Tenure and Misconduct

Some at Michigan are asking why a famous music professor was granted tenure soon after a misconduct investigation that was later allegedly reopened.

November 9, 2018
 
David Daniels

David Daniels is known for his “superlative artistry, magnetic stage presence, and a voice of singular warmth and surpassing beauty, which has helped him redefine his voice category for the modern public.” That’s according to Daniels’s faculty biography at the University of Michigan, which granted him a full professorship in music, with tenure, in the spring.

Over the summer, though, Daniels became known for something else: allegations of rape, made by a singer who said he was a graduate student at Rice University, near where Daniels was performing in Houston at the time of the incident, in 2010. Daniels has denied those allegations. But now he faces another set of accusations and a lawsuit -- this time from a graduate student at Michigan who says that Daniels drugged and groped him last year. The student also says Michigan turned a blind eye to rumors of sexual impropriety surrounding a faculty superstar, and even rewarded him with tenure after three years on the faculty.

Other students are now asking why Michigan granted Daniels tenure when it did, or at all. Is it appropriate to fast-track tenure for someone who has faced recent misconduct allegations?

“We call on the university to swiftly and transparently rectify its failure to adequately respond to the multiple allegations” against Daniels, reads an open letter from Michigan’s Central Student Government.

The university said in a statement that “when these allegations were made public in August, Daniels was not teaching classes and agreed to take a leave of absence.” He remains on leave for the term.

But what about before the former Rice student’s allegations were made public?

The new lawsuit says that Daniels invited one of his Michigan graduate students to his home one night last year, saying he was “lonely” and wanted to talk about the student’s career. Daniels allegedly gave the student drinks and what he called a Tylenol PM after the student said he needed to rest up for a performance. But the student says the pill was really the prescription sleep medication Ambien, and that Daniels soon took off the student's clothes to grope and touch his genitals and face.

The lawsuit alleges that Daniels also sent the student text messages asking for pictures of his genitals, a video of himself masturbating and other sexual content, along with a reference to their “Bourbon and Ambien night.”

In March of this year, according to the lawsuit, Michigan received a complaint that Daniels was contacting students on the dating app Grindr and offering them money for sex. Michigan allegedly investigated the report but did not interview students or ask to see Daniels’s social media accounts. No findings were made against Daniels, according to the lawsuit.

Daniels was granted tenure in May.

In July, someone posted on Michigan’s opera Facebook page that Daniels was a serial rapist who drugged his targets. University officials received a similar anonymous letter.

Daniels and his husband “drugged and raped a young singer” in 2010, the letter reads. “He never reported it because he was terrified that a famous and successful singer could derail his nascent career.” Besides sexual assault, the letter says, “dozens of young men are unwilling recipients of pictures of Daniels’s genitalia. He’s a known serial sexual predator.”

The communication apparently caused Michigan to look into the pay-for-sex allegations again, according to the suit. Screenshots of the discussion from Grindr, quoted in the suit, allegedly show Daniels saying “many of the same things” he said to the graduate student, including “I’m a HUGE FAN of yours” and “I think you’re a crazy talented singer! I want to help you in any way I can in this crazy business.”

Daniels also wrote, “I wanna make a hot Dad/son fantasy come true with you!! $$$$$$,” and sent a photo of himself seated naked on a toilet and a picture of an erect penis, according to the screenshots quoted in the suit. He's also alleged to have written, “Are you a U of M student? Cause I’m university affiliated … need to be WAY discreet” and “I’m one year from tenure.” The student allegedly blocked Daniels on the app after telling him, “This is not ok.” According to the lawsuit, Daniels continued to contact him via Facebook, saying, “I’m sorry! I’m such a big fan of your [sic]!” and “Academia is a new thing for me!”

In August, the singer Samuel Schultz publicly accused Daniels and his now husband, conductor Scott Walters, of inviting him back to where they were staying near Rice to drug and rape him. Both Daniels and his husband have denied the allegations.

Also in August, a faculty member became aware of the Michigan graduate student’s account, according to the lawsuit, and reported it to university officials. But “the Office for Institutional Equity did nothing. No file was opened,” according to the suit.

Asked about Michigan’s response to the allegations against Daniels both before and after his tenure decision, Kim Broekhuizen, university spokesperson, said it’s “important for you to know that with any allegation that could be criminal in nature, the university would typically defer to the law enforcement investigation” before starting its own inquiry.

Michigan “actively pursues all avenues to gather additional information in these situations, including those in which expressions of concern are anonymous,” Broekhuizen added via email. “We want to reiterate we take sexual misconduct allegations seriously. We always take appropriate action when there's enough information to move forward.”

The student is seeking damages and equitable relief via a trial by jury.

Daniels in a statement called the allegations in the lawsuit both “false and malicious. I have never had a physical relationship with the individual mentioned in this complaint.” He added, ”The events alleged here never happened and I intend to defend my reputation.”

Michigan is far from the only institution facing complaints that it mishandled a sexual harassment case. It isn’t the only institution to promote someone accused of harassment, either. The University of Rochester, for example, promoted the brain and cognitive scientist Florian Jaeger to full professor while he was being investigated for sexual harassment. The university has since said it was a mistake, even though Jaeger was eventually cleared of wrongdoing by the university and a separate outside investigation (a related lawsuit against Rochester continues).

Unlike Jaeger, Daniels was no longer under investigation for misconduct at the time of his tenure decision, according to the suit. And many faculty advocates say it’s important to maintain due process as more and more reports of abuse come to light.

But the Michigan student’s complaint also alleges that the university’s investigation into Daniels’s alleged solicitation of sex was inadequate, and that incriminating screenshots and messages from the professor to a student were readily obtained once the investigation was reopened. His tenure recommendation report includes no reference to the investigation. Regarding students, the report says that they enjoy and "benefit greatly" from working with him.

"I frankly think it was a mistake, and it was one where it’s not going to happen again,” Joel Seligman, Rochester’s former president, said last year of Jaeger’s promotion while he was facing harassment reports. "And it’s not that after an investigation one can’t be promoted if it’s justified on the merits, but in the pendency of a serious investigation of this nature, it was wrong to promote him."

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