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Survivors of Anderson's abuse question whether a new president will change U of M's culture

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Ken Lund
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Survivors of sexual abuse by the late University of Michigan doctor Robert E. Anderson are calling for a cultural shift at the school, although some doubt whether a new president will bring that change.

Keith Moree says he was a student when he reported being sexually abused during a medical appointment by Anderson, the director of University Health Services, in 1980.

But, despite reports from Moree and others to top U of M officials, Anderson continued to abuse patients for years, according to a report commissioned by the university using the law firm WilmerHale.

Civil lawsuits against the university are ongoing as interim President Mary Sue Coleman takes the helm. Michigan’s Board of Regents fired former President Mark Schlissel Saturdayafter emails indicated he engaged in an undisclosed affair with a subordinate in violation of university policy.

The situation shows a deeper problem, Moree says.

“We go to the extreme example of a Dr. Anderson, which is very, very different than what ex-President Schlissel is being accused of," Moree said. "But they're sort of along the same continuum of what happens when people are made untouchable and that's part of the culture that has to change."

Moree believes Anderson abused him in part because Moree disclosed being gay during the appointment.

"Robert Anderson was a chronic serial sexual predator who exploited any power differential he could find," Moore said. "Many of Anderson's earliest victims at the University of Michigan were gay men at a time when being outed could have grave consequences, which I should add can still be the case today."

Moree hopes new leadership will help the university make changes to counter abuse of power.

But Robert Stone, another survivor of Anderson’s abuse, has doubts, noting that Coleman, the newly appointed interim president, led the school from 2002 to 2014.

"For the university to reach back and rehire a 78-year-old fossil from the last decade, who sat in that chair for all of those years and instituted none of the changes that are necessary at the University of Michigan, I would say I am not optimistic and that’s an understatement," Stone said.

Anderson worked at Michigan between 1966 and 2003. He died in 2008.

"The Board of Regents has complete confidence in President Coleman to lead the university through this interim period," university spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in a statement.

He added, "We again thank all of the survivors of the late Dr. Robert Anderson for coming forward to share their stories. 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."

Fitzgerald pointed to the university's work with consulting firm Guidepost Solutions to implement reforms recommended in the WilmerHale report. A working group is looking at changes to campus culture while the university adds staff to its Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office, Fitzgerald said.

Nearly two years ago, Stone became Anderson's first public accuser when he told The Detroit News about being sexually assaulted by Anderson during a medical exam in 1971.

Although it's difficult for Stone, now 71, to revisit the trauma, he says he want to expose Anderson and his enablers.

"I didn't sleep well last night," Stone said during a news conference Tuesday. "I probably won't sleep well tonight because talking about this, it's not fun. I don't enjoy it. But you just work through it."

Hundreds of people have accused Anderson of sexual abuse since Stone came forward.

The WilmerHale report didn't reach a conclusion on exactly how many people Anderson abused, but said, "We have no doubt based on the evidence available to us, including the first-hand accounts of his patients, that Dr. Anderson engaged in a pervasive, decades-long, destructive pattern of sexual misconduct."

Sarah Lehr is a state government reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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