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Abuse Ignored

February 27, 2014

In July, the University of Connecticut placed the music professor Robert Miller on leave and barred him from campus, amid allegations that he had committed sex crimes with minors while working at a camp, and had had inappropriate interactions with UConn students. The allegations concerned conduct that had apparently gone on for years, prompting the university to commission an outside law firm to determine whether the university had failed in its responsibilities.

On Wednesday the university released that outside report -- and its findings were damning not only of Miller (who remains on leave and isn't talking) but to others who are or were at the university and who knew about the allegations for many years and did little if anything about them.

The report praises UConn officials for a prompt, vigorous response when the allegations resurfaced last year. But that stands in contrast to the findings about how UConn faculty and administrators responded before that -- even as complaints were filed and Miller's reputation was such that upperclassmen took to warning freshmen and sophomores about his "creepy" behavior.

"[T]he response of university officials prior to February 2013 was insufficient to ensure the safety of minors on campus and of university students,” the report said.

Susan Herbst, president at UConn (who was not president when the allegations first surfaced against Miller), said Wednesday that "we will take all appropriate action and we will do so as swiftly as possible."

The report said investigators found "strong, credible evidence" that Miller had "engaged in serious misconduct with minors and with university students." The report found "numerous instances" of violations of university rules and policies (and potentially anti-harassment laws) in which Miller provided alcohol to underage students, took students to his vacation home after being warned by his dean not to do so, showered with students at his health club, and went into a hot tub naked with students.

Miller was known to favor young-looking male students, and was known by students and others to have a "type" of young man on which he would shower attention. While the report could not find conclusive evidence, it said that "more likely than not" there was truth to a report about Miller dancing with students, in his recording studio, with everyone in their underwear.

By 2003, the report said, there were numerous rumors among music faculty members and administrators about Miller's alleged inappropriate conduct. Further, there were rumors about Miller's conduct as a camp counselor and allegations that he inappropriately touched boys there.

In 2006, the music school at UConn received an email from Virginia that said: "To whom it may concern, Just so you know, if your faculty member Robert F. Miller is the same one who taught at Whittier Junior High in the late 60’s in Fairfax county, he is a pedophile. He is responsible for molesting several 7th and 8th grade students. I am certain it was the reason the Fairfax County school board suddenly moved him to McLean High. I would gladly provide you affidavits from myself and other students who were victims of this pervert. If you doubt me, fine, but watch out your [sic] young boys around this guy."

The email (and follow-up emails) were circulated among university officials, none of whom acted on the information. David Woods, formerly dean of the college that included the music program and now a professor at UConn, told investigators he tried as dean to have Miller dismissed, but the inquiry found no evidence of this. In light of all of the rumors about Miller, the report said that the emails "should have set off alarm bells" for Woods and others. (Woods did not respond to a request for comment on this article.)

A second letter the university received may be even more shocking in that it arrived after the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Pennsylvania State University broke, in 2011, and issues of sexual abuse of minors were receiving heightened attention nationwide. This letter also detailed allegations against Miller and said at the top, in all upper case letters: “DO NOT LET UCONN BECOME A PENN STATE OR SYRACUSE U. STORY.” (Allegations about a coach at Syracuse, subsequently dropped, were also in the news at the time.)

The professor who received the letter said that she brought it to Dean Woods, and that he told her to take the letter home and put it in her file. Woods denies this and said that he first learned of the letter in a newspaper article in 2013, but the report said that he "either was forgetful or not being truthful," because an email from the professor to the dean referenced the need to talk about the "anonymous letter." The report called it "inexplicable" that no one reported the letter immediately to authorities.

Not only did Dean Woods not get appropriate officials involved with investigating Miller, the report said, he promoted him. In a footnote, the report said: "In fact, Dean Woods appointed Professor Miller special associate to the dean for the 2011-12 academic year. In defending this decision, Dean Woods contended that it was not a promotion and that Professor Miller did not receive the usual $10,000 supplement normally associated with such a position. The university confirmed, however, that Professor Miller’s salary for this period did, in fact, reflect that he received the full salary, including the supplement, associated with this position."

 

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