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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Utah State University President Noelle Cockett exits after announcing results of an independent investigation into sexual misconduct allegations in the music department during a press conference in Logan on Friday, April 6, 2018.

LOGAN — For decades the piano program at Utah State University has discriminated against women and sexual misconduct has gone unpunished, according to an independent investigative report released following a press conference Friday to describe the findings.

The 18-page partially redacted report, which reflects interviews with 60 witnesses and hundreds of pages of documents, concludes that professor Gary Amano, head of the piano program, was the main source of discrimination. In August 2017 he was removed as coordinator of the piano program and began a year sabbatical, replaced by Dennis Hirst. USU President Noelle Cockett announced Friday that Amano has resigned.

The report also concludes that Hirst, the interim head of the program, be removed from that role. “… we conclude that for years professor Hirst enabled professor Amano’s discriminatory acts, or else ignored them, without taking meaningful steps to hold him accountable or correct the problems to which they led.”

Cockett said Friday that "the university will also move forward with a sanction process against Hirst."

The report also found that:

  • Between 1994 and 2012, students or parents complained to university officials of a series of incidents involving sexual harassment by four members of the music department faculty, two of whom are no longer employed at the university. “The incidents demonstrate, at the very least, a persistent bias against women and a serious lack of faculty supervision and discipline,” the report said.
  • Some of the cases of sexual harassment and assault appear to have been common knowledge at the time, but none of them seem to have been taken seriously by music department and university leaders. One current piano program faculty member said he “observed a consistent pattern of discrimination against women.”
  • Amano himself was the source of much of the controversy: "We conclude that for more than a decade professor Amano created a hostile academic environment for women and discriminated against female students on the basis of gender. We conclude that he tolerated sexual harassment of students by faculty members whom he was supposed to be supervising, without holding those faculty members accountable," the report states.
  • Many current and former students said “they were frequently humiliated and psychologically abused by the piano program faculty.” Investigators added, “We are unable to see how such treatment of students could advance any legitimate pedagogical objectives.”

The report further recommends that university policies be strengthened to protect students from mistreatment, eliminate gender discrimination and increase the power of the Title IX office.

Cockett announced on Feb. 16 the school would hire outside counsel, Snell & Wilmer of Salt Lake City, to conduct the investigation after several women claimed in Facebook posts that they had been mistreated by music department employees.

Whitney McPhie Griffith, who said she was raped by her piano instructor in 2009, and Amy Cannon Arakelyan, who said she was sexually harassed by faculty members, were among the first to come forward. No students were named in the partially redacted report, citing privacy concerns. The students previously told their stories to the Deseret News.

Since the start of the investigation, more alleged victims have spoken up — including a male former music student who said he was groped by his professor on an overnight trip, and more than a dozen former piano students who said the program culture allowed for sexism, harassment and intimidation.

‘Unwilling to confront sexual harassment offenders’

Four different music department faculty members were accused of sexual harassment between 1994 and 2012, according to the report.

Allegations included unwelcome sexual advances, sexual relations between faculty and the students they taught, and sexual assault, the report said. Two of the faculty members accused of harassment are still employed by the department.

One of the accused was a former faculty member of the piano program, who was part of Amano’s ‘‘‘inner circle’ of favored students,” the report said. The alleged perpetrator admitted to investigators that he had sexual relations multiple times with at least three female students in the piano program during the late 2000s, but claims all of them were consensual.

Two of those women filed Title IX complaints claiming the faculty member had sexually assaulted them and were interviewed for the report. The third woman could not be reached by investigators.

One former student recalled that “everyone knew” that the faculty member was “sleeping with various female students” and believes that Amano “had to know.”

The instructor's behavior made her afraid to practice in the piano program space at night, the report states, and she believed that Amano or another faculty member would have retaliated if she complained, because the student was the “faculty favorite,” the report states.

In interviews with investigators, Amano confirmed he knew about the faculty member’s sexual relations with undergraduate students. He said he dealt with these students by transferring them to other classes and telling the faculty not to have sex with undergraduates anymore.

“To these investigators, these incidents demonstrate, at the very least, a persistent bias against women and a serious lack of faculty supervision and discipline,” the report reads. “They also demonstrate that the piano program faculty and music department leadership were for years unwilling to confront sexual harassment offenders concerning their misconduct.”

Decades of discrimination

Based on interviews with more than 40 current and former students, faculty and administrators, investigators concluded that the piano program “has for decades discriminated against women and favored men.”

Current and former students told the independent investigators that it was not unusual for Amano to tell students that men are generally better pianists than women, and that therefore, men should be awarded with performance opportunities.

In a statement to the Deseret News, prior to release of the report, Amano said, "I would never make the ridiculous statement that men play better or are better students than women. I can give you names of women in our program who got married, had babies and still graduated with great success. Others got married and dropped out to start a family. That was their choice and I applaud their decisions."

According to the report, the program’s discriminatory atmosphere improved after Amano began his sabbatical in August 2017. But until then, the music department and Title IX office “did little to address the problem despite repeated opportunities to confront professor Amano and respond to complaints.”

Investigators also found that the program’s scholarship records showed men in the program received more than twice as much as women on a per capita basis. Between 2009 and 2017, female students received 41 cents for each scholarship dollar paid to males, according to the report.

The report recounts the experience of one former student who said Amano gave her a very difficult piece to play, and when she told him she did not think she could learn it quickly enough in time for the performance, he canceled her scholarship on the spot. Other students cited in the report also complained that Amano threatened to cut their scholarships.

Aaron McClaskey, a former piano student who attended USU from 1993-94 and 1996-2000, told the Deseret News that he had a positive relationship with Amano.

“The requirements to practice and attend class to remain in good scholarship standing are not unique to USU,” said McClaskey. “I only look back on my years at USU with fondness and appreciation for everything professor Amano did for all of us under his care. Any of my later success is due directly to the opportunities he provided me.”

“I have told students that the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition has been running since the 1960s. In all that time there have only been two female gold medal winners. All the others have been males. That is fact, not opinion,” Amano told the Deseret News. “It appears some people want to shoot the messenger because they didn’t like the message. Or they seek someone to blame for their failures besides themselves. ”

Humiliation, intimidation

The piano program “tolerated psychologically abusive faculty behavior” for decades, the report said. As a result, some students were driven to leave the university without degrees and others found it difficult to continue playing piano after they graduated.

Former student Tiffany Watts, who graduated from the program in 2007, told the Deseret News, “I left and did not look at a piano for three or four years. I couldn’t. It brought too much pain.”

Although Amano was the main faculty member cited in these types of complaints, Hirst and a former professor who now teaches elsewhere were also frequently named, according to the report.

Camille Jensen Weber, currently a senior in the piano program, said that in Amano’s classes there were not any grading rubrics or syllabuses. While still in her junior year, she asked Amano for help preparing for a test.

“He completely exploded,” she said. “He must have thought I was challenging his authority.”

She said she filed a Title IX report shortly following the incident.

Many current and former students, however, never witnessed their professors behaving badly, the report stated. Investigators were also sure to mention that serious music programs are, by nature, rigorous and stressful.

“The reason I loved being in the piano program at USU was because of the intensity of the program,” said former student Mary Anne Huntsman, who started studying with Amano at age 8 and attended USU for one year in 2004, before transferring to another school. “I was there to learn and improve and professor Amano ran the department like a serious music conservatory.”

Recommendations

The report concludes that because of the hostile environment, Amano should be dismissed from the university or reassigned to a job that would distance him from piano students. Cockett announced Friday that Amano has resigned.

Additionally, Hirst, who “enabled professor Amano’s discriminatory acts, or else ignored them,” according to the report, should be removed as interim coordinator and a new head of the program should be appointed in his stead, the report suggests.

Additional recommendations include creating a plan to prevent gender discrimination as well as standards for faculty behavior toward students.

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“We do not believe the policies of the university clearly prohibit psychologically abusive behavior by the faculty,” the report reads. “Because faculty relationships with students in the arts are in many ways different from other disciplines, we recommend that the Caine College of the Arts take the lead in developing its own standards for faculty behavior.”

The report asks the Title IX office to step up and develop standards that will allow for more aggressive investigations, regardless of a professor’s tenure.

Additionally, administrators are charged to review the student admissions process, the grading process, the process for scoring student performances, the process for awarding scholarships, and the hiring process for faculty as well.