The University of Michigan said Wednesday that it had agreed to pay $490 million to more than 1,000 people who had accused a doctor who worked with football players and other students of sexual abuse.
The agreement, among the largest ever by an American university to settle allegations of sexual abuse, was reached this week and made public on Wednesday morning, more than three years after a former student wrote to Michigan’s athletic director and reported misconduct that dated to the 1970s.
That former student, and, eventually, scores of others, said that Dr. Robert E. Anderson had molested them during physical examinations, many of which were required to participate in athletic programs at Michigan. In some instances, investigators concluded, Anderson performed examinations that were unnecessary and improper; he insisted, for instance, on a pelvic exam for a woman who had complained of a sore throat.
Last June, a son of Bo Schembechler, the football coach who died in 2006 and retains mythic status on the campus in Ann Arbor, said he, too, had been one of Anderson’s victims.
“The University of Michigan has accepted responsibility financially and otherwise for harm that was caused by Anderson to so many young people that could have been avoided,” Jamie White, a lawyer for many of Anderson’s victims, said in a statement. “The university should be commended and not condemned.”
He added: “Most of our clients had a strong love for the University and did not want to see permanent damage, but wanted accountability.”
Michigan said in February 2020 that it was investigating whether Anderson had abused students and asked people who had been victimized to come forward. By then, university officials had been conducting an inquiry in secret for more than a year, after a former student sent a letter to Michigan’s athletic director and accused Anderson of wrongdoing.
Michigan’s plea for information led to more than 100 reports across two weeks. Last May, a law firm hired by the university concluded that Anderson, who died in 2008 and was never prosecuted for any abuse, had “engaged in sexual misconduct with patients on countless occasions.”
At least some university officials knew of concerns about Anderson as his career unfolded; one told investigators that he went so far as to fire the doctor. (Months after Anderson’s purported dismissal, investigators noted, that same university leader approved a pay increase for Anderson.)
Schembechler’s son said that the coach had ignored his account of abuse in 1969.
Anderson retired in 2003. In recent years, though, his former patients have described decades of lingering trauma, from a reluctance to seek intrusive medical examinations to persistent feelings of shame.
The accusations against Anderson — and Michigan’s knowledge of, and responsibility for, his misconduct — led to a wave of litigation against the university and, after months of private talks, Wednesday’s announcement.
In the last decade, universities have repeatedly agreed to pay enormous sums to settle abuse cases. In 2013, Penn State said it would pay nearly $60 million to more than two dozen victims of Jerry Sandusky, a longtime assistant football coach. Michigan State University reached a $500 million settlement in 2018 to compensate victims of Lawrence G. Nassar, a doctor. Ohio State University said in 2020 it would pay $41 million to some of the former athletes and other students who claimed they were assaulted by Richard H. Strauss, a team doctor for nearly 20 years.
And the University of Southern California agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion in connection with misconduct by a gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall.
Michigan’s disclosure of the settlement came less than a week after the university’s regents ousted the president, Mark S. Schlissel, for a relationship with a subordinate that they said occurred “in a manner inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the university.”
The regents are among the people who must still approve the settlement, the university said, which covers about 1,050 claimants and was reached during mediation talks.
In a statement on Wednesday, Jordan Acker, the chairman of the Board of Regents, said Michigan officials “hope this settlement will begin the healing process for survivors.”
Michigan said that $460 million of the settlement would be available to the people who have already brought claims and that their lawyers, not the university’s, would take charge of distributing the money. Another $30 million will be reserved for people who might bring claims against Anderson by July 31, 2023.