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University of Connecticut officials need to spend less time congratulating themselves for their supposedly swift action and more time emphasizing that UConn will protect no one from the ramifications of an investigation into whether personnel ignored reports of sexual abuse by a professor.
The allegations involve Robert Miller, 66, former head of the Music Department at the university, an employee since 1982.
The administration at UConn, where Susan Herbst became president in June 2011, reports learning of the allegations on Feb. 13 of this year. That is when an employee in the School of Fine Arts brought a letter containing allegations of misconduct by Mr. Miller - dated December 2011 - to the dean of fine arts.
Campus police and state prosecutors were contacted. On June 20, police, authorized with a search warrant, searched Mr. Miller's Mansfield home and seized his UConn computers. On June 21 the university placed Mr. Miller on administrative leave and banned him from campus, though he continues to collect his $2,600 weekly pay check.
On July 12 the executive committee of the Board of Trustees voted to appoint a special committee to oversee an internal investigation of how the university handled any past allegations against Mr. Miller. It appears that until this year reports of misconduct by the professor were not handled properly and that some individuals at the university chose to look the other way.
The university is hiring an outside law firm to conduct the internal investigation. Overseeing the hiring will be Attorney General George Jepsen. Meanwhile, criminal investigations continue, with no arrests at this point.
According to court records and Jepsen's office, some of the claims involve improper physical contact with boys at "The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp" in Ashford. The professor volunteered at the camp for kids dealing with cancer in the late 1980s and early 1990s, according to camp officials.
A UConn student has also made allegations that "Miller was known to have visited freshmen dorms, provided drugs to students and had sex with students."
The university appears happy with its handling of the matter, at least of late.
"It is clear to the board that when these allegations were brought to the attention of current university personnel in 2013, the university took swift, decisive action as this matter evolved. The president and her senior team are to be commended," read a July 15 statement issued by Lawrence McHugh, chairman of the Board of Trustees and of the special investigatory commission.
"From the moment information came to university personnel earlier this year to the present, the university has acted quickly and methodically. That will not change," wrote President Herbst in a statement issued the same day.
Frankly, it is far too early for handing out commendations, not until the public learns who knew what, when, and what they did about it. As for President Herbst extolling university personnel for quick and methodical action, that congratulatory statement includes a very significant qualification - since "earlier this year."
According to the attorney general's office, "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."
The fact that nothing seemingly happened until this year does not suggest quick action. What was the nature of these past allegations? Who learned of them? How were they addressed or ignored?
Then there is the issue of that December 2011 letter, a copy of which the administration received this February. How did university officials deal with the letter when they apparently first received it in 2011?
"Some of the allegations that were presented to UConn 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," writes the attorney general in his request for proposals seeking a law firm to handle the probe.
While the Herbst administration deserves credit for transparency and its handling of the matter now, the statements issued July 15 smack too much of spin. So did a quote UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz gave to the Hartford Courant.
"I wouldn't want to draw parallels between this and the Penn State situation, because the situations aren't parallel," said Ms. Reitz, referring to the mishandling of allegations of sexual abuse against one-time assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was ultimately convicted of abuse.
A law firm is not even in place yet to investigate, yet a UConn spokesperson already concludes there are no parallels with the Penn State scandal?
We shall see.