Top administrators at the University of Connecticut are hoping that new policies and other proposals will address some of the troubling issues raised by an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by a music professor, Robert Miller.
Among the issues to be investigated are reports that some university employees might have learned as early as 2006 of allegations that Miller had sexual contact with minor children, but did not report it or take proper action, according to a document released Monday by the state attorney general.
In addition, the university is investigating a report that Miller was a presence in freshmen dorms, using drugs and having sex with students, the document said. Miller, who is on paid administrative leave, has not been charged with any crime.
The university has a new policy, enacted in early 2012 soon after the Penn State child abuse scandal erupted, that broadens the number of employees who must report sexual assaults. University officials say they have already seen an increase in the number of reports received in the past year.
"It's expected and required of our employees that they come forward with any information immediately," said Stephanie Reitz, the university's spokeswoman. "The safety of all members of the university community is of the utmost importance to all of us."
In addition, the university is drafting a policy that will prohibit relationships between faculty or university staff and undergraduates.
Reitz said that while the new stricter policy on reporting sexual assaults, approved by the board of trustees in January 2012, has increased the number of reports of possible assault, harassment and discrimination, she cautioned that does not mean those numbers have actually increased.
"But an increase in reporting allows the appropriate university administrators and offices to respond swiftly to situations that are brought to their attention," Reitz said in an email. "Having that data also allows for more informed work on effective prevention measures."
In addition, she said, university officials have been working for about a year on a policy that will prohibit relationships between faculty or university staff and undergraduates, as well as banning relationships between graduate students and the faculty with authority over them. It would also bar supervisors from having relationships with their subordinates.
"It was decided that this was a gap in policy that needed to be addressed," Reitz said.
As it stands now, Reitz said, a relationship between a faculty member and an undergrad would not be prohibited if it were consensual and if neither of the parties had "diminished capacity, be it substance abuse or drinking."
She expects the new policy will be voted on by the trustees in August or September. In addition, beginning this fall, all new employees will undergo criminal background checks before being hired.
Reitz said the new 2012 policy that widened the number of university employees who are required to report a sexual assault was in the works months before any news about the Penn State scandal surfaced. But she said a second policy, also passed by trustees in January 2012, was prompted by the Penn State case. That policy reminds university employees who are mandated to report child abuse and neglect to do so, while also encouraging all university employees to do the same.
A few hours after the trustees passed those policies, Elizabeth A. Conklin, associate vice president for the office of diversity and equity, said, "We've been encouraging a culture of forthrightness … a culture of reporting is very much encouraged. When there are concerns, they need to be brought forward so the university can appropriately deal with them."
The document released Monday by Attorney General George Jepsen's office states that "between 2006 and 2011, several allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with minor children by this same faculty member were allegedly brought to the attention of university employees.
"Some of the allegations that were presented to UConn [police department] in 2013 were allegedly received by a department head in 2011 but there are questions as to whether appropriate action was taken prior to 2013."
Some of the alleged misconduct by Miller, according to court documents and Jepsen's office, involved claims of improper physical contact with boys at a summer camp.
In February, the university's action was triggered when an employee delivered a December 2011 letter to the dean of fine arts, Brid Grant, that contained accusations regarding Miller. Grant promptly contacted top administrators and the UConn police chief.
With a police investigation underway, Miller was placed on administrative leave June 20. On June 26, a faculty member reported that a student had said that Miller was known to have visited freshmen dorms, providing drugs to students and having sex with them, according to the document released by Jepsen. Reitz said the faculty member's report was made according to the new policy on reporting sexual assault.
Besides a state police investigation into the allegations, UConn has launched several investigations of its own and plans to hire an outside law firm to conduct an independent probe of the case, including a review of how university employees handled the allegations. The university has also created a public website for information and updates on the investigation at http://www.uconn.edu/public-notification/
Seth Kalichman, a UConn psychology professor and author of "Mandated Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse: Ethics, Law & Policy," said he thinks UConn responded aggressively and quickly in February partly because universities are operating in a "post-Penn State world, a post-Sandusky world."
Kalichman was referring to the 2011 scandal at Penn State that led to the conviction of assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky for abusing underage boys and to the downfall of coach Joe Paterno for failing to pursue the reports of abuse.
"This is not going to be stood for anymore," Kalichman said. "There's not a university in the country that wants to be the next Penn State."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun