Saturday, March 12, 2005

Sexual Harrassment in Music Programs

From the issue dated June 7, 2002

Music's Open Secret


In music schools, the relationship between professor and student is extraordinarily intimate. Hours are spent one on one, behind closed doors in soundproof practice rooms. Touching is often necessary, as the professor teaches students how to breathe or place their fingers on an instrument. The lines between personal and professional may blur, particularly when a young musician is dependent on a professor's approval for career success, and when the mentor grows accustomed to the feelings that admiration and power can bestow.

And that special relationship explains music schools' not-so-secret secret:Sexual affairs between male professors and female students are common, and so is unwanted physical attention.

"The teacher and student relationship in music has virtually no comparison in other academic fields," says William Osborne, a composer and outspoken critic of classical music's treatment of women. "It is essentially a master and apprentice relationship. It is not supervised or witnessed by anybody else, and so the potential for issues involving sexual harassment is great."

Although colleges distribute pamphlets telling students how to report sexual harassment, and offer training for professors on how to behave, it is rare for word of actual instances to surface outside the practice-room walls. Yet there is anecdotal evidence that sexual harassment is a serious problem, and recently the issue became public when two music schools were hit with formal charges.

These cases, according to female music students, raise the question of whether universities are either unaware of the sexual climate in their music schools or unconcerned about policing their professors. They also send a warning that, even though a student must prove that a university showed "deliberate indifference" to a complaint to win in court, institutions are susceptible to such charges.

At the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, a former oboe student, Maureen Johnson, now 26, won $250,000 in damages in April as a result of her lawsuit claiming that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by a visiting professor. The university has said it did everything possible to try to stop the harassment and will appeal the jury's verdict. But Ms. Johnson, who dropped out of music school following the events, says her victory sends a message that colleges are responsible if their professors create a hostile environment.

Here at the University of Texas, Monica Lynn, 37, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, charging that the music school's most prominent composition professor repeatedly made off-color jokes and remarks that made her uncomfortable. In the last several months, a handful of current and former students, both male and female, have joined Ms. Lynn in protesting the atmosphere in the department. Their complaints paint a picture of a boys' club in which some music professors joke about strip clubs, sing songs about the male anatomy, comment on the physical appearance of female performers, and carry on sexual relationships with students.

The university has said Ms. Lynn's charges have no merit, and professors say she's simply angry because they refused to admit her to the music-composition program. But Ms. Lynn, who earned an undergraduate degree in music theory last spring, says it's more complicated than that. "I never had a chance to find out if I was a composer, because I had to deal with so much abusive behavior. I couldn't stand the thought of leaving this school and knowing that every young woman who comes here and wants to study composition is going to be destroyed."

Craving Approval

The black-and-white photographs that line the walls of the dean's office in the College of Fine Arts here tell the history of women in music. In three pictures -- a 1911 portrait of John Philip Sousa's band, a 1947 photo of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a 1963 picture of Princeton University's music department -- only one of the musicians is female.

The photos are here because they feature male family members of the dean, Robert Freeman. Missing from the group are any shots of his mother playing the violin with the Boston symphony. That's because when she auditioned in 1951, the conductor told her the orchestra already had two female members, Mr. Freeman recalls.

The situation for women in music has certainly changed in the last 50 years, but not as much as some would like. That's particularly so in composition and orchestral conducting, two of music's most male-dominated fields. The charges of sexual harassment at Austin center on the music-composition department, where all four faculty members are male. Of the department's 18 undergraduate majors, one is a woman, and of its 37 graduate students, five are female. Nationwide, of the 1,850 professors of music composition listed in the College Music Society's 2001-2 directory, only 178 are female.

The small number of women in the field can make female musicians feel isolated, and cultivate an environment where sexual harassment -- and discrimination -- are allowed to flourish. Linda Dusman, a composer at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and one of the few women to head a music department, says these issues are "enormous" in music. But that doesn't mean anyone talks about them, she says, because "people have their heads in the music, and that's what's considered important."

Perhaps because so much of musical training is based on criticism, students crave their professors' approval. "If there is someone who can tell you, 'Yes, you've got it,' that invites intimacy, and it invites trust and dependence," says a woman who earned her master's degree in vocal performance from the University of Kansas and asked not to be identified.

Outside the classroom, after concerts and rehearsals, students often seek out more contact with professors. "For graduate students, casual time with the mentor is like gold," says Ms. Dusman. "It's part of the culture. If you have a teacher who promotes your music, that will be incredibly helpful in getting your career started."

At many music schools, stories abound of male professors who greet female students with a kiss on the mouth, make sexually explicit comments, and ask them out on dates.

Some female students consider such personal contact and crude behavior part of the territory. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, who runs an electronic-mailing list on gender and music technology and is writing a book about the history of women composers, says "putting up with the crap" is just part of the road to success. "There are women who say that's a crime and wonder why they should have to do that, and my personal opinion is, because you do."

Ms. Johnson, the former University of Michigan musician, refused. She started her graduate work at Ann Arbor in 1997, playing first-chair oboe in the School of Music orchestra. Pier Calabria, a visiting professor from Italy, was the orchestra's associate director. Ms. Johnson says he came to the campus library where she worked and repeatedly asked her for dates and told her how sexy she was. After she spurned his advances, she says, Mr. Calabria demoted her to fourth chair and told her she didn't have what it took to be a musician. Ms. Johnson dropped out before finishing her degree, then filed a lawsuit against Michigan for failing to deal with the problem. In April, she won the award when a jury agreed with her complaint. The university has said it does not tolerate sexual harassment, and contends it did everything it could to stop the harassment. Mr. Calabria was not named as a defendant in the case because he has returned to Italy.

"Conductors have so much power, and no one questions their authority, ever," says Ms. Johnson, who is now a telecommunications engineer in Denver.

A Hostile Atmosphere?

Monica Lynn moved to Austin to earn an undergraduate degree in music composition in the early 1990s. She was divorced and had earned a bachelor's degree in nursing. She attended music courses part time while working at local hospitals.

Ms. Lynn says she knew from the beginning that the way male professors at UT treated female students wasn't right.

"I'm a really strong person," she says. "I'm older, and I have a grasp of what's acceptable and what's legal."

Her problems began during her first semester of music composition in the fall of 1995, when the graduate teaching assistant who taught the course made dirty jokes in class, she says. Another male teaching assistant, she says, advised her to use her "feminine wiles" to get ahead in music, stared at her legs during class, stroked her hair as he walked by, and put his arm around her. Although anyone is allowed to enroll in music-composition courses at Austin, students who want to declare it their major must pass a jury, where professors assess the quality of music they have written. In the fall of 1998, after earning an A in two composition courses, Ms. Lynn failed her first jury. During the evaluation, she says, Dan E. Welcher, a professor of composition, noted that she was a nurse, and commented that now "he would know who to call when his back was hurting."

Bigger Than Life

Over the next two years, Ms. Lynn came to consider Mr. Welcher her biggest opponent in the music-composition program, and attributed his behavior to the fact that she rejected his personal attention and refused to laugh at his jokes. She failed her final jury in the spring of 2000. During the 15-minute session with Mr. Welcher and two other professors, she says, Mr. Welcher asked her not about her music, but about her job as a neonatal-intensive-care nurse. Had she heard about a benefit held in a city park for a new "milk bank" that supplied donated breast milk to premature infants? she remembers him asking. "I just envision women pulling out their breasts in the park and breast-feeding people right then and there," Ms. Lynn recalls the professor saying with a snort of laughter.

Later in the year, at a holiday party, she says Mr. Welcher asked her to go to the Yellow Rose, a local strip joint, an invitation she refused. She remembers him announcing in a loud voice, "Hey, Monica will be dancing tonight. She'll be wearing her dog collar and chain."

In December 2000, three days after the party, Ms. Lynn filed a sexual-harassment complaint with the university, charging that Mr. Welcher's comments created a hostile environment for female students.

Mr. Welcher, who is not married, denies he made any of the statements Ms. Lynn complained about. He is a larger-than-life figure at Austin's music school. He directs its New Music Ensemble, a group of about 20 advanced instrumentalists and singers. He has been at the university since 1978, and has written more than 80 works for opera, symphony, and chamber orchestras. His Web site calls him one of the "most played composers of his generation."

Mr. Welcher refused to speak to The Chronicle, but sent several statements by e-mail. He vigorously denies making the comments that Ms. Lynn has attributed to him, and contends that she has concocted a story of sexual harassment out of bitterness over her academic failure.

"The only 'reputation' I have is that of a very demanding teacher," he wrote in one e-mail message. "I do sometimes intimidate certain kinds of students with my directness and my
candor about their music. But none of this has anything to do with sexual harassment."

In a letter to the university, Mr. Welcher made it clear that he believes Ms. Lynn lacks talent. "A would-be composer who lacks sufficient musical skills, a good ear, or the ability to produce competent music after three years of study must face the unpleasant fact that she is not suited to this career," he wrote. "If the student cannot accept this, it is her right to go elsewhere and try again -- but not to malign the faculty with libelous statements."

Russell F. Pinkston, an associate professor of music composition at Austin, says Ms. Lynn's charges amount to a "smear" campaign against the faculty here. "The irony is, we are bending over backwards to support and encourage female composers," he says. "If you have anything going for you as a woman composer, you can write your own ticket here."

Female musicians who have been successful here say that, while male professors can be crude and rude, they don't believe that amounts to sexual harassment. "Dan Welcher shoots his mouth off," says Larisa Montanaro, who is finishing up her doctorate in vocal performance at the music school. "He could use a few lessons."

But nothing Professor Welcher has done qualifies as sexual harassment, in her book. "There are women who really experience sexual harassment, and that's what bugs me most," says Ms. Montanaro. "If these women [at UT] were expecting to go through life without these kind of men in the world, they need to get a grip. They're everywhere."

In fact, legal experts say that while unwanted touching and aggressive sexual behavior are considered sexual harassment under the law, so are comments and suggestions that are unwelcome and that create an atmosphere of hostility.

The university's own policy seems tailor-made to root out the very behavior Ms. Lynn complained of. It says "gratuitous comments of a sexual nature such as explicit statements, questions, jokes or anecdotes" can be considered sexual harassment. Under "sexual misconduct," the university lists "repeatedly engaging in sexually oriented conversations, comments or horseplay."

The university's investigation this spring into Ms. Lynn's charges was conducted by Lee S. Smith, associate vice president for legal affairs. According to documents obtained under the state's open-records law, Mr. Smith asked Mr. Welcher and his colleagues whether he had said the things Ms. Lynn alleged. All of the professors said no. Mr. Smith won't discuss the investigation, but from the documents, it appears that he did not interview students.

Other students have complained about Mr. Welcher. One woman who is currently enrolled in the doctoral program in music composition wrote a letter to the civil-rights office at the Education Department about a dinner she and a male graduate student had at Mr. Welcher's home last summer. The professor sang a song called "Isn't It Awfully Nice to Have a Penis?"and showed the students pictures of his trip to Greece, the woman wrote. In one photo, Mr. Welcher was naked, she said, and in another a cat was sitting alone on a sidewalk. Mr. Welcher, she wrote, explained that he'd taken the picture of the female cat because it had just been "gang banged" by several male cats. Mr. Welcher told The Chronicle that he did nothing inappropriate that evening and that the student exaggerated and misconstrued the events.

Consensual Relationships

Ms. Lynn's case also prompted Katie Jahnke, who graduated this spring, to fire off a letter to the OCR. In March 2000, Ms. Jahnke filed a sexual-harassment complaint with the university about Daniel M. Johnson, who directs the music school's Early Music Ensemble. Ms. Jahnke says she had a sexual relationship with Mr. Johnson for about 10 months in 1996, when she was a freshman in music performance and sang in the ensemble. Ms. Jahnke was 19; Mr. Johnson, who is not married, was 45.

After she ended the relationship, Ms. Jahnke says, Mr. Johnson refused to give her solo opportunities. Although their relationship was consensual, Ms. Jahnke says she later came to believe it amounted to sexual harassment, in part because Mr. Johnson retaliated against her for ending it. She dropped out of music and became a government major.

"My whole perception of how my voice sounded was affected by that relationship," says Ms. Jahnke, who graduated this spring. Although the university found that Mr. Johnson had dated at least three female students, including Ms. Jahnke, while they were taking his classes -- something UT-Austin's policy discouraged -- and that he had lied to the university about his sexual affairs, the college decided that his behavior did not amount to sexual harassment. Mr. Johnson did not respond to requests for an interview.

Mr. Freeman, the fine-arts dean, says he'd like to crack down on consensual relationships between professors and students. "Wait until she graduates," he says he tells male professors. "We have a kind of sacred trust to the students," he explains. "They're coming here to get us to evaluate what their abilities are and what their future could be. These relationships poison the whole academic well."

Still, Mr. Freeman insists that nothing he's seen or heard about at Austin is different from what goes on in schools of music elsewhere: "There certainly isn't a plague of problems."

The civil-rights office, which visited the music school in April to talk to students and faculty members, won't comment on its investigation. Last year, it considered 46 complaints of sexual harassment in all colleges nationwide. Although the agency has the power to cut off federal money to universities it finds guilty of ignoring harassment complaints, that hardly ever happens. If the office finds problems, it usually merely asks a college to fix them.

"The hard reality is that sexual harassment, in the workplace and on college campuses, just is not going away," said Frank Vinik, a lawyer and risk manager with United Educators, a member-owned insurance pool for colleges and universities. This spring, in the Bates Recital Hall at UT-Austin, Ms. Lynn held a recital of songs she has composed. Because she graduated last spring with a bachelor's degree in music theory, she didn't have to put on the recital, which is required only for composition majors. But she wanted to do it anyway. For an hour, her friends and relatives listened to the percussion and vocal pieces she had spent years crafting.

"I've been writing songs since I was 6 years old," she says. "If no one ever heard a note, I'd still be writing."


This article from The Chronicle is available online at this address:
Copyright 2002 by The Chronicle of Higher Education


musicmaestro1 said...

Speaking of sexual harassment, did you know that James Levine has sexually harassed students at CMI and has been accused of child molestation at the Met in recent years? As Maestro Lorin Maazel put it, "to err is human, but to molest is Levine..." I guess Michael Jackson isnt the only one...

Kevin said...

Thank you for the comment. If you have any Levine incident links, I would love to see them.

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