Utah State University responds to report detailing years of discrimination, harassment

Apr 6, 2018, 11:54 PM | Updated: Apr 7, 2018, 12:43 am

LOGAN, Utah – Utah State University on Friday released the results of a independent investigation into allegations of sexual discrimination, harassment, and assault within the USU Piano Program.

The investigation, conducted by the law offices of Snell & Wilmer, concluded that years of discrimination and harassment had taken place within the Piano Program led by Professor Gary Amano. Investigators said they spoke with about 60 people.

Amano had led the USU Piano Program from the 1980s until August 2017. USU President Noelle Cockett said Amano submitted his letter of retirement on Monday.

“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,” the report read. “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 University asked the law offices to conduct an independent investigation after former students alleged discrimination and harassment through a series of social media posts.

Students told investigators that Amano told them men are generally better piano players than women and should get more performance opportunities. Investigators said Amano told them he had never disparaged or discriminated against female students.

The investigation found that students or parents complained to University officials about alleged incidents involving sexual harassment by four members of the Music Department faculty from 1994 to 2012. Complainants reported instances of sexual relationships between faculty and students and instances of unwanted sexual advances or sexual assault. The report said one former faculty member admitted to multiple sexual relationships with students, but said they were consensual. Two of the four faculty members accused of harassment still teach at USU, the report said.

“Whether consensual or not, however, a disturbing pattern emerges from all of these incidents: some of them appear to have been common knowledge at the time, but none of them appears to have been taken seriously by the leadership of the Piano Program or the University,” the report read. “In several instances, the only party to be criticized was the victim.”

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

The investigation also found that the faculty created a “toxic” environment.

“For decades, the Piano Program tolerated psychologically abusive faculty behavior – behavior that drove some students to leave the program without degrees, giving up the piano altogether, and other students to contend with abuse until they graduated,” the report read.

While many students told investigators they had never had a problem with Amano, others said they had been “humiliated and belittled” in the program.

“The training of elite piano performers undoubtedly must be rigorous and highly disciplined. But we do not believe there is any excuse for the humiliating treatment that some students experienced,” the report concluded.

The report criticized the University’s response to complaints made through the Title IX office.

“Unfortunately, until mid-2017, the University’s Music Department and Title IX office did little to address the problem despite repeated opportunities to confront Professor Amano and respond to complaints,” the report read.

The report made several recommendations, including that the University begin dismissal proceedings for Amano. He submitted his retirement letter on April 2. They also recommended that Professor Dennis Hirst be removed as interim Piano Program coordinator.

“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,” the report stated.

Cockett said Hirst had been removed as program coordinator, and the University was looking at other sanctions.

The report also recommended the University develop standards to ensure students are properly challenged by their coursework, but not humiliated or ridiculed by the faculty. There was also a recommendation that the University’s Title IX office develop new standards for more stringent reviews of sexual harassment and discrimination. The standards, the report read, should allow the University to pursue investigation and prosecution of misconduct more aggressively.

Cockett said she was prepared to lead the school to solutions.

“Each of us at Utah State has to dig deeply into ourselves and come out at the other end with solutions to these problems and a commitment to preventing these actions in the future,” Cockett said.

She thanked the students, who came forward, for their bravery in discussing their experiences, and said the Music Department had already begun making changes after Amano went on sabbatical in August 2017.

READ REPORT (PDF)USU investigation, conducted by the law offices of Snell & Wilmer

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Utah State University responds to report detailing years of discrimination, harassment