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Sexual misconduct shakes Fine Arts school

Board of Trustees meeting discusses the investigation of Professor Richard Millers's shameful past

By Jackie Wattles
On February 27, 2014

  • Robert Miller, a professor in UConn's School of Fine Arts, has been under investigation by the administration and police for extensive sexual misconduct. An investigation by special counsel revealed early reports of Miller's behavior were met with limited response from the university administration, putting students in danger. Photo Courtesy University of Connecticut

A report of an investigation conducted by independent counsel revealed a prior University of Connecticut administration was largely unresponsive to early information pointing to sexual misconduct and criminal behavior by one of its professors - putting students and minors at risk.

 Robert Miller, a professor in the UConn School of Fine Arts, has been on paid administrative leave since June 2013 when he was issued a no-trespass order following an investigation by the UConn Police Department. Miller is a tenured professor who receives an annual salary of $144,956 as of 2012 and has worked at UConn since 1983.

The investigation by UCPD, according to UConn's chief legal counsel Richard Orr, is ongoing. On Wednesday, the firm Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP - which was commissioned by the UConn Board of Trustees as special counsel to conduct an investigation into the allegations against Miller as well as to evaluate the university's response - reported its findings to the UConn Board of Trustees.

 The report revealed a long and disturbing history of misconduct by Miller dating back decades and states that initial allegations about his behavior - brought to the university as early as 2006 - were largely ignored by the UConn administration before February of 2013.

"UCPD determined during its investigation that, between 2006 and 2011, several allegations that Professor Miller had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with minor children were allegedly brought to the attention of certain university employees," the report states. But no investigation was launched, nor was any action taken to address the alleged behavior.

Most of the School of Fine Arts administration, as well as executive posts at the university, have had turnover since those initial reports. The allegations resurfaced when current School of Fine Arts Dean Brid Grant - who took her post in April of 2012 - received an anonymous letter alleging Miller had sexually abused a child or children at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut in 1992 (The camp is a nonprofit residential music camp located in Ashford and is unaffiliated with the university).

Miller was forced to resign from the camp "amid allegations of inappropriate contact with several campers - i.e., having the campers disrobe and checking them for bruises and/or ticks and sticking his hands down the pants of one camper," according to the report.

Scott Coffina - one of the investigators with Drinker Biddle & Reath - said the current administration reacted "in the opposite manner." Shortly after that letter was received, top administrative officials were notified and the police investigation was launched.

A member of the School of Fine Arts faculty also contacted Elizabeth Conklin - the associate vice president of the Office of Diversity and Equity - last February and told her that Miller was known "to visit freshman dorms, provide drugs to students and then have sex with them," according to the report. The faculty member also told Conklin that Miller "was known to have a history of having sex with boys."

The investigation by the special counsel was launched in September last year, and the report states investigators "interviewed 57 witnesses, including current and former faculty, staff, students, and administration officials," as well as reviewed "more than 27,000 emails" and "more than 6,000 pages of documents obtained from (the Office of Diversity and Equity), Human Resources, (UConn Police Department), the Office of General Counsel and individual witnesses."

It found "convincing evidence" that Miller "engaged in serious misconduct with minors and with university students" and "the response of university officials prior to February 2013 was insufficient to ensure the safety of minors on campus and of university students."

The investigation also found Miller had inappropriate contact with the son of a fellow music professor and most likely had inappropriate contact with at least one middle school student in Virginia in 1969.

Miller was also found to have had inappropriate contact with university students - allegedly providing alcohol to underage students, taking students to his vacation home in Vermont, showering with students at his health club, bathing naked with them in a hot tub at his health club, giving massages to students and touching them inappropriately while teaching "breathing exercises."

However, the allegations that Miller frequented dorms, gave students drugs and had sexual intercourse with them could not be validated through the special counsel's investigation. Additionally - of the separate investigations conducted by the firm, the Office of Diversity and Equity, and the UConn Police Department - no current or former UConn students identified themselves as victims of sexual misconduct by Miller.

Orr said that, in this sense, UConn "dodged a bullet."

Before Feb. 2013

The report states that by 2003, rumors regarding Miller's misconduct at the Hole in the Wall Gang were circulating, even among then-Dean of Fine Arts David G. Woods.

In November 2006, a Virginia student sent three emails to the general email address of the school of fine arts. One received by the department Nov. 2, 2006 states, "Just so you know, (Miller) is a pedophile. He is responsible for molesting several 7th and 8th grade students."

A staff member forwarded the emails, which eventually came across the desk of Woods who sought advice from the assistant attorney general at UConn, Ralph Urban, about how to deal with the situation. But after a meeting with Miller, Woods "decided they would not pursue the issue further," according to the report.

"Woods did not respond adequately to the Virginia Student's November 2006 emails to ensure the safety of minors and campus and of University," the report states. "He did not follow Mr. Urban's advice, including to limit Miller's access to minors."

Woods did tell the special counsel investigative team that he attempted to have Miller fired after he became aware of the allegations, but the investigators found no corroborating evidence. Woods is still employed by the university and is "in good standing," according to university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz, though he is currently on medical leave.

In November 2007, leaders from UConn Human Resources, the Office of Diversity and Equity, the police department and the School of Fine Arts and the Neag School of Education met to discuss Miller, specifically three allegations of sexual misconduct lodged against him - but those interviewed by the special counsel who were present at the meeting said the focus was on Miller's disruptive office behavior, and not on sexual misconduct allegations. Again, no action was taken by university administrators to investigate or address the allegations.

In January 2008, the student from Virginia sent another email to the department of music repeating the allegations. In response, officials did attempt to limit Miller's social interactions with student by advising him to cease personal relationships with students. However, the report suggests the advice was not binding and no efforts were made to ensure compliance.

Once again, in December 2011, then-music department head Catherine Jarjisian received an anonymous letter discussing Miller's disassociation from the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Neither Jarjisian nor Woods reported the incident. The camp's administrators did not report the crimes in order to protect the camp's founder - actor Paul Newman - from disgracing media attention, according to the report. Woods denied he knew about the letter, but email archives between Woods and Jarjisian that the special counsel team dug up suggest otherwise.

Going Forward

President Herbst responded to the special counsel report with admonishment for the inaction of the prior administration (some of the reports findings indicate former UConn President Philip Austin knew about the allegations as well).

"We will review (the report) carefully and thoughtfully," she said. "We will take all appropriate action and we will do so as swiftly as possible. We will communicate our decision to the board, the university and to the public at the appropriate time."

Orr said Miller is a member of the American Association of University Professors - a collective bargaining group - and grounds for termination will have to be evaluation in light of that contract. Coffina said the report reveals numerous violations of the university's bylaws and code of conduct, which would give the university leverage to terminate him.

No criminal charges have been brought against Miller so far, and Connecticut's statute of limitations has expired for allegations surrounding the 1992 incident at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. However, Virginia does not have a statute of limitation for the type of crimes alleged against him there, and Coffina and Orr added that he may face charges for providing alcohol to minors. Other, more serious charges are possible as well, but much of that will depend on the ongoing investigation by the UCPD.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Robert Miller as "Richard Miller."

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