Abuse victims of doctor sue University of Michigan over public speech limit - Spotlight Michigan

Abuse victims of doctor sue University of Michigan over public speech limit

ESPN — A group of former students, including All-American football player and team captain Henry Hill, filed a lawsuit Thursday morning alleging that the University of Michigan is illegally limiting their attempts to share accounts of the abuse perpetrated by then team doctor Robert Anderson.

Hill, who played for the Wolverines from 1968 to 1970 and was voted the team’s most valuable player in his final season, said he wanted to speak about being abused by Anderson at a meeting of the university’s board of regents this summer but was denied. He and nine others claim in their lawsuit that the board’s policy — which limits public comment on any particular subject to five speakers per monthly meeting — violates the state’s Open Meetings Act and “censors speakers from whom the [regents] might not wish to hear.”

“I thought I had a voice,” Hill told ESPN. “I thought I had a perspective. I was a Black captain in that era. I thought I had a perspective that should be heard.”

A university spokesman said the school has not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit, but that the board has the authority to establish rules for public comment at their meetings. The university’s policy, he said, is consistent with other public schools in the state.

Hill is one of hundreds of former patients who say they were sexually abused by Anderson during physical exams or when they came to him seeking help for routine medical issues. Anderson served as a team physician for the football program and others in Michigan’s athletic department for the nearly four decades that he worked on campus from 1966 to 2003. He died in 2008.

Prompted by other reports of sexual misconduct in the news, former Michigan wrestler Tad Deluca raised concerns about Anderson in 2018. A university police investigation found evidence that Anderson had abused several former patients and that other authority figures on campus were aware of his misconduct. The university also hired a law firm to investigate how high-ranking officials at the school and within the athletic department had handled past claims about Anderson. The resulting report found multiple instances where coaches and administrators failed to heed clear warnings about Anderson’s abuse.

University president Mark Schlissel apologized to Anderson’s victims for the doctor’s misconduct, and the school said it hopes to settle negligence claims outside of court for “more certain, faster relief.” The university said 16 months ago that it was setting up a framework to handle those claims, but it hasn’t provided a public update on that process since.

More than 100 lawsuits have been filed against the university, and nearly 900 claimants entered a mediation process last October. Hill’s attorney, Parker Stinar, said he and his clients can’t comment on mediation other than to say it remains ongoing 11 months after discussions began.

Hill, who is now in his late 70s and lives in Detroit, is a claimant in the mediation process. He said he was abused by Anderson on multiple occasions while at Michigan. He said at one point he asked the doctor to provide him with a deferment letter to help him avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. Hill said he had a low draft number and was concerned that being a young Black man would land him on the front lines in battle. Anderson provided a letter, and Hill was not drafted.

“I paid for that letter,” Hill said, referring to Anderson’s abuse.

Hill said he wants the university to acknowledge what happened to him and many other athletes. He said he’d also like to see more safeguards put in place to prevent similar abuse in the future.

Hill said he had hoped to share that perspective at one of the board of regents’ monthly meetings this summer in hope that it would prompt some form of justice. He said that he followed the proper steps to put in a formal request to speak at a recent meeting but that he was denied because of the board’s policy limiting the number of people who can speak on a particular topic at each meeting.

He said being able to share what happened to him publicly is part of the justice he’s seeking.

“Just the fact that it gets brought out in a public forum so people can see,” Hill said. “To stifle comments and information doesn’t seem right for me.”

A university spokesman said Anderson survivors have addressed the board at its meetings on a regular basis.

“Additionally, each week the university and members of the Board of Regents receive and carefully review a significant number of email messages and other correspondence from individuals who bring issues to the attention of university leaders,” the spokesman said.

Hill’s lawsuit asks the court to take action that would allow more speakers to address the regents at their next board meeting. The board is scheduled to meet again Sept. 23.