the University in the late 1960s, rumors and speculation regarding his misconduct began among students almost instantly. Anderson often targeted student athletes, who commonly referred to Anderson as “‘Handy Andy, ‘Goldfinger,’ ‘Dr. Handerson,’ and ‘Dr. Drop Your Drawers Anderson,’ among others.”
“Rumors and jokes about Dr. Anderson were widespread among student athletes, with whom Dr. Anderson had a reputation for performing genital or rectal examinations no matter the reason for the visit,” WilmerHale said. “Roughly half the patients who reported negative experiences with Dr. Anderson to us were aware of rumors or jokes about him either before or after their own incidents.”
Thomas “Tad” DeLuca — both a University alum and member of the wrestling team in the 1970s — is a survivor of Anderson’s misconduct who complained to his wrestling coach, Bill Johannesen, in a letter in 1975.
“[S]omething is wrong with Dr. Anderson,” DeLuca wrote. “Regardless of what you were there for, he asks that you ‘drop your drawers’ and cough.”
Yet WilmerHale found there is “no evidence that Mr. Johannesen looked into Mr. DeLuca’s complaint about Dr. Anderson.” In addition to Johannesen, members of both the athletic department and UHS failed to investigate these complaints and rumors at the time.
“We also learned of more than a dozen additional instances in which Athletic Department personnel heard jokes or rumors about Dr. Anderson’s examinations, some of which highlighted Dr. Anderson’s propensity for performing sensitive examinations for no apparent medically appropriate reason,” the report said. “Yet no one in the Athletic Department appears to have recognized what they heard as indicative of abuse or initiated any inquiries into Dr. Anderson’s conduct. UHS personnel told us that they heard rumors and jokes about Dr. Anderson’s conduct. Patients mentioned or alluded to Dr. Anderson’s inappropriate behavior to other UHS doctors or staff. Again, it appears no action was taken in response.”
Thomas Easthope was assistant vice president of student services with oversight responsibility for UHS. Easthope acknowledged in sworn testimony in the interview that he was aware of some sexual misconduct by Anderson but did not act.
“Mr. Easthope claimed to have confronted Dr. Anderson and fired him. But Mr. Easthope did not do so,” the report said. “Contemporaneous documentation reflects that Dr. Anderson voluntarily resigned as UHS Director effective January 1980, but he continued working at UHS as a senior physician with the title of Director of Athletic Medicine. 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.”
In light of the report, WilmerHale acknowledged the University’s improved responses to sexual misconduct reports in recent years, but recommended the University take further action to enhance its response to misconduct.
Recommendations include enhancing training programs regarding sexual misconduct awareness and reporting; promoting “resources, training, and policies relating to sensitive examinations”; evaluating departmental responses to misconduct in order to “increase their accountability”; improving “adequate” investigating for physicians accused of misconduct; increasing “communication and coordination between and among OIE, DPSS, and the Prosecutor’s Office”; and guaranteeing OIE has the resources needed to fulfill its tasks and responsibilities.
When contacted for comment, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald directed The Michigan Daily to an email from University President Mark Schlissel and the University Board of Regents sent to the entire U-M community shortly after the report was made public.
“We are not able to comment any further out of respect for the confidential, court-supervised mediation process that remains ongoing at this time,” Fitzgerald wrote.
In their email, Schlissel and the Board of Regents offered a one-sentence “heartfelt apology” to the survivors of Anderson’s abuse and attached a copy of the report.
“We will thoughtfully and diligently review and assess the report’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations,” Schlissel said. “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.”
This investigation comes after WilmerHale has already conducted an independent investigation regarding the University’s operations. The firm released a report in July 2020 outlining that former Provost Martin Philbert regularly committed sexual misconduct against his colleagues in multiple different positions at the University. WilmerHale’s Philbert report additionally provided multiple recommendations to the University regarding how they can improve their conduct to protect victims of sexual assault. The University later enlisted the services of a consulting firm called Guidepost Solutions to assist in the process of implementing these recommendations.
Regarding Anderson, the University is also already facing active litigation from his victims, as multiple lawsuits have been filed in federal court mentioning his alleged offenses. After a class action lawsuit was filed in Mar. 2020 seeking more structural reform at the University, officials like Regent Ron Weiser (R) encouraged plaintiffs to settle their grievances out of court.