Report on U of M's Robert Anderson details decades of sexual abuse, lack of school response

Posted at 3:19 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 23:13:43-04

(WXYZ) — A report commissioned by the University of Michigan lays out a disturbing history of abuse to students and student-athletes at the hands of Dr. Robert Anderson that spanned decades at the school.

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The investigation, which was conducted by the WilmerHale law firm, found credible allegations stretching from the time Anderson was hired at the U of M in 1966 until he retired in 2003.

Some of the revelations included in the report may be disturbing to some readers.

The allegations laid out in the report include various incidents of sexual abuse, including unnecessary hernia checks, pelvic examinations, and rectal and prostate examinations, as well as incidents of fondling male patients until they ejaculated. The also included incidents where Anderson had the patients perform such acts on his own body. The report states that these incidents were done under the guise of demonstrating how to perform such examinations.

The report says the firm consulted with medical experts during their investigation and those experts, "confirm what many patients suspected: Dr. Anderson’s conduct was not consistent with any recognized standard of care and was, on the contrary, grossly improper."

In their investigation, WilmerHale found that university personnel were informed about Anderson's misconduct at several different times and from multiple sources and no action was taken to prevent such abuse from continuing. The report also states that "almost immediately" after Anderson arrived at the university rumors began spreading about his "inappropriate and unnecessary examinations of a sensitive nature."

The report says these rumors were so widespread that roughly half of the patients who reported negative experiences to the investigators said they were away for the rumors or jokes about them either before or after their own experiences.

The jokes included nicknames given to Dr. Anderson by student-athletes, among whom he had a reputation for performing genital or rectal examinations no matter the reason for their visit. The report quotes these nicknames as including“Handy Andy,” “Goldfinger,” “Dr. Handerson,” and “Dr. Drop Your Drawers Anderson,” among others.

However, the report also found incidents where the university was directly informed of abusive conduct and did nothing to stop them. One such occasion came in 1975 when a student-athlete informed the wrestling coach that regardless of the reason for the visit, Dr. Anderson would ask the patient to drop their drawers and cough. WilmerHale found no evidence these complaints were looked into.

Another instance came in late 1978 or 1979 when the Gay Male Advocate in the University's Human Sexuality Office told Thomas Easthope, the then Assistant Vice President of Student Services that Anderson was "fooling around with boys" at the University Health Service. While Easthope claimed to have confronted and fired Anderson, the investigation found that documentation shows Anderson voluntarily resigned his position as UHS Director as of January 1980 while continuing to work there as a senior physician with the title of Director of Athletic Medicine.

The investigation also found that Easthope signed documentation related to Anderson's continued employment in January 1980 and approved a raise for him around August 1980.

The report also says at least four student-athletes shared concerns about Anderson with legendary football coach Bo Schembechler. They says he either brushed them off, instructed them to report it, or said he would look into the reports himself. However, there is no record he ever did.

The WilmerHale investigation collected information from over 800 people, with nearly 600 patients sharing their experiences. Of those, over 300 participated in interviews.

The university has released the following statement on the report:

To All Members of the Campus Community:

The University of Michigan offers its heartfelt apology for the abuse perpetrated by the late Robert Anderson (deceased in 2008).

Today, we received WilmerHale’s 240-page report at the same time it was released publicly. The report is available on the U-M Board of Regents website. 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.

The University of Michigan Board of RegentsMark S. Schlissel, President

You can read the full report below:

WH Anderson Report by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd