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Utah State piano professor retires amid sex assault, discrimination claims

LOGAN — The longtime head of Utah State University’s piano program has retired and the university plans to revamp its Title IX office after more than a dozen students accused the school of ignoring their claims of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination in the music department. 
An investigation into the piano program at Utah State found that professor Gary Amano created a “hostile work environment for women and discriminated against female students on the basis of gender.” USU President Noelle Cockett said she accepted Amano’s resignation Monday.
“Over the past year, we have witnessed a movement that is sweeping through our country. People … are speaking up, telling heart-wrenching, personal stories of abuse, mistreatment and sexual assault,” Cockett said Friday during a news conference in the Tippets Gallery Commons at USU’s Fine Arts Center. “As you know, that movement hit Utah State University in our piano program earlier this year.”
USU students, mostly women, “made their voices and their stories heard. They wanted to make sure that things happened in our past to our students, to them, never happens to anyone else,” she said.
One former piano student said she was raped by a piano instructor in 2009, and another student said he was groped by a music professor during an overnight trip in 2006.  But students’ claims were not taken seriously by leadership in the piano program, the report states, and “in several instances, the only party to be criticized was the victim.”
Amano had led Utah State’s piano program since the 1980s, but had been on sabbatical since August. USU’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct within the music department under Amano has been under investigation for nearly seven weeks.
Social media posts in February alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination sparked the investigation into the piano program. Investigators recommended that USU terminate Amano, saying he “tolerated sexual harassment of students by faculty members whom he was supposed to be supervising, without holding those faculty members accountable.”
The university report says a culture of sexual harassment and gender discrimination has existed in the piano program since the late 1990s. Social media posts also noted allegations of sexual assault of students by current and former faculty members. More than a dozen current and former students complained of “a pervasive culture of gender discrimination in the piano program,” the report states.
The university-ordered investigation by Snell & Wilmer said students or their parents complained about incidents of sexual  harassment from 1994 to 2012, specifically naming four members of the music department faculty. Reports included sexual relations between faculty members and their students. Two of those faculty members still work at the university, the report states.
Investigators also noted that “psychologically abusive faculty behavior — behavior that drove some students to leave the program without degrees, giving up  the piano all together” — was tolerated for decades in the piano program.
According to the report, “a significant number of current and former students complained … about being humiliated — or watching others being humiliated and belittled — in classes taught by (Amano) and other faculty. They complained about faculty vindictiveness. They also complained that faculty members, and particularly professor Amano, became impatient and caustic with students for having failed to grasp  concepts or comply with expectations.” Several students described the program as “toxic,” the report states.
Amano told investigators “he has never disparaged women students, nor has he ever discriminated against them,” the report states. Attempts to reach Amano for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
 
In addition to Amano’s dismissal, investigators recommended that professor Dennis Hirst no longer be interim coordinator of the piano program. Cockett said Hirst has been removed from the program, and his status with the university is still being determined.
Investigators also say new standards for behavior between faculty and students need to be established, and a plan to eliminate gender discrimination needs to be put in place.
“We must also cultivate a foundation at USU that demonstrates our absolute commitment to making our campus a safe and healthy environment where students can reach their full potential,” Cockett said.