Content warning: The following article contains descriptions of sexual assault and its effects on survivors.
Survivors of Dr. Robert E. Anderson — a former University of Michigan doctor with hundreds of sexual abuse allegations against him dating back to the 1970s — spoke to the Board of Regents about their experiences with Anderson while they were students at the first in-person meeting for the Regents since March 2020.
The meeting was held at the Postma Family Clubhouse on the University golf course. Regent Ron Weiser (R) showed up 30 minutes after the start of the meeting, and Regents Paul Brown (D) and Katherine White (D) joined the meeting virtually.
A crowd of more than one hundred protested the University’s handling of Anderson prior to the start of the meeting, and during the public comment period, speakers recounted their experiences with Anderson and called on the University for accountability. Dozens of University employees were alerted to Anderson’s abuse throughout the decades, according to a report by the law firm WilmerHale commissioned by the University. The University has received backlash for their handling of the Anderson allegations.
University alum Jeffrey DesCamp, the first public speaker, said he was abused by Anderson while receiving a Federal Aviation Administration medical examination, a test he needed to take to receive a certification to become a student pilot. Anderson mandated that DesCamp continually return to his office before he could receive his certification, visits in which Anderson left DesCamp shocked by the magnitude of the abuse he experienced.
“I was savaged by (Anderson’s) insatiable desire to do as he pleased, while tears from my eyes streaked down my face from the pain he inflicted upon me,” DesCamp said. “I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t believe any human being could do what he was doing to me.”
David Share, another survivor of Anderson’s abuse, stood before the Regents to ask them to take accountability for the wrongdoings of previous University administrators. Share pointed to the University’s common slogan of “Leaders and the Best” for their community, emphasizing that inaction would be contradicting that claim.
“You will forfeit U-M’s right to the claim of being leaders and best if you sidestep accountability for the harm caused by the misdeeds and mistakes of University of Michigan leaders,” Share said. “For once and for all, you need to address these wrongs. I urge you to do so.”
Other speakers, like former U-M football player Vincent Washington, described feeling silenced by University leaders and appalled at the University’s seeming protection of Anderson. Through tears, Washington described why he felt discouraged to speak up about Anderson’s abuse and how the trauma has affected him in the years since.
“The question I always ask myself is, ‘Why didn’t I put it together, or object, or say something sooner?’” Washington said. “Coach Bo (Schembechler) would always say that the enemy of learning was distraction, the enemy of winning was being a distraction. So, subconsciously, I knew that if I became a distraction, my career at Michigan would be over. I carry a lot of guilt for this.”
Several former student-athletes have alleged in the WilmerHale report and publicly that they told longtime head football coach Bo Schembechler about the abuse. Matt Schembechler, Bo’s son, said this summer that Anderson abused him when he was young but that Bo blew off his complaint. Other members of the Schembechler family have disputed that account.
Former U-M hockey player Dean Turner said he felt that the University cared about their reputation more than Anderson victims like himself.
“The University could have put an end to this and protected student athletes such as myself, but instead they protected a rapist and a brand,” Turner said. “I have and will continue to suffer the traumas of this rape, as you know. Healing doesn’t follow a timeline, and neither should we.”
Regent Jordan Acker (D), chair of the board, thanked the survivors for speaking at the public hearing and maintained that the University is committed to preventing further abuse like that of Anderson. He said that he and the other regents were limited to what they could say due to the confidential mediation process going on in court.
“We are committed to becoming a campus that is free of sexual violence, abuse and harrassment,” Acker said. “We have put more measures in place today that will help us continue along that path. And we are continuing to make changes on our journey to make sure that nothing like this ever happens on our campus again. To all of you who are speaking out, we hear you, we value you and thank you again for sharing your stories.”
The Board also approved a 3% pay raise for University President Mark Schlissel amid media reports that board members have privately griped about his performance.
Acker announced Schlissel’s raise, which takes effect Sept. 1, 2022. He thanked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for approving an increase in higher education budgets across the state which is responsible for the raise, an action which he emphasized has been rare in the past.
“It makes me proud as a regent to see our University back in action,” Acker said. “And we have strong measures in place to protect health and safety. We are poised as a university to meet the challenges before us and be responsive to the community and the people of our state.”