Report says UConn failed to respond in sexual misconduct case

Courtesy University of Connecticut University of Connecticut music professor Robert F. Miller

Storrs — University of Connecticut music professor Robert F. Miller gravitated toward young-looking freshman males who came to be recognized on campus as "Bob's Boys," according to a report released Wednesday to the University's board of trustees.

A tenured professor who had been teaching at UConn since 1983, Miller distributed "Get Out of Jail Free" cards with his personal cellphone and email address and was known to be in the music department building late at night when students, but virtually no other faculty, were around.

Over the years, many of Miller's students became part of the "cabin club," traveling with Miller to his Vermont vacation home, where some reported he made them Manhattans, sat naked with them in a hot tub and exchanged massages.

One of the things that struck members of the Philadelphia law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath when they began an investigation of the university's response to sexual misconduct and abuse allegations against Miller was that few witnesses they interviewed were surprised to learn Miller was the subject of a criminal investigation.

The firm concluded that prior to 2013, when Miller, who is in his mid-60s, was placed on paid leave from his $141,000 a year position and banned from campus, UConn officials put the university community at risk by failing to respond adequately to allegations of the professor's sexual misconduct with minors.

The firm, hired to investigate by the Connecticut attorney general, found no evidence that Miller committed crimes against university students. In his remarks to the board of trustees Wednesday, Drinker Biddle partner Scott A. Coffina, a former federal prosecutor and attorney to President George W. Bush, characterized Miller's relationships with students as "wildly inappropriate but consensual," and said the professor was a "ticking time bomb."

"Professor Miller exhibited consistently questionable behavior with University students over the years that was widely known within the Department of Music," the report says.

During its investigation, Drinker Biddle interviewed 57 witnesses and reviewed more than 27,000 emails and 6,000 pages of documents. The firm substantiated reports that Miller, who has never been charged with a sexual crime, had molested a middle school student in Virginia in 1969 as well as seriously ill boys at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford in the early 1990s. While the statute of limitations on sexual assaults has expired in Connecticut, Virginia authorities could still charge Miller.

Miller, who lives in Mansfield, has retained an attorney and declined to discuss the allegations. Richard Orr, UConn's general counsel, said the university had "dodged a bullet."

"There's no evidence that failure to act actually harmed any university student," Orr said.

The 71-page report is particularly critical of former School of Fine Arts Dean David Woods, who the firm says failed to act on information about Miller received as early as 2003. The Virginia student, now an adult, sent three emails to the music department's general email address in November 2006 saying he was willing to provide statements from himself and "other victims of this pervert."

The email reached the desks of Woods along with the music department head, the university's associate vice president for human resources and payroll and a labor and employment specialist. Woods and the music department head met with Miller, who had retained an attorney and refused to discuss the emails. No action was taken, though the emails "should have set off alarm bells" with Woods in particular, who was aware of two prior allegations of sexual misconduct against Miller, according to the report.

Woods did advise Miller not to socialize with students in 2008, after the Virginia student sent another email saying he would be traveling to Hartford to make Miller's "disgusting practices" public. Woods did nothing to stop Miller when he continued to fraternize with students, according to the report. Woods is no longer a dean but is a professor in good standing with the university.

Board of trustees Chairman Larry McHugh called the report disturbing and said the university's past response was inadequate and unacceptable. But he said that once the old allegations came to the attention of the university's current leadership in June, "President (Susan) Herbst and her senior team took swift, decisive and absolutely appropriate action."

Herbst said Wednesday, "It seems so obvious today that action should have been taken when these allegations were first known to university employees, three, six and eight years ago, and even before that. Much has happened since then, but the world was not so different as to justify their inaction. And nothing can excuse some of the behavior detailed in this report on the part of certain individuals."

While the Miller investigation was underway, seven current and former university students filed a Title IX civil rights complaint alleging they had been sexually assaulted on campus and the university reacted with indifference. The U.S. Department of Education is investigating. Five women then filed a federal lawsuit, which is pending, charging that UConn had mishandled their reports of sexual assault.

The Miller allegations came to light just as the Jerry Sandusky scandal was unfolding at Pennsylvania State University. At Wednesday's meeting, when a trustee asked whether there are any similarities between the two cases, Coffina said that Sandusky had repeatedly used university resources to molest children, which was not the case with Miller.

While most of Miller's alleged transgressions took place off-campus, the report indicates that campus police interviews with students appeared to substantiate a widely circulated rumor that Miller and a student danced around in their underwear in Miller's on-campus recording studio in the spring of 2009. One student who went to the studio often reported that Miller urged him to "respond to what the music was doing" and started lightly touching him and asked him if he was "OK" with it. The student also reported he took off his shirt at the studio but said he felt uncomfortable speaking about what happened next.

The report concludes there is strong, credible evidence that Miller violated the university's policies on sexual harassment and its Code of Conduct for professors and did not live up to university by-laws concerning professional fitness. It also concludes that Miller's conduct constitutes "just cause" for discipline under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the board of trustees and American Association for University Professors, which specifically lists "sexual harassment, serious misconduct or other conduct which impairs the rights of students or other staff members."

Orr, the university counsel, said the university's agreement with the union provides a process for discipline and allows sanctions up to and including termination.

k.florin@theday.com

See an update on this story here.

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