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​​University of Michigan Reaches Dr. Anderson Sex Abuse Settlement

The University of Michigan has reached a $490 million settlement with more than 1,000 former students allegedly assaulted by Dr. Robert Anderson, a sports doctor employed by the university for decades. He retired from the university in 2003 and died five years later. Claimants settled through mediation, and $460 million will be divided among the 1,050 primarily male survivors of Anderson’s abuse. According to the university, $30 million will be set aside for future claims filed before July 31, 2023. Claimants and their attorneys will decide how to split the funds.

The settlement is similar in scope to the $500 million settlement that Michigan State University reached in 2018 with Larry Nassar abuse survivors. Nassar, a former sports doctor, infamously sexually abused athletes and students under the pretense of providing necessary medical treatment. The MSU settlement was split between fewer claimants, so the University of Michigan survivors would receive less per person.   

Dr. Anderson Sex Abuse Complaints Ignored for Years

Former students allege that Anderson, who worked at the University of Michigan for 37 years, conducted invasive rectal and genital exams during routine physicals. Students reported the abuse to university employees and coaches at least 20 times, who didn’t take their concerns seriously. Matt Schembechler, the son of famed football coach Bo Schembechler, says his father punched and threatened him after he shared that Anderson molested him during an appointment.

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One of the first documented complaints about Anderson came in 1975 when student wrestler Tad DeLuca told the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach that the doctor forced students to take their underwear off during standard physical exams. Anderson resigned from his role as director of University Health Services five years later and became a senior physician in the school’s athletic department. He examined student athletes until he retired and never faced any lasting consequences for his behavior.

A 240-page independent report commissioned by the university in 2020 revealed troubling details about Anderson’s behavior. He took off his clothes during appointments under the guise of teaching patients about genital exams. In some cases, he explicitly asked patients to engage in sexual conduct, and the university officials who are supposed to keep students safe looked away. Former football players recall the physician being nicknamed “Dr. Anal” and “Dr. Drop Your Drawers Anderson.” Coaches jokingly told athletes they’d send them to see Anderson as punishment for not working hard.

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In 2018, DeLuca sent a letter to the University of Michigan’s current athletic director nearly 45 years after the school ignored his first complaint. This time, the school alerted law enforcement, and an investigation began. In June 2020, hundreds of survivors filed a lawsuit against the university, saying that the school didn’t do enough to stop the abuse. It’s still unknown how many students were victimized by Anderson. Only 31% of sexual assaults are reported to authorities, making it probable that some victims haven’t come forward. Per the settlement terms, survivors who haven’t filed a lawsuit against the university have until next summer. Given that Anderson’s pattern of abuse stretches back nearly 60 years, some of the survivors who will benefit from the settlement are now in their 70s. 

The settlement still must be approved by the school’s Board of Regents, a federal court, and 98 percent of claimants before it is finalized, although some university faculty members have voiced concerns that the settlement should be much more substantial. One professor told The Washington Post that she expected compensation between $900 million and $1 billion, double what victims will receive under the current proposed settlement plan. In a statement, Board of Regents chair Jordan Acker said that the school hopes the settlement will help survivors heal. “At the same time, the work that began two years ago, when the first brave survivors came forward, will continue,” he said.