The University of Michigan now faces a problem familiar to its Big Ten peers: a former staff member has been accused by his patients of inappropriate conduct during medical exams. We’re about to find out what Michigan has learned from its peers about what to do, and what not to do.
This month we’ve learned the University of Michigan is facing a version of the same problem that has recently beset Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State: A former staff member has been accused of sexually abusing students.
Former patients have claimed Dr. Bob Anderson engaged in unnecessary exams and inappropriate contact with male students. The complaints about Anderson were sufficient by 1979 for Anderson’s supervisor to relieve him of his duties at the University’s Student Health Services.
But the department allowed Anderson to resign, and apparently did not report his conduct to any other authorities. Anderson transferred to the athletic department, where he worked for 24 years. He retired in 2003, and died in 2008.
I’ve recently talked with former Michigan athletes, who had running jokes about “Doctor Drop Your Drawers.”
“Come in with a cold, ‘Drop your drawers,’” one told me, backed by others. “Come in with a bad shoulder, ‘Drop your drawers.’”
In most cases, it seems, that’s where it ended. In others, patients endured unneeded rectal exams and other violations – and haven’t forgotten them. The potential for lasting harm is obvious.
There can be no doubt that, if confirmed, Anderson’s conduct would represent a decades-long blight on Michigan’s record – but how bad it continues to be depends on Michigan’s response.
Michigan’s leaders have one big advantage: they’ve already seen their peers go through this. When I studied the crises at Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State, I did not find dysfunctional cultures. Far from it: the students, the faculty, and the alumni all “got it,” and wanted their leaders to do the right thing. But I found those very leaders pathetically self-serving and short-sighted, making already bad situations much, much worse.
If Michigan’s leaders are smart, they’ll heed the lessons learned, and minimize the damage to the former students and the University. Ultimately, though, this isn’t about investigation strategies or public relations tactics, but something much deeper, and finer: our basic morality, which should inform all that follows.
They can start by taking the advice of Bruce Madej, Michigan’s long time sports information director. Whenever Michigan faced a crisis Madej always said, “First, let’s start with the truth.”
Good idea. Instead of worrying about damage control, the impact on careers, and image over substance, Michigan should do what world-class research universities do best: pursue the truth, wherever it leads, without fear or favor.
If they try to cut corners, this could last for years – which is exactly what will happen if they drag their feet, deny the facts, or impugn the victims.
They need to interview Anderson’s patients and colleagues, dig up the files, and sort out whatever happened. They should answer Freedom of Information requests promptly, produce a clear report for the public, sincerely apologize for any damage done, make further amends where appropriate, and enact reforms to ensure this never happens again.
But the most important thing Michigan’s leaders can do is the simplest: treat the victims like human beings. Fail that, and nothing else will matter much.
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OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football debuted at #13 on the Publisher’s Weekly list of national bestsellers. That makes seven national bestsellers in a row, for which I can thank YOU!
We’ve had more than 30 events coast-to-coast, including two last week in Florida. This week: New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston! Thanks to you all! For more information on those events and many others ahead, check out johnubacon.com/events/.
I’m also in ESPN’s celebration of 150 years of college football, The American Game, 11 one-hour episodes running on Tuesday nights, and The Greatest (mascots, innovations, etc.), which runs 30-minutes on Thursday nights.
Please follow me on Twitter! https://twitter.com/Johnubacon. A fun way to swap witticisms — if we’re lucky! 44.9K followers and growing.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!
THE DOS EQUIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL FOOTBALL COLLEGE, on which I play the “professor” teaching ten classes on the sport. And yes, there IS a final exam! 12 questions to test your knowledge — and if you get a bunch right, they send you a certificate! Enjoy — and good luck!
We have plenty of excerpts, stories, and reviews out there, too, some listed below. Two more come out this week in The Wolverine print copy and the Ann Arbor Observer.
Let’s start with the EXCERPTS:
The first excerpt, “Hard to Beat the Cheaters,” on Michigan’s approach to recruiting, appeared in Postgame.com, Yahoo sport’s longform section.
The second, on the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry (derived from two chapters titled “Bad Blood” and “Cavalry’s Coming”), ran in the famed MGoBlog.com
The most recent excerpt, on the roller coaster recruiting process of five-star defensive back Daxton Hill, appeared in Sam Webb’s excellent Michigan Insider Thursday night.
INTERVIEWS AND STORIES:
REVIEWS AND STORIES
From Greg Dooley’s MVictors.com: “Punching Back.”
And even Ohio State’s top football website, Eleven Warriors:
I’ve read everything John U. Bacon has ever written and I’ve never been bored or disappointed.
Sprinkling character profiles into the storyline of Wolverines’ 2018 campaign produces a quick and captivating read – even if your position in Michigan’s football orbit is as an Ohio State fan.
Hope to see you down the road on the book tour!
Again, thanks for your support!