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Probe: UConn Knew Of Sex Abuse Claims Against Prof

University of Connecticut Trustees (credit: Michael Guerrera/WTIC)

University of Connecticut Trustees (credit: Michael Guerrera/WTIC)

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STORRS, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — University of Connecticut officials knew of sexual abuse allegations against a music professor a decade before taking action, putting students at the school and the community at risk, according to an independent investigative report released Wednesday.

The investigator, Scott Coffina, a former White House counsel and former assistant U.S. attorney, presented his findings Wednesday to the school’s Board of Trustees.

Coffina said he found that some school officials, including the dean of the school of fine arts, knew as early as 2003 that the professor, Robert Miller, had been accused of misconduct with children, including the son of a professor. But, he found, “no one took appropriate action to ensure the safety of minors on campus or university students.”

Miller was suspended from his $140,000-a-year job in June, months after the child abuse allegations came to light. He has not been charged with a crime, but UConn said a police investigation is still open. Miller has not commented on the allegations, and a phone message seeking comment was left at his home Wednesday.

No UConn students were victims of crimes, Coffina’s investigation found. But he also found evidence that the 66-year-old Miller, who also was director of the music school from 1999 to 2003, engaged in rampant misconduct and violations of school policy.

As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, those violations included inviting students to overnight parties that involved alcohol at a house he owned in Vermont, which became known in the music department as Miller’s “Cabin Club.” Coffina also found evidence Miller showered with students at his health club, was naked with students in a hot tub and was caught dancing in his underwear with a student late at night in the music department.

School officials were notified on several occasions of Miller’s on-campus behavior. They also received several emails over the years from people who said Woods abused them when they were children.

A faculty meeting resulted only in a letter from David Woods, the dean of fine arts, to Miller in 2008 advising him not to socialize with students. But there was no follow-up, Coffina said.

“Professor Miller was like a ticking time bomb that Dean Woods, rather than disarm it, hoped would be a dud,” Coffina said.

“This was a failure of people, not policy,” Coffina said. “The university’s code of conduct, bylaws and policy on harassment as well as common sense should have been sufficient to cause the university employees involved to act more assertively to protect students prior to February 2013.”

Messages seeking comment from Woods were not immediately returned. A woman who answered the phone at the office of his attorney said they would not comment.

“Nothing can excuse some of the behavior detailed in this report on the part of certain individuals,” UConn President Susan Herbst said in a statement she read to the board. “The safety of our students and the safety of the entire community is paramount for us. As a university, we must always be absolutely accountable. And so must our employees.”

Coffina’s law office, which the state hired to conduct the investigation, interviewed 57 witnesses, looked at more than 6,000 pages of documents, examined four hard drives and reviewed 27,000 emails and other correspondence.

He said he found evidence to support allegations that Miller inappropriately touched boys who attended Paul Newman’s Hole In The Wall Camp for sick children in Connecticut in the early 1990s, and a middle school student in Virginia in 1969.

He also found evidence that Miller had inappropriate contact with the professor’s child on several occasions, including having that boy disrobe while he applied makeup on the child’s face for an opera production on campus.

Coffina noted that the current administration acted immediately and appropriately when presented a letter last year from one accuser.

State police have said the statute of limitations has expired in the Connecticut cases, but not for the Virginia allegations.

University attorney Richard Orr said the school received the report only Monday and must follow its normal disciplinary process, which he said could result in the dismissal of Miller and others who failed to act when they learned of the allegations.

He also said the school in recent years has improved its policies on romantic relationships between faculty and students and its procedures for reporting allegations of sexual misconduct.

“We dodged a bullet,” said Orr. “Because there is no evidence that the failure to act actually caused any harm to any student or any member of the community.”

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