Sports · June 23, 2022

The University of Michigan will pay $ 490 million to resolve abuse cases

The University of Michigan said Wednesday it would pay $ 490 million to more than a thousand people who suspected sexual abuse of a doctor who worked with football players and other students.

The deal, one of the largest for an American university to settle sexual abuse allegations, was struck in private talks concluded this week, more than three years after a former student wrote to the Michigan athletic director and he had reported misconduct of the 1970s.

That former student, and, ultimately, dozens of others, said Robert E. Anderson had harassed them during physical exams, many of which were required to participate in athletics programs in Michigan. In some cases, investigators concluded, Anderson performed unnecessary and improper tests; he insisted, for example, on a pelvic exam for a woman who had complained of a sore throat.

Credit…Robert Kalmbach / Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan, via Associated Press

Last June, a son of Bo Schembechler, the football manager who died in 2006 and maintains legendary status on the Ann Arbor campus, said he too had been one of Anderson’s victims.

“The University of Michigan has accepted financial and non-financial responsibility for the harm Anderson caused to so many young people that could have been avoided,” Jamie White, an attorney for many of Anderson’s victims, said in a statement. “The university should be praised and not condemned.”

He added: “Most of our clients had a strong love of college and didn’t want to see permanent damage, but they wanted accountability.”

Michigan said in February 2020 that it was investigating whether Anderson abused students and asked people who believed they were victims to come forward. By then, authorities had been conducting a secret investigation for more than a year after a former student sent a letter to the Michigan athletic director and charged Anderson with wrongdoing.

The Michigan inquiry resulted in more than 100 reports in two weeks. Last May, a law firm hired by the university concluded that Anderson, who died in 2008 and never prosecuted for any abuse, had “involved sexually abusing patients on countless occasions.”

At least some university officials were aware of Anderson’s concerns as his career unfolded; one told detectives he went so far as to fire the doctor. (Months after Anderson’s alleged firing, investigators noted, the university leader himself approved a pay raise for Anderson.)

Schembechler’s son, who said he was abused by the doctor, said the coach ignored his report in 1969; his claims could not be independently confirmed.

Anderson retired in 2003. In recent years, however, his former patients have described decades of persistent trauma, from a reluctance to undergo intrusive medical examinations to persistent feelings of shame.

The allegations against Anderson – and Michigan’s knowledge and responsibility for his misconduct – led to a wave of litigation against the university and, after months of negotiations, Wednesday’s announcement.

Over the past decade, universities have agreed to pay large sums to resolve abuse cases. In 2013, Penn State University said it would pay nearly $ 60 million to more than two dozen victims of Jerry Sandusky, a longtime assistant football coach. Michigan State University struck a $ 500 million deal in 2018 to compensate the victims of Lawrence G. Nassar, a doctor. Ohio State University has agreed to pay more than $ 46 million to people who claimed Richard H. Strauss, a longtime physician, abused them.

And the University of Southern California has pledged more than $ 1.1 billion in connection with the misconduct of a gynecologist, George Tyndall.

Michigan’s disclosure of the deal in the Anderson affair came less than a week after the regency council ousted the university’s president, Mark S. Schlissel, for an affair with a subordinate that was said to have occurred “in way incompatible with the dignity and reputation of the University. “

The regents are among those who have yet to approve the deal, the university said, which covers about 1,050 applicants and was reached during mediation.

In a statement on Wednesday, Jordan Acker, chairman of the council, said Michigan officials “hope this agreement will start the healing process for the survivors.”

The university has faced increasing pressure to fully come to terms with its history. A former Michigan running back, Jon Vaughn, began camping outside the university president’s residence in October, and there were rumors around the Capitol of legislation that could have left Michigan more vulnerable in the courts.

Michigan said Wednesday that $ 460 million of the settlement would be available to people who had previously filed complaints and that the university’s attorneys would not take it upon themselves to distribute the money. Instead, a retired federal judge should oversee payments to victims.

A university spokesperson did not respond Wednesday to an investigation into how Michigan would pay for the settlement.

White said in an interview Wednesday that he briefed his clients on the settlement talks during a video call this week. They were, he suggested, largely in favor of reaching an agreement.

“There is certainly a desire to get it over with,” said White, who added: “Dragging him into litigation for another three years was not in anyone’s best interest.”

The remaining $ 30 million of the deal will be reserved for individuals who may file complaints against Anderson by July 31, 2023.

“This is one piece of the puzzle that allows them to have some healing and closure,” said Michael L. Wright, another Anderson victim advocate. “I don’t think this financial deal will provide them with everything in terms of closure, but I think it’s very helpful to let them know that Michigan has accepted responsibility, that Michigan knew they have let these athletes and students down, and that they are trying to help them in. this process”.