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Juilliard fires former chair after sexual misconduct investigation

The entrance to The Juilliard School, which is located at Lincoln Center's campus in New York City.
Ed Jones
/
AFP via Getty Images
The entrance to The Juilliard School, which is located at Lincoln Center's campus in New York City.

On Thursday, The Juilliard School announced that it fired composer Robert Beaser, the former head of its composition faculty, after an independent law firm investigated allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Beaser dating from the late 1990s and 2000s.

The investigators, from the firm Potter & Murdock, found "credible evidence that Mr. Beaser engaged in conduct which interfered with individuals' academic work and was inconsistent with Juilliard's commitment to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for its students."

Furthermore, Juilliard says, investigators found that Beaser had engaged in an unreported relationship that violated Juilliard's policy at the time and that he had "repeatedly misrepresented facts about his actions."

Beaser had been the chair of the renowned music conservatory's composition department for 25 years, between 1994 and 2018. Accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against the composer were first made public last December in the German-based magazine VAN.

In the aftermath of the VAN report, more than 500 musicians and leaders in classical music called for Beaser to be removed from his Juilliard post. In the same week that VAN published its story, the school said that the composer had "stepped away" from his faculty position.

On Thursday, Juilliard confirmed that Beaser had been placed on leave in December, pending the investigation's outcome.

Now, the split is permanent. "Effective immediately, Mr. Beaser is no longer employed by the school," Juilliard wrote in a memo to its students, staff and faculty Thursday that the school also sent to NPR. The memo was signed by Juilliard's president, Damian Woetzel, and its provost, Adam Meyer.

In its December story, VAN reported that it had corroborated all the allegations it published. VAN reported that it had obtained a 2018 memo from Juilliard's administration that referred back to an alleged report made by a former student who had attended the school in the early 2000s. In that memo, the former student reported knowing of Beaser allegedly attempting to start sexual relationships with at least two students. According to VAN, a second former Juilliard student was also in contact with the school in early 2018 regarding similar allegations against Beaser dating from the 1990s.

Two other prominent composition faculty members had also been the subject of complaints raised in the VAN report and were subsequently investigated by Potter & Murdock: Christopher Rouse, who died in 2019, and John Corigliano.

Rouse had been accused of making unwanted sexual advances and comments. One accuser, Suzanne Farrin, alleged that when she auditioned for Juilliard's doctoral program in 2001, Rouse invited her to dinner afterward and tried to kiss her. The day after she rejected his advances, she told VAN, her application to Juilliard was denied. According to Juilliard, the Potter & Murdock investigators found the accusations against Rouse "credible," but they "could not be fully investigated" since Rouse is deceased.

VAN compiled a list of 190 former Juilliard composition students who attended the school between 1997 to 2021. Of those 190 alumni, only one female-identifying composer listed John Corigliano as their former teacher at Juilliard, compared to 28 male-identifying students.

The investigators found that Corigliano taught "far fewer" female students than male students but that neither "he or the school had either a formal or informal policy of excluding women from studying with him."

In its memo Thursday, Juilliard said that some of the allegations had been investigated by the school in the late 1990s and the early 2000s and from 2017 to 2018. Those investigations, the school said, "were handled based on [the school's] understanding of the information provided at that time. However, to review new information reported in the media and to better understand the relevant facts, our administration launched an independent investigation in December 2022."

Investigators also found that in the time period they were researching, "some students, especially women, experienced an environment in the [composition] department that did not live up to the school's values and expectations."

The conservatory says it is strengthening its policies regarding sexual misconduct and abuses of power. Under Juilliard's current rules, the school prohibits romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and two specific groups: undergraduates and graduate students with whom "a power imbalance might be exploited (such as coexisting in the same department)."

Starting with the fall 2023 semester, however, Juilliard is prohibiting all romantic or sexual relationships between all faculty and all students.

The school has also implemented some degree of physical transparency in recent years. In 2019, Juilliard began requiring that all one-on-one lessons occur on the school's campus; previously, it was not uncommon for faculty to teach lessons at their private homes or elsewhere. Additionally, in 2015, the school completed installing windows on the doors of all its teaching studios.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas
Anastasia Tsioulcas is a correspondent on NPR's Culture desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including the trial and conviction of former R&B superstar R. Kelly; backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; and gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards.
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