An investigation that began in March 2020 into Dr. Robert Anderson, a former University of Michigan physician, details decades’ worth of allegations that Anderson sexually assaulted and abused at least several hundred patients and that the university failed to act on reports it received about his conduct.
The investigation, completed by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP — better known as WilmerHale — released its findings in a 240-page report on Tuesday after having interviewed hundreds of former patients, as well as “approximately 200 current and former University employees, including administrators, faculty members, and coaches, as well as additional (University Health Services), Athletic Department, and Michigan Medicine personnel,” the report said. The University of Michigan commissioned and paid for WilmerHale’s services, which had already been retained for an unrelated investigation.
University of Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel issued a statement Tuesday in which he said the university offered “its heartfelt apology for the abuse perpetrated by the late Robert Anderson.”
The allegations resemble those against Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and Richard Strauss at Ohio State University — doctors who abused their trusted positions to sexually abuse college students and athletes. The cases also involve allegations that powerful institutions ignored or otherwise dismissed complaints about sexual misconduct.
Anderson, who died in 2008, worked for the University of Michigan from 1966 to 2003. He first served as a University Health Services (UHS) doctor and was moved to the Athletic Department in 1981 after “credible reports of misconduct” were relayed to the then Assistant Vice President of Student Services Thomas Easthope, according to the report, in late 1978 or 1979.
In an interview with the report’s authors and sworn testimony, Easthope told investigators that he was aware of allegations against Anderson at the time, and “claimed to have confronted Dr. Anderson and fired him,” according to the report. “But Mr. Easthope did not do so,” the report said. Easthope died in February 2021.
One alleged victim told investigators that, in the early 1980s, Easthope assured him that Anderson would be removed “from all patient-facing responsibilities,” according to the report. But Anderson “continued to provide medical services to student-athletes and other patients — and to engage in sexual misconduct with large numbers of them” until his retirement in 2003, accordding to the report.
“There is no reasonable explanation,” the report concluded, for Easthope’s “failure” to take note of the “rumors and innuendo surrounding Dr. Anderson in his first dozen years at the University of in the years thereafter.”
The extent of inaction
WilmerHale found that the awareness of Anderson’s abuse extended far beyond the examination room. As far back as 1978, a senior administrator at the University of Michigan was made aware of claims about Anderson’s behavior “several times … but did not take appropriate action,” the report said.
Thomas “Tad” DeLuca, who went to the university in 2018 with his story of abuse at the hands of Anderson, said he told his wrestling coach in 1975 about Anderson’s behavior, of which he said Anderson “examined (DeLuca’s) penis, did a hernia check, and conducted a digital rectal examination without explaining why such examinations were necessary.” Anderson’s abuse started in 1972, DeLuca told investigators, and it continued throughout his time at the university while being evaluated for injuries unrelated to his genital area.
Beyond Easthope’s knowledge, UHS officials had heard rumors about Anderson’s alleged conduct and patients mentioned it to them, the report said, but no action was taken. Members of the Athletic Department also “heard jokes or rumors about Dr. Anderson’s examinations” but none of them took further steps to look into what happened or its impact, according to the report.
Consequently, athletes who were abused by Anderson quit their teams, while some students questioned their sexuality, sought counseling, and dropped out of the university because the aftermath of their abuse affected their grades, according to the report.
“The trauma that Dr. Anderson’s misconduct caused persists to this day,” the report said.
Survivor of Anderson’s sexual abuse: ‘He raped the men we grew to become’
Chuck Christian, who was a tight end on the University of Michigan football team in the late 1970s and early 1980s, initially spoke to CNN in May 2020 soon after the investigation began. At that time, he detailed what he described as the long-term effects of abuse he says he suffered from Anderson, but he said he didn’t believe that “one guy who was the bad apple” should bring down the university’s reputation and taint his fond memories of his time as a college football player.
One year later, after WilmerHale learned of the allegations of hundreds of Anderson’s patients, Christian said he was “disappointed to find out that Michigan didn’t have the integrity the players had.”
“It’s really heartbreaking to see how many people were victimized by this animal,” Christian said. “He hurt so many people. And the way I look at it, he didn’t just rape the 18-year-old freshman football player. He raped the men that we grew to become. He raped the husbands once we got married. He raped the father of my children, he raped the grandfather of my grandchildren. This is affecting us for generations and nobody will know how many generations of what Anderson has done will affect us.”
Christian has also been fighting stage four prostate cancer for five years and went into hospice care a year ago. Although he is improving, he said he initially avoided seeking medical care because he has avoided doctors as a direct result of the trauma inflicted by Anderson’s abuse. Some of his teammates he knew had a similar response and Christian said five of them have died in the last year from various ailments and causes, though all of them shared a fear of allowing a doctor to treat them for their illnesses and conditions.
One of Christian’s friends was suicidal due to his trauma, Christian said, because he blamed himself for believing he “could’ve stopped Anderson.”
“He blamed himself,” Christian said. “I told him, ‘it wasn’t your job to stop Anderson from molesting the players. It was Michigan’s job in the first place.'”
According to the report, “a significant number” of patients abused by Anderson were members of “susceptible populations,” and “felt they had little choice but to abide Dr. Anderson’s abuse.” Among those who were most vulnerable, the report said, were LGBTQ patients, student-athletes who feared losing scholarships, and patients in need of a medical exemption from the draft for the Vietnam War.
University of Michigan acknowledges the findings
Schlissel also said that the University of Michigan is taking the report findings seriously.
“We will thoughtfully and diligently review and assess the report’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations; and 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,” Schlissel wrote.
The WilmerHale report offered several recommendations to the university, including enhancing resources, training and policies relating to sensitive examinations, assessing how individual departments respond to sexual misconduct issues to increase their accountability and enhancing certain diligence procedures to ensure that concerning information about physicians is adequately investigated.
Michael Wright, the attorney for Christian and “approximately 200” survivors of Anderson’s abuse, told CNN he felt the University of Michigan “didn’t take steps to protect these athletes.”
“I think the fact that they did not take steps to remove this doctor and they didn’t protect the athletes for such a long period of time from this doctor, I think that’s the most regrettable (part),” he said. “This went on for years and years and years after they had knowledge and they failed to do anything.”