Update: Shipps pleaded not guilty on Monday to two counts of transporting a female minor across state lines with the intention of engaging in sexual conduct.
Stephen Shipps, a retired professor at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, has been formally charged with two counts of transporting a female minor across state lines with the intention of engaging in sexual conduct, according to a Thursday announcement from U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider.
According to the indictment, Shipps knowingly transported a young girl under 18 years old in February and March of 2002 and again in June and July of 2002. If found guilty on both counts, Shipps will face a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.
“We are committed to the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable members of our society – our children,” Schneider said in a statement. “For over 20 years, Stephen Shipps had close interactions with many young girls who were gifted musicians. Shipps met with these young girls both inside and outside of the State of Michigan. Our determination and commitment to seeking justice for victims has no time limit.”
Schneider’s announcement comes two years after an investigation from The Michigan Daily uncovered nearly 40 years of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations against Shipps. Shipps officially retired from the University in February 2019.
Misconduct accusations against Shipps span his career, from his time at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the late 1970s and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in the 1980s to his tenure at the University of Michigan, where he was hired as an associate professor of music in 1989.
In the mid-1980s, a high school student of Shipps at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts wrote in her journal of Shipps’ alleged reputation with female students. She asked not to be identified in this article, citing privacy concerns.
“Steve has had the reputation for fooling around with his students in the past,” she wrote.
During the 2018 investigation, The Daily learned that the summer the University of Michigan announced its plans to hire Shipps, an Ann Arbor-based freelance musician allegedly told Music, Theatre & Dance professor Yizhak Schotten of the rumors they had heard about Shipps. This musician requested anonymity, citing privacy and professional concerns.
“Yizhak, I heard this guy is a scumbag,” they remember saying, adding details about Shipps’ alleged sexual misconduct at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
“That’s all in the past,” they allege Schotten responded.
When The Daily spoke to Schotten in 2018, he declined to comment, saying he did not definitively remember events from nearly 30 years ago.
While at the University, Shipps served as a professor of violin, a member of SMTD’s executive committee and an associate dean. He was a department chair and youth program director at the time The Daily’s article was published in December 2018.
Allegations against Shipps from his time at the University range from inappropriate verbal statements to non-consensual touching. The claims date back to the early 2000s and continued to a University-affiliated summer program that took place in the past five years.
One former University employee who worked for Shipps in his capacity as associate dean described a hostile work environment she characterized as a “boys’ club.” This employee asked to remain anonymous due to professional concerns.
She alleged that she learned of multiple female students who switched out of Shipps’ studio mid-year or mid-degree because they felt uncomfortable working with him.
Further reporting by The Daily uncovered an allegation of statutory rape against Shipps communicated to Melody Racine, who was the interim dean of SMTD in October 2017. This University did not respond to this complaint for more than a year.
When questioned about the allegation by The Daily in 2018, University of Michigan Police Department Special Victims Unit detective Margie Pillsbury wrote that she had only recently been made aware of it.
“I learned about the complaint today and wanted to make sure you know how to connect with law enforcment (sic),” Pillsbury wrote on Oct. 29, 2018. “I understand the allegation you made is a sexual assault which is a crime.”
In a statement to The Daily on Thursday, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said that Shipps was instructed to have no contact with students after being placed on leave on Dec. 7, 2018. He never returned to campus after being placed on leave, Fitzgerald said.
“The University of Michigan strongly condemns all sexual misconduct,” Fitzgerald said in the statement. “Whether this reprehensible conduct takes place now or took place in the past, it is unacceptable.”
Music, Theatre & Dance Dean David Gier echoed Fitzgerald’s statement in an email to students Thursday.
“We remain steadfastly committed to fostering a culture of academic and artistic excellence that is safe, equitable, and inclusive for all students, faculty, and staff – an environment in which everyone can thrive,” Gier wrote.
Shipps was arrested Thursday morning and appeared in federal court for his arraignment through a Zoom call. He was released on a $10,000 bail, the conditions of which include avoiding contact with potential witnesses, adhering to a curfew, submitting to GPS monitoring and not having any contact with minors.
At the time of the Shipps’ Thursday hearing, he had not yet been given a chance to confer with his attorney, John Shea. Shipps and Shea confirmed in court days later that they had the opportunity to speak about the case.
The Department of Homeland Security has asked for the public’s help in reporting additional information related to Shipps. The University of Michigan Police Department is supporting the ongoing investigation. Anyone with additional information about alleged crimes committed by Shipps is encouraged to contact the Homeland Security Investigations tip line at 866-347-2423 or reach out by email at HSI-Shipps-Investigation@ice.dhs.gov.
Daily Staff Reporter Sammy Sussman contributed reporting.
Daily Staff Reporter Kristina Zheng can be reached at email@example.com.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.