ANN ARBOR – A student sued the University of Michigan on Thursday to try to force changes in how the school protects the campus from sexual misconduct, the latest strike after a year of scandals involving a doctor and the chief academic officer.
The class-action lawsuit seeks a series of reforms, including the appointment of an independent monitor to enforce the steps.
“There is a difference between having policies and having policies that are empty and not being enforced,” Josephine Graham, 21, told The Associated Press.
“We’ve seen U of M policies have not been effective in protecting students,” she said. “A lot of times students have been ignored. There is room for them to improve.”
The school has been rocked by allegations from hundreds of men who said they were molested by the late Robert Anderson, a campus doctor who spent nearly 40 years at the school. He died in 2008.
Separately, the university paid $9.25 million to eight women who reported emotional or sexual abuse by Martin Philbert, who over 25 years rose from professor to provost, the senior academic official. He was removed in 2020.
Investigators found that allegations about Philbert’s conduct had reached campus officials at certain points of his career but no one intervened. In Anderson’s case, no one took meaningful action, despite a “destructive pattern of sexual misconduct,” according to a report by the WilmerHale law firm, which was hired by the school to interview victims.
The Anderson report, released last week, said the university has improved its policies related to reporting sexual misconduct by staff but still can change the culture through better training, among other efforts.
The lawsuit, too, takes aim at training and education for university staff, especially in health clinics. It also seeks a comprehensive but easier system for students to report sexual misconduct and get help.
“Sadly, the decades-long Anderson debacle was not a one-off for the U of M culture. ... After Anderson left campus, U of M did not adequately reform its culture,” the lawsuit filed in Detroit federal court states.
The university has acknowledged “failings” by officials in the Philbert matter and recognized widespread harm caused by Anderson. But it said there’s no basis for the lawsuit, noting that Anderson stopped working in 2003.
“The university has adopted dozens of policies and practices designed to protect student health and safety,” spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said, including sexual misconduct training for all employees and providing chaperones for sensitive medical exams.
“Many members of our community are now a part of the formal effort to improve the culture of the institution even further as it relates to sexual and gender-based misconduct,” Broekhuizen said.
Annika Martin, an attorney who helped craft reforms after a sexual abuse scandal involving a doctor at the University of Southern California, is on the legal team suing the University of Michigan.
“U of M has been communicating with the public about its efforts to make changes. But institutions are not good at policing themselves,” Martin said. “Having an independent monitor and having court enforcement and oversight like we have at USC adds a layer of strength to the reform requirements and ensures they’re going to do the hard work.”