Accusers: New U of Michigan leader must change abuse culture
Two men who say they were sexually assaulted by a former sports doctor at the University of Michigan are hoping that a change in leadership with the weekend firing of President Mark Schlissel will allow the school be more accountable toward abuse victims.
Keith Moree and Robert Stone told reporters Tuesday that the Ann Arbor school is ripe for a culture change as its board conducts a search to permanently replace Schlissel, who was removed Saturday due to an alleged “inappropriate relationship with a university employee.”
Schlissel’s abrupt firing and the revelations and litigation over decades of sexual abuse by Dr. Robert Anderson have tarnished Michigan’s reputation for academics, they said. The school regularly is ranked among the top public universities in the U.S.
“I don’t know how much embarrassment this university can take before they decide to make a true change of course,” Stone said. “But over time, if this continues, a degree from the University of Michigan is just going to be an embarrassment and it’s going to take a real change in attitude among the Board of Regents to turn this around.”
The university currently is in mediation to resolve multiple lawsuits by more than 1,000 people — mostly men — who say Anderson sexually abused them during routine medical examinations. Anderson worked at the university from 1966 until his 2003 retirement and was director of the university’s Health Service and a physician for multiple athletic teams, including football.
A number of football players and other athletes have come forward to accuse Anderson, who died in 2008, of sexually abusing them.
A report by a firm hired by the school determined that staff missed many opportunities to stop Anderson over his 37-year career.
The university has “consistently diminished the gravity and the harm that was done to its students and the university has long shown more concern and care for its brand than for the well-being of its students,” Moree said. “With a new president in place, the university has a fresh opportunity to make restitution to those it has harmed, to replace a culture of hypocrisy at the highest levels with one of centering student well-being and to promote healing in the university community.”
Michigan’s Board of Regents said Saturday on the school’s website that members learned on Dec. 8 from an anonymous complaint about a relationship involving Schlissel and a university employee. An investigation revealed that “over the years,” Schlissel used his university email account to “communicate with that subordinate in a manner inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the university.”
The board appointed former University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman as interim president. Schlissel succeeded Coleman as president in 2014. He announced last October that he would step down in June 2023, a year before his contract was to expire.
The university is developing a “cultural change process” that includes a campus-wide working group effort to “create an environment of mutual respect and accountability that is free from retaliation, where everyone can feel safe to report misconduct and feel supported throughout the process,” the school said Tuesday in an email to The Associated Press.
“Additionally, we are in the process of adding significant staff to the newly formed Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office, that will increase our prevention and education efforts while freeing up resources to focus sharply on investigations allegations of misconduct when they occur,” University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said.
“We also again thank all of the survivors of the late Dr. Robert Anderson for coming forward to share their stories,” Fitzgerald added. “We have repeatedly apologized for the pain they have suffered and we continue to work toward fair compensation through the ongoing confidential, court-supervised mediation process.”
Both Stone and Moree also said Tuesday that Anderson also targeted gay men at a time when many were hesitant or afraid to publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation.
Moree graduated in 1981 and lives in Portland, Oregon. He said he was abused by Anderson in 1980.
“I likely was abused because I’d just come out to Dr. Anderson as a gay man given the nature of the visit,” Moree said. “Robert Anderson was a chronic, serial sexual predator who exploited any power differential he could find. Many of Anderson’s earliest victims at the University of Michigan were gay men at a time when being outed could have grave consequences.”
Stone said that in 1971 he was a junior at the school and was “just coming out as a gay man” when he went to see Anderson.
“I was sexually assaulted in the course of that examination,” Stone said. “Even though Dr. Anderson spent a decade sexually molesting the gay men of Ann Arbor, it was not enjoyable for any of us. What he put us through was so traumatizing. I remembered when I walked out of that exam room I was so disgusted and I was so angry. Fifty years later I’m still carrying this anger.”
Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan.