A current and former Boston University student have filed a lawsuit that accuses a prominent music professor of sexually harassing them and that says the college failed to rein in his behavior.
The complaint, filed Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, says administrators knew that Eric Ruske, an internationally recognized French horn player, had a propensity to harass young women based on previous reports.
The women, Erin Shyr and Maria Currie, accuse Ruske of harassing them in person and via e-mail and text messages, including asking for photos of them. Ruske allegedly harassed Currie in 2013, then Shyr the following year, at BU’s College of Fine Arts.
Shyr, 21, is still a BU student and Currie, 22, attends the New England Conservatory. The women seek unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.
“The problem is that this is a habit and a behavior of his,” Shyr said in a phone interview. “[Administrators] were excusing him by saying this is just his personality.”
University spokesman Colin Riley said the university could not comment because it has not seen the complaint.
Ruske, who is out of the country, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Ruske has played with top orchestras around the country and won international horn competitions. He has taught at BU since 1990, and was approximately 50 years old when he taught the two students, according to the complaint.
Ruske had a reputation for making “offensive, vulgar, and sexually charged statements to students,” the complaint said, which male students found funny and women found offensive.
In a meeting with Currie, according to the suit, Ruske compared her trumpet performance to sex, saying that listening to her play made him feel like the two were having intercourse.
At one point, Currie told Ruske she would have a recital the following semester. “And the last thing you need is some creepy old guy in the front row,” Ruske texted, according to the complaint. “You can always send pix. . . ”
A few weeks later, Ruske apologized for his comments. “I probably owe you an apology . . . I’m really sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” he wrote, the complaint alleges.
The following semester, Shyr experienced similar behavior from Ruske, the complaint says, when she was in a woodwind chamber group that he coached.
Ruske e-mailed Shyr during spring break and said “maybe you’ll share a cute pic with me. . . ,” including a winking emoticon, according to the complaint.
A few weeks later, Ruske began to greet Shyr with hugs and kisses on the cheek, and once his hand grazed her lower back, the complaint says.
Ultimately, both women reported the incidents to administrators in the fine arts college and in other parts of the university, according to the complaint. The university did not punish Ruske or find ways to ensure he would not interact with them, the complaint says.
Officials in the fine arts college who handle sexual assault complaints told both women that because of Ruske’s “vibrant and effusive” personality, he might have been unaware that he violated the school’s sexual harassment policies, the lawsuit says.
“It was really angering, honestly, to learn that I had reached out to them multiple times and that what I didn’t want to have happen — that Ruske harass someone else — it literally happened again” Currie said in a phone interview.
The psychological effects of the harassment affected the academic performance and well-being of both women, the complaint says.
BU is among the 11 Massachusetts colleges under investigation by the Department of Education in relation to its compliance with Title IX, which governs how schools should respond to claims of sexual harassment.