It is not easy being Steve Kirby at the Berklee College of Music these days. The soft-spoken, 59-year-old associate professor is getting sideways looks from students. He is being inundated with e-mails from friends saying, “this can’t be you . . . right?” He has heard students hesitate this week to register for his courses, fearing he is that Steve Kirby.
Ever since Berklee’s president, Roger Brown, stood in front of a packed auditorium Monday to apologize for sexual misconduct by 11 former faculty members, there has been a cacophony of Kirby confusion.
Brown noted that another professor recently terminated was a former professor in Canada named Steve Kirby. That Kirby was hired by Berklee in September despite a history of alleged sexual abuse at the University of Manitoba. He had been put on leave at Manitoba and retired from there in June.
But as it turns out, there were two Steve Kirbys at Berklee. One was the recently fired professor from the Manitoba jazz department. The other is a popular, longtime Berklee professor in the Harmony Department, who never imagined his name would be associated with something so sinister.
“Everyone has a certain amount of bad luck in life and mine is I share my name with an accused sexual harasser,” said the Kirby who has not been accused of anything.
Berklee associate professor, Ayn Inserto, one of many faculty members who leapt to Kirby’s defense in e-mails and on Facebook, explained: “The Steve Kirby who was terminated had been teaching in Manitoba for more than a decade and is a bassist and was hired in Jazz Composition at Berklee in September 2017,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “The other Steve Kirby (who goes by Steven Kirby professionally) is a guitarist who has been in the Harmony Department at Berklee since 2006.”
And just so there was no confusion, Inserto added, “Steve Kirby is an amazing educator and person, and unfortunately shares the same name of the accused.”
A Globe story about the emotional forum at Berklee on Monday included Brown’s remarks about the Kirby case. Brown did not mention in his presentation that Berklee’s roster of roughly 800 faculty included two Steve Kirbys.
That’s when the avalanche of unpleasant e-mails and phone calls started for the veteran Berklee professor.
Asked on Wednesday about the fallout, Brown said he felt badly about that omission.
“I should have mentioned it,” Brown said.
On Thursday afternoon, as the Globe prepared to publish this story, Berklee issued a very public apology.
“Steven Kirby has been a highly respected faculty member of the Harmony Department for many years, and is an innocent bystander in this situation,” the statement said. “We deeply apologize to Steven for the lack of clarity in emphasizing that these two individuals with the same name are completely different people.”
Years ago, long before the maelstrom of emotions triggered by the sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Kirby worried that he and his Canadian counterpart might be confused within the music world. That’s when Kirby decided to tweak his first name.
“Even though many people call me Steve, professionally I use Steven to differentiate me from him because he has done a lot more recordings than me,” said Kirby, a California native who attended Berklee in the 1980s and spent years on tour.
But the extra “n” did little to tamp down the confusion
A couple years ago, Kirby was booked to play at a festival, and when he looked on a website for the gig, there was a picture of the other Kirby. Even the public relations person for the event got them confused.
After the professor from Manitoba was hired, Kirby said their paths briefly crossed.
“I literally saw him for 20 seconds in an orientation meeting,” Kirby said. “People joked we should form a band, and try to find a drummer with the same name as well, and it would be the Steve Kirby trio with everyone with the same name.”
Back then, it seemed funny.Kay Lazar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.