The University of Michigan is looking into “disturbing and very serious” sexual-misconduct allegations made against a former athletic team physician, the school announced Wednesday.
The review concerns Robert E. Anderson, who also served as director of University Health Service, which provides health care to the general student population, during his time at the campus from 1968 through 2003, when he retired. He died in 2008, according to a statement from the school.
Michigan has hired law firm Steptoe & Johnson to conduct an independent review of the allegations, which were brought to the university’s attention in July 2018 when a former student-athlete revealed them in a letter titled “My Michigan Me-too Moment, 1971” to Athletic Director Warde Manuel.
The University of Michigan Police, in addition to the school’s office for institutional equity, opened separate investigations into the accusations and interviewed dozens of people, ultimately finding “several individuals who described incidents of sexual misconduct,” according to the statement.
The police investigation of the case concluded in April 2019, but the independent review was ongoing.
“I want to urge any former student athlete with information they are willing to share confidentially to come forward,” Manuel said. “The health and safety of our student athletes is our highest priority.”
The former patients said the sexual misconduct included unnecessary medical exams from the early '70s through the '90s, but the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office determined on Feb. 18 that it would not file criminal charges in Anderson’s case, according to the university.
Anderson is now at least the fourth university physician to make national news over sexual-misconduct allegations related to patients, including convicted serial sexual predator and former Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar. But the revelation of his alleged misconduct comes at a particularly fraught moment for the college, after Michigan’s provost, Martin Philbert, was suspended last month over unrelated sexual-misconduct allegations.
“Because Dr. Anderson is deceased, no criminal prosecution of him would be possible regardless of whether the facts set for the report supported such an action,” Washtenaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steven Hiller told The Detroit News, which first reported on the allegations. “Furthermore, the ability to prosecute any ancillary offenses that may have been committed by others would have been extinguished by the statute of limitations decades ago. Therefore, this office’s review of the report has concluded.”
Separately, a woman filed a lawsuit against Anderson in 1995 in which she said she felt violated during a medical exam, but the case was dismissed, The News reported.
“As part of our commitment to understanding what happened and inform any changes we might need to make, we now are taking the next step to reach out to determine who else might be affected or have additional information to share,” said University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel. “Every person in our community should expect to feel safe and supported.”
Schlissel said the university was also helping former patients connect with counseling resources and “committing to a public accounting of the university’s investigation, in a manner that respects the privacy and confidentiality of the former patients.”
Robert Julian Stone, 69, who wrote the letter about Anderson, told The News he was sexually abused by the doctor during a medical exam in 1971. Anderson spent several years as a top physician for the football teams led by famed former coaches Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr.
Stone earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Michigan during the '70s, he told the paper. While he was a student, he saw Anderson for a medical exam, during which Anderson allegedly dropped his pants, grabbed Stone’s hand and used it to fondle the doctor’s genitals.
“It gave me a firsthand knowledge that these things happen to men and that wasn’t a knowledge I particularly wanted to have,” Stone said. “‘Me too’ includes men too.”
Two of Anderson’s three children, Jill Anderson and Kurt Anderson, told the newspaper that their father could never do such a thing, calling it “ridiculous.”
In Philbert’s case, investigations by an outside law firm and the school’s police department began on Jan. 17 to look into more than 20 allegations of sexual misconduct, at least three of which had been previously reported to the university. Earlier this week, The News reported that the university paid $200,000 to settle a lawsuit involving Philbert, which claimed that he laid off an employee in order to keep on another female researcher with whom he purportedly had an inappropriate relationship. Philbert did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The school also began proceedings to terminate a music professor, David Daniels, last summer after he was indicted in Texas in the sexual assault of an incapacitated man in 2010. He has denied the allegations.