Tough Decisions: Yost, Schembechler and The University of Michigan

The University of Michigan has been faced with some difficult issues over the last few weeks, with even harder decisions looming.
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The University of Michigan has certainly faced some difficult issues over the last few weeks.

On May 11th, a year-long investigation had concluded with the release of a 240-page report describing the extensive sexual abuse by former University doctor Robert Anderson.  Employed by the University from 1966-2003, Anderson's conduct can only be described as 'horrific'.  Hundreds of former University of Michigan students came forward to participate in the investigation, each sharing their own painful experience with Anderson.

"Over the course of his thirty-seven years as a University employee, Dr. Anderson engaged in sexual misconduct with patients on countless occasions", a portion of the report read. "Dr. Anderson’s misconduct ranged from performing medically unnecessary hernia and rectal examinations on patients seeking treatment for wholly unrelated issues, to manually stimulating male patients and causing them to ejaculate, to quid pro quo arrangements in which he provided medical services in exchange for sexual contact." 

While the report about Robert Anderson's actions was disturbing enough, perhaps just as disturbing was the complete inaction by University of Michigan officials - a pattern that, according to the report, ultimately allowed Anderson to continue his abuse for decades.

"The University received contemporaneous information about Dr. Anderson’s misconduct from multiple sources. A senior University administrator was told about Dr. Anderson’s misconduct several times between 1978 or 1979 and 1981 but did not take appropriate action. Concerning information was also shared with other University personnel. Although the information these individuals received varied in directness and specificity, Dr. Anderson’s misconduct may have been detected earlier and brought to an end if they had considered, understood, investigated, or elevated what they heard." 

Though several names were mentioned throughout the report, one individual who was made aware of Dr. Anderson's conduct received the most attention - Bo Schembechler.  Arguably the most powerful man at the University of Michigan throughout his tenure, Schembechler was certainly in a position to help bring Anderson's continued abuse to an end had he chosen to do so.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

"A member of the football team in the late 1970s told DPSS that he received a genital examination from Dr. Anderson, who fondled his testicles, and a rectal examination, during which the student athlete pushed Dr. Anderson’s hand away. The student athlete told DPSS that he asked Mr. Schembechler “soon” after the exam, “What’s up with the finger in the butt treatment by Dr. Anderson?” According to the student athlete, Mr. Schembechler told him to “toughen up.” The student athlete told DPSS that “you do not mess with Bo, and the matter was dropped.” The student athlete, who is represented by counsel, declined our interview request."

Shortly after the report was released to the public by the University of Michigan Board of Regents, discussions surrounding Schembechler's presence around the University began to take place - primarily when it came to Schembechler Hall.  Though no decision has been made by University officials at this time, it's hard to imagine any scenario that leads anywhere other than the removal of Schembechler's name and statue from the building - a reality that would have been unimaginable prior to the release of this report.

For University of Michigan officials, the Anderson report came just weeks after an advisory committee recommended that Fielding Yost's name be removed from Yost Ice Arena.  Similar to Schembechler, Yost spent the better part of 40 years in Ann Arbor serving as both the head football coach and athletic director from 1901-1940.

The advisory committee conducted a thorough review of Yost's work during his time at Michigan, particularly with an incident that occurred in 1934.  At the time, Willis Ward was the only African-American on the Michigan football roster - something that Georgia Tech head coach W.A. Alexander took issue with.  With Michigan and Georgia Tech scheduled to play that year, Alexander made clear that his team would refuse to take the field if Michigan allowed Ward to play.  Although protests took place throughout Michigan's campus demanding that Ward be able to play, the decision was ultimately made to have Ward sit for the game - a decision that had a lasting impact on his life.

Though the incident in 1934 certainly gets the most attention, the advisory committee made clear that it wasn't an isolated incident when it came to Yost. 

"While we acknowledge that Yost had both successes and failures in his career, our historical analysis suggests to us that the benching of Ward was not an aberration but rather epitomized a long series of actions that worked against the integration of sports on campus."

As such, the advisory committee made the recommendation to remove Yost's name from the arena and the final decision now rests with University officials.