SMTD to install transparent panels in offices to prevent sexual misconduct

Sunday, April 7, 2019 - 5:07pm

In an email to staff and faculty in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance sent out on Feb. 14 by SMTD dean David Gier, the school announced it will be replacing all faculty, staff, practice room and instrument storage doors to include transparent panels. The change has not been announced publicly, but according to the email it is due to a “heightened climate … surrounding sexual misconduct prevention.”

Gier’s email explained the specifications of the doors, which will be installed over the summer.

They will be “...consistent in size, completely transparent, wide enough to support broad room visibility, and low enough to support wheelchair height visibility.”

Gier explained they come after “a review of our buildings … in partnership with the Office of the Provost,” Dean Gier wrote. “We have come together unified in the opinion that in order to foster a community ethos around occupant safety and the prevention of sexual misconduct, we must alter our physical spaces.”

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These changes come on the heels of the publication of multiple sexual misconduct allegations against former SMTD professor Stephen Shipps and professor David Daniels. In both instances, further investigation into the situation has brought administrative responses to these allegations into question. In the case of Daniels, SMTD awarded Daniels’s tenure in May 2018 despite being made aware of misconduct allegations against him as early as March 2018. In the case of Shipps, an email regarding an allegation of “statutory rape” to the then-interim dean of SMTD went unanswered for more than a year.

In an email to The Daily, Mark Clague, SMTD associate dean for academic and student affairs, spoke of the administration’s response to heightened concerns around sexual misconduct.

“We believe the update to SMTD studio and office doors increases transparency within the SMTD community both literally and symbolically,” Clague wrote. “Literally it makes the activities in what have historically been limited-view or unviewable spaces more public. Symbolically it sends an important message to our community and beyond that everyone deserves an environment that is safe and in which they can comfortably and confidently accomplish the artistic work that is our educational mission.”

In an interview with The Daily, LSA freshman Andrew Gerace suggested that while this was an important step to address concerns over sexual misconduct, more should be done by SMTD to address this issue.

“I think it will help students feel more comfortable. And that’s an important step to take,” Gerace said. “But I think what the music school needs to grapple with is the gray, squishy areas.”

Gerace also expressed surprise at how this policy was being implemented thus far. Despite being a member of the Jazz Lab Ensemble, he said he had heard nothing about this policy from faculty or students around SMTD.

“I am baffled by the fact that the music school continues to try and talk about transparency, and even with a policy that is literally trying to augment physical transparency, they’re still going behind the students’ backs,” Gerace said.

Besides this new door policy, SMTD has taken multiple steps recently to address sexual misconduct concerns. They announced the formation of a Faculty and Staff Allies Network (FASAN) intended to change campus culture by improving communication and transparency regarding sexual misconduct and gender bias.

“The Faculty and Staff Allies Network … is a volunteer effort by SMTD faculty and staff to discuss and address issues across SMTD concerning sexual misconduct, equality, and safety. To date, it has supported dialogue, faculty and staff training efforts,” Clague wrote. “We expect FASAN to continue into next academic year and beyond. Its efforts are vital for the SMTD community.”

As part of this effort, SMTD also held a panel discussion in mid-November featuring University administrators around sexual misconduct. In late-February, the school held another event around sexual misconduct. Yet despite pledges at these events of increased transparency between students and faculty, Gerace expressed surprise that SMTD administrators had not announced these changes being planned SMTD buildings.

“I think the dialogue needs to be continuous,” Gerace said. “After that panel we were told we would be informed about steps that would be taken regarding this issue, but here we go, learning from hearsay, instead of getting direct messaging from the University. … it’s connecting back to letting students know what’s going on, recognizing mistakes are made in both the way this was handled, in the way the situation was allowed to occur, recognizing the fact that situations have occurred, not just that this is ‘heightened awareness around sexual assault.’ ”

The Daily spoke with a current SMTD faculty member about this change. They requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about the new policy without fear of profession repercussions.

“My priority is that our students feel safe,” the faculty member said. “If having a larger window in the door of our studios helps our students feel more safe, I believe we should spare no expense.”

The faculty member noted that while SMTD has seen many public allegations recently of sexual misconduct, these concerns are not unique to the University of Michigan.

“It does feel a little bit to me like an optics reactions to the accusations that we have seen at our school,” the faculty member said. “And my hope is that what this does is sparks a larger conversation across the country because this bad behavior is not exclusive to the University of Michigan, by any means. And my hope is that we can have more broad actions in academia with regards to what systems are in place that enable bad behavior.”

Clague also wrote of the changes that need to take place both at the University and in the larger performing arts community as it works to address heightened concerns around sexual misconduct.

“It’s also important to note that the changes needed at SMTD and in the performing arts industry as a whole will not be solved by any one action or person. It will take a commitment from everyone,” Clague wrote. “At SMTD, we see all faculty, staff and students as vital and necessary partners to make our community stronger and safer. We need everyone’s help to address issues of sexual justice with courage and action.”