‘U’ contacts former student-athletes, asks them to report abuse by late doctor Anderson

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - 12:29pm

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Maddie Fox/Daily

The University of Michigan has contacted thousands of former student-athletes who may have been treated by the late University doctor Robert E. Anderson as part of its investigation into Anderson’s alleged abuse, according to a University press release Tuesday morning. Anderson, formerly the director of University Health Services and an athletic team physician until 2003, has been accused by more than 100 individuals of sexual misconduct. 

According to the press release, Michigan Athletics will send an email to every living former student-athlete who was on campus between the mid-1960s to the early 2000s, reaching 4,400 of the 6,800 student-athletes who were on campus during that time period. The email will be followed by a letter sent through the U.S. Postal Service intended to reach most of the 6,800 people, with some individuals receiving both forms of communication. 

The letter, provided to The Daily by the University’s Office of Public Affairs, is signed by Athletic Director Warde Manuel. In the letter, Manuel informs former student-athletes that the University has contracted the law firm WilmerHale to conduct an independent, outside investigation into the allegations. He encouraged student-athletes to contact WilmerHale and assured them of the investigation’s confidentiality.

“I am writing to you as a former student athlete to ask you to come forward and speak to WilmerHale if you experienced abuse by Anderson or if you have information you believe may be relevant to this situation,” Manuel wrote. “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.”

In mid-February, the University sent a statement to the campus community announcing that an independent, outside investigation was being conducted into allegations against Anderson by the firm Steptoe & Johnson. According to the statement, the University first initiated a Division of Public Safety and Security investigation in July 2018 after a former student-athlete wrote to Manuel detailing Anderson allegedly abusing him during routine medical examinations. 

The University has since dropped Steptoe & Johnson after backlash regarding the firm’s representation of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and convicted child rapist Roman Polanski. In early March, WilmerHale — the same firm also leading the investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct into former University provost Martin Philbert — was hired to conduct the investigation instead.  

In his letter to former student-athletes, Manuel emphasized the University will not influence or interfere with the investigation. After concluding the investigation, according to Manuel, WilmerHale will issue a public report, which will not be received by the University ahead of time. 

“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,” Manuel wrote. “That knowledge will allow the university to better prevent abuse from happening in the future.”

However, some have expressed doubt over the independence of the investigation, including attorney John Manly, the head of a legal team representing more than 50 alleged Anderson victims. In a previous interview with The Daily, Manly said he and others do not trust the investigation as they believe any law firm contracted by the University will prioritize its attorney-client relationship with the University. 

“When your first instinct is to hire a lawyer and have survivors call your lawyer, that’s not somebody who really gets it,” Manly said. “If you want to make this right, you have to do something that is almost counterintuitive and brave, which is to put your students and your survivors first.”

Manly and others have asked the Michigan Attorney General’s office to conduct an investigation into allegations against Anderson instead. However, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has said her office will not consider opening an investigation unless the University waives all privileges, which it has not chosen to do. 

Since an investigation into Anderson was first announced by the University in February, multiple individuals have come forward publicly with allegations of abuse, including University Regent Ron Weiser and former University athletes. Eleven total lawsuits have been filed against the University by more than 70 individuals alleging sexual abuse by Anderson and negligence on the part of the University. The Detroit Free Press reported Anderson was known for writing letters helping students avoid the draft for the Vietnam War in exchange for sexual favors. 

The University has asked individuals with information about abuse by Anderson to contact a dedicated call center at 855-336-5900. According to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald, as of April 3, there have been 168 unique complaints against Anderson, most through this hotline. Individuals can choose to contact WilmerHale directly at 877-428-9667 or at UofM@wilmerhale.com.

The University is also offering free, confidential counseling for those affected by Anderson’s misconduct through Praesidium, a national counseling services firm. Individuals can reach out to Praesidium for these services at 888-961-9273.

Daily News Editor Claire Hao can be reached at cmhao@umich.edu