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Former Michigan Official: VP, AD Nixed Firing of Doctor

Paul Steinbach

A longtime University of Michigan vice president overruled the 1979 decision to fire physician Robert Anderson over allegations he sexually abused student-athletes and others, allowing him to serve another 24 years, according to testimony revealed last week.

As reported by The Detroit News, Thomas Easthope, the former UM associate vice president for student services, testified in a deposition that his boss, Henry Johnson, VP for student services, overturned the decision to terminate Anderson, according to documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court. Easthope testified that former athletic director Don Canham also played a role in keeping Anderson at UM, enabling the physician to continue his abuse of students.

Canham, once considered among the most influential athletic directors in the nation, is deceased. Johnson, who was the first Black administrator at Michigan and at that time reported directly to the university president, said he had a lawyer and declined to comment when reached by The News.

Easthope’s deposition gives the first explanation of how Anderson, who he recalled forcing out of his job as chief of the student health clinic in late 1979, managed to serve the university and its athletic department for another two decades.

Easthope testified that he told Johnson that Anderson was abusing students. “I didn’t just go knocking off people without Henry knowing about it," he said, "but I did tell him what I knew about [the abuse].”

Easthope acknowledged that he did not take steps to alert others about the physician.

"While he attempted to fire Anderson, he failed to report Anderson’s misconduct to the proper channels and failed to make sure Anderson’s employment at U of M was in fact terminated," according to the amended complaint by alleged victims of Anderson's abuse that was filed Thursday.

"Easthope never asked University Health Services, the Ann Arbor Police, or the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the extent of Anderson’s abuse. And, he failed to notify Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (“LARA”) — the state professional 'licensing agency' — or the U of M Medical School about Anderson’s sexual abuse of male students."

Similarly, Easthope said he did not inform UM’s Athletic Department about sexual abuse of male students by Anderson, who retired in 2003 and died in 2008.

Easthope testified that because the athletic department was out of his “sphere of influence and nothing that [he] had any input about,” that it was not something he needed to be “terribly concerned about.” 

Easthope was also aware that Anderson, then head of University Health Service, worked with Michigan's athletic department, the court documents show.

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined to comment Thursday night, citing an ongoing inquiry by the WilmerHale law firm, which the university hired in March.

When asked about his failure — despite the power of his position — to do more to ensure that Anderson left campus or was investigated further, Easthope testified, “We live in a different time, and it’s not like that today. To go out and make accusations about people, and ‘this guy is against gays’ or something wouldn’t been very nice to anybody, including myself, so it is wasn’t something you go out and broadcast. I just didn’t want to have to deal with that kind of problem.”

Easthope testified he had other priorities more important than ensuring Anderson left campus. “So in retrospect, it doesn’t sound very forgiving of me, but I had to move on, I had a lot of things going on every day, and you know, I suppose you experience having to make a decision and move on. I can’t explain it any other way,” according to his testimony.

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