A history of sexual harassment at UConn’s Music Department

Four faculty members have left The University of Connecticut’s Department of Music recently following allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct, according to an independent review of how the state’s flagship university responded to allegations of sexual misconduct by a longtime music professor.

“A number of interviewees described student-teacher relationships and other sexual harassment as long-standing issues within the School of Fine Arts,” the review released Wednesday by Drinker Biddle & Reath, a law firm hired by the Connecticut attorney general, said.

The 76-page report said the school’s former leader of the Office of Diversity and Equity, which is responsible for investigating and handling such complaints, declined requests to be interviewed by the firm.

Instead, the investigators were given access to millions of emails and several computer hard drives to determine if the university responded appropriately. They also interviewed several faculty members, students and the previous and current college president about the conduct of Robert F. Miller, the music director, and what the university knew.

“Special Counsel’s investigation revealed strong, credible evidence that Professor Miller engaged in serious misconduct with minors and with University students,” the report concludes. “Special Counsel found the response of University officials prior to February 2013 was insufficient to ensure the safety of minors on campus and of University students.”

The inappropriate behavior referenced in the report includes Miller’s taking students on trips, showering with them, accompanying them naked into a hot tub at his health club and touching them inappropriately.

“No one took appropriate action to ensure the safety of minors on campus or University students,” they conclude about department leaders. “Neither Dean [David] Woods nor Catherine Jarjisian did anything but hide the December 2011 anonymous letter sent to Professor Jarjisian when she was Department Head.”

These findings come as several students allege in a separate matter that university officials were “deliberately indifferent” in responding to the students’ allegations of sexual assault and harassment.

“A culture of fear”

Those interviewed by investigators describe UConn’s Department of Music as a “hornets’ nest” that facilitated a culture of “fear.”

Robert Miller

Photo courtesy of UConn

Robert Miller

The problems were so severe that top officials recently decided to evaluate whether the department should be disbanded. In early 2013, the department underwent three separate reviews.

As a result of the “high rate of faculty turnover due to complaints of sexual misconduct,” the department’s faculty members were required to undergo additional sexual harassment training. It’s unclear if that training was ordered before or after Connecticut State Police informed them they were investigating Miller, 66, of Mansfield.

“In sum, Professor Miller exhibited consistently questionable behavior with the University students over the years that was widely known within the Department of Music,” the law firm concludes.

A decade of problems

The dean of the Fine Arts Department says he delivered emails in 2007 that included disturbing allegations to then UConn President Philip E. Austin, the provost and the former chief of the UConn Police Department.

The law firm could find no evidence that an investigation ever took place.

“There was a collective failure by the participants in the Nov. 5, 2007 meeting to meet their moral, if not their professional, obligation to investigate the three separate allegation of sexual misconduct,” they write about a meeting of university officials on Miller’s conduct.

This is just one of several occasions, dating back to 2003, when university officials passed on opportunities to fully investigate Miller’s actions, the investigators wrote.

“The highly publicized announcement of the University’s new, institution-wide Sexual Assault Response Policy and Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Policy… also did not motivate [music department staff] to bring the allegations in December 2011 to the attention of University authorities,” the investigators wrote.

When, in February 2013, those allegations were again brought to the president’s office and the police department, both of which have new leadership, the investigators concluded, “University officials took appropriate, forceful action.”

UConn President Susan Herbst on Wednesday called the report’s findings “very disturbing.”

“We have nothing but compassion for all victims of sexual misconduct,” she said during a meeting of her governing board Wednesday.

“It seems so obvious to us today that action should have been taken when these allegations were first known to university employees, three, six and eight years ago, and even before that … Nothing can excuse some of the behavior detailed in this report on the part of certain individuals.”

Comments

comments