Berklee president: 11 faculty members have been terminated in 13 years for sex assault, harassment
Berklee College of Music president Roger Brown on Monday told a packed campus-wide forum that the renowned school has terminated 11 faculty members in the past 13 years for sexual misconduct.
The admission punctuated an extraordinary day at the music school, with hundreds of students, many holding signs, marching down crowded Boylston Street at lunchtime to a gathering to discuss sexual assault and harassment at Berklee.
The meeting followed a Boston Globe story last week that chronicled incidents since 2008 in which students reported being assaulted, groped, or pressured into sex with their teachers, according to court documents and interviews with more than a dozen people.
Brown had been scheduled to deliver an annual state of the school speech Monday in a smaller building but scrapped those plans to instead hold the forum at Berklee’s famed concert hall.
With standing room only in the 1,250-seat Berklee Performance Center, Brown started by apologizing and pledging a faster and more transparent system for dealing with sexual misconduct.
“To everyone who has been harassed or abused at Berklee, I am so sorry,” said Brown, who has led Berklee since 2004. “I apologize for this institution. It’s unacceptable. It breaks my heart. It goes against everything that makes me want to be here in the first place.”
Brown also promised to “root out” abusive behavior.
“We are not going to tolerate it,” he said.
Brown said there are students, faculty, and staff at Berklee who do not believe sexual harassment is a “real issue, who are in denial, who think the pendulum has swung too far” or think that such behavior is acceptable.
“We need to change that attitude,” he said.
Brown outlined several steps Berklee plans to take to address the problems, including creation of a working group, comprising students, faculty, and administrators to discuss and plan actions. He also said the school is expanding the hours at its diversity office for students to report problems.
More than 4,000 people signed a student-led online petition at Change.org calling on the school’s administration to directly address the issues raised by the Globe’s account that showed three professors quietly left the school after they were accused of sexual misconduct by students.
“The day that the article was published, students received a mass e-mail that many students feel did not address the issue at hand,’’ the petition reads. “It simply stated that the school did not tolerate sexual assault, but their action (or lack of) says otherwise.”
The Globe reported that administrators tolerated lecherous behavior, former Berklee students and employees said, and often silenced the accusers through financial settlements with confidentiality agreements attached.
A Berklee spokesman Monday declined to give the names of the 11 faculty members terminated in the past 13 years.
A number of students who attended Monday’s tense and emotional gathering said they were appalled at the veil of silence around sexual misconduct on campus, and they were particularly incensed that students are not alerted when a faculty member has been terminated for sexual abuse or a student found responsible for sexually assaulting another student is allowed back on campus.
“That makes me uneasy and feel unsafe, and I should not feel unsafe in a school,” said Isabel Fox Hillyer, a freshman who marched down Boylston Street to the assembly.
More than 1,000 students signed a separate petition demanding a change in Berklee’s policies for dealing with assaults by students. That petition stems from the case of a male student, found responsible by the college for raping a female student in October 2016, who was suspended for two semesters but then allowed to return to campus.
Underscoring the problem, a second Berklee student, Georgeta Seserman, who was raped by another student, addressed the gathering, saying she cherished many opportunities the school has to offer but abhored the knowledge that her rapist was attending the event Monday and has returned to campus.
Berklee administrators Monday initially said they would revisit the sexual assault policy, but after several students yelled from the audience their displeasure with that decision and repeatedly pressed the leaders on that stance, Brown immediately went further than a review of the policy.
“If we find someone guilty of rape, they should be expelled,” Brown said.
Berklee’s student body and faculty is overwhelmingly male, a factor several faculty members said strongly contributes to a sexually abusive culture on campus. In a letter read aloud to the gathering, the group of six faculty members demanded change.
“First, we demand that the college student enrollment be comprised of 50 percent of students who identify as women by 2025, and that these students have a diverse range of racial backgrounds and a diverse range of principle instruments,” the group letter said.
The group also demanded that women constitute 50 percent of faculty by 2025 and half of those faculty be women of color.
One particularly tense portion of Monday’s gathering concerned Steve Kirby, a former Canadian professor recently hired by Berklee despite a long history of sexual abuse at the University of Manitoba. Kirby had been placed on leave and retired from Manitoba in June.
Another Berklee professor by the same name is not involved.
Brown acknowledged that had it not been for reporters in Manitoba alerting Berklee about Kirby’s past, administrators here would not have known about it.
Brown said Berklee placed Kirby on leave within 24 hours after being notified in September and terminated him a day or two ago after completing its investigation. Brown also acknowledged that Berklee administrators contacted two of Kirby’s references before hiring him but failed to check any official sources, such as Manitoba’s human resources department.
“That is a mistake,” Brown said. “We should probably do that going forward.”
After the gathering, Michela McDonagh, a Berklee student who organized Monday’s march and helped craft a list of student demands that include mandatory expulsion for students found guilty of rape, said she felt administrators’ promises for change were sincere.
“That being said, we are forming a student-led, non-Berklee-affiliated group that will be following up on all of these issues,” McDonagh said. “We are watching the administration closely to be sure that these changes are implemented and make sure that these promises are fully realized.”
Correction: This story has been updated to make clear that there were two separate cases of rapes by male students. The update has also makes clear that there are two professors named Steve Kirby; only one is being accused.