Former students bring 40 years of misconduct allegations against SMTD professor
The University of Michigan hired Stephen Shipps as an associate professor of music on Sept. 1, 1989. Since then, he has had a successful academic career at the University. From 2001 to 2004, he served on the Executive Committee of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. From 2002 to 2007, he served as the associate dean for academic affairs. He is currently the chair of strings and the faculty director of the Strings Preparatory Academy, a university-affiliated pre-college music program for local middle and high school students.
A Michigan Daily investigation unearthed previously undisclosed allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct against Shipps. These reports span nearly 40 years, from Fall 1978 to a University-affiliated summer program in the last five years. They include accusations of unwanted touching, sexual assault, prolonged sexual relationships with teenage students, and misogynistic and sexist verbal statements.
Shipps declined to comment for this article. His lawyer, David Nacht, also declined to comment.
The Daily also found reports that at least one faculty member in the Music, Theatre & Dance school, Prof. Yizhak Schotten, was made aware of some of these allegations soon after Shipps’s hiring was announced and before he started teaching. It is unclear whether he communicated these concerns to the University at the time, or if the University has ever been made aware of these concerns.
Shipps taught at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts — known then as the North Carolina School of the Arts before a 2008 name change — prior to coming to the University of Michigan. The Daily spoke with a former North Carolina School of the Arts college student, who wished to remain anonymous, citing professional and privacy concerns. She currently serves as the associate principal second (the second-ranked member of the second violin section) in a full-time professional orchestra. In this article, she will be referred to as Meghan.
Meghan was an international student assigned to Shipps’s private studio in NCSA. By the end of her freshman year, she felt uncomfortable in Shipps’s studio.
“There had been small things that I was uncomfortable with,” she said. “I had heard rumors of flirting. I had seen flirting. … He had overemphasized my talent in master classes a number of times, held me up to other students. I was a freshman, so it was awkward.”
Near the end of the year, Meghan told Shipps she wanted to switch studios. Elaine Richey was the other violin teacher at the UNCSA at the time. Meghan was given the impression that she would have no trouble switching studios. She began making plans for the summer assuming she would be studying with Richey in the fall.
In one of her last private lessons, Shipps requested Meghan come see him after hours for her final private lesson. She had never had a late-night lesson before, but she agreed nevertheless.
According to her account, as she walked into Shipps’s studio that evening, the lights were dimmed. After she put down her violin, she says Shipps moved behind her and locked the door to his office.
“I thought that was very strange, but at that moment I didn’t feel threatened by it,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s weird,’ but I probably just cast it aside as being secure after hours. I wasn't really thinking about it, but I remember I noticed it and it probably made me a bit uncomfortable.”
She pulled out her violin and started to play. But after a little while, she remembers Shipps stopped her. He told her she wasn’t playing with enough passion — that she needed to improve her understanding of passion in order to improve her playing.
“He kept on talking, talking about this and moving closer to me and I was backing away just very subtly,” she said.
Then, as they got close to the door, she alleged Shipps pushed her against the wall and tried to kiss her.
“I was really uncomfortable and shocked and horrified. I didn't find him attractive. It was unwelcome contact,” she said. “So I squirmed away to one side.”
At this point, Meghan alleges, Shipps moved toward her again, this time grabbing her by the shoulders and attempting to kiss her. She remembers squirming away again, expressing her discomfort and packing up her violin. As she left the room, Shipps told her Richey did not want her as a student next year; she would be studying with Shipps again that coming fall.
Meghan says she walked back to her dorm room in tears. A friend asked her why she was crying, and she told them she wouldn’t be able to study with Richey next year. The friend told her that this didn’t sound like Richey, and encouraged Meghan to call Richey at her home.
Meghan did call Richey, asking her if there was any way that she could be put on a waitlist for a spot in her studio next year. But Meghan says Richey expressed great confusion at this request, saying she had wanted Meghan as a student but Shipps had told her Meghan had changed her mind.
Richey said she would drive to the school to figure everything out. Later that evening, she and Meghan met with the dean of fine arts. His name was Robert Hickok. Meghan told him what she had told Richey: Shipps had said Richey did not want her as a student, and she would be studying with Shipps again the following year. Meghan told them both if she was required to continue studying with Shipps, she didn’t want to return at all.
Meghan says Hickok told her there had been a misunderstanding. He asked them to give him a little time to sort out where this misunderstanding had occurred.
“When he started talking about a ‘misunderstanding’ something in me raised a red flag because, I thought, this isn’t a misunderstanding — this is a deliberate act,” Meghan said. “So I asked if I could speak to (Hickok) alone and and if (Richey) could leave.”
After Richey left the room, Meghan told Hickok exactly what had happened to her earlier. Meghan remembers his immediate response: “(Shipps is) a very affectionate man, are you sure you didn’t misunderstand it?”
But she insisted that she hadn’t. So Hickok told her she would never have to work with Shipps again. For the rest of her time at the school, she never took any classes or lessons with him.
Unfortunately, however, Meghan could not completely avoid Shipps. The UNCSA holds semi-annual juries. These are common practice in many music schools — students perform before faculty in their department and receive grades and written feedback on their growth over the past year.
Meghan was a high-performing student. She received grades in the upper 90s from all the other strings faculty on these juries. But Shipps consistently gave her grades in the mid-to-low 60s.
Stephen Shipps taught at the North Carolina School of the Arts from 1980 until 1989. The school was comprised of a high school division and a college division. It was an experiment in specialized education at a young age, combining high school and college students pursuing an education in the performing arts. Years later, however, the school also became known for the many alleged sexual harassment and sexual misconduct complaints made against high school and college faculty.
In the book “Mozart In The Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music” for example, author Blair Tindall describes her experiences as an oboist in the school’s high school division in the 1970s. As a high school student, she describes being in sexual relationships with a 43-year-old oboe teacher and a piano teacher around 20 years her senior.
When reached by email, Tindall characterized the school as “a cesspool of sexual abuse that took place behind walls and closed doors, with little chance of help for young people as there was nowhere to go for help … it was like shooting fish in a barrel for predators.”
UNCSA referred The Daily to its current Title IX procedures.
“The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) is committed to providing a learning, teaching, and working environment free from sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault, and one that is safe for all members of the campus community. We take any allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously. Currently, UNCSA has a strong Title IX policy and program, as well as one of the strongest Improper Relations Policies in the UNC System,” the director of communications noted in an email.
Unfortunately, instances of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment are all too common in the music education world. Shipps also spent some time teaching at the Meadowmount School of Music, a summer strings program for pre-college students. This program faced similar instances of alleged sexual misconduct: The program’s then-director Owen Carman was accused of paying a student in return for sex.
An investigation by The Daily also uncovered numerous previously undisclosed allegations against Shipps from his time at the University.
Wendy Olson Posner, a former University student who also attended the North Carolina School of the Arts, described an uncomfortable interaction she had with Shipps while at the University. She attended the University to study with Paul Kantor, a former violin faculty member. Though she was not Shipps’s private student, Posner still interacted with Shipps in chamber music coachings and master classes.
In one instance, she recalled an uncomfortable interaction during a chamber music coaching: Shipps placed his hand on her bow arm to encourage her to move her bow more. In itself, this is not an uncommon act for a music teacher. But Posner says it was his comment that put her on edge. “Do this for me, baby,” she said he told her. “Do it for me.”
The Daily communicated with another individual that took part in this particular coaching. This individual independently confirmed Posner’s allegations.
In another instance, The Daily communicated with a female student who took lessons with Shipps in a University-affiliated summer program. The student participated in the program less than five years ago. She was in middle school at the time, and she asked to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns.
It is not unusual for a violin teacher to touch their student’s arm or back in a lesson to correct bad hand posture or poor bowing technique. This student, however, alleges Shipps touched her on her hips during a violin lesson. He offered no pedagogical reason for doing so. She felt incredibly uncomfortable with this interaction. “What was that about?” she remembers thinking.
The Daily spoke with a friend of this student who was told of these events soon after their occurrence. This friend confirmed the accounts described in this article.
The Daily also spoke with multiple current and former students in the strings department, where Shipps is currently the Chair. These students mentioned occasional misogynistic and sexist comments by Shipps in master classes and lessons. In particular, multiple current students spoke of him saying “good girl” after female students finish playing in his master classes. Many members of the strings department are aware of these comments, they allege.
The Daily also spoke with multiple current and former staff and faculty members who spoke of misogynistic and sexist comments by Shipps during administrative and general faculty meetings. In particular, one faculty member described an unforgettable instance in which Shipps made misogynistic comments about an adult woman with ties to the University.
The Daily spoke with one former staff member who worked with Shipps in his administrative capacity. She wishes to remain anonymous, citing professional concerns. In this article she will be referred to as Jessica.
Jessica described a hostile workplace environment — a “boys’ club,” as she referred to it — in which female staff members banded together to resist harassment and misconduct from certain male faculty members.
The Daily spoke with another former Music, Theatre & Dance employee who confirmed Jessica’s “boy’s club” characterization of the Music, Theatre & Dance School at this time.
In particular, Jessica described being warned in her first days working with Shipps that she and other female faculty members should be careful around him. She was told to never be in a room alone with him and to leave the door open whenever she was in his office by herself. She was also told to never allow Shipps to get behind her, something that she initially did not fully understand.
Weeks after hearing this, however, Jessica learned why this was significant. As she sat in Shipps’s office one day, he moved behind her and began massaging her shoulders. She immediately excused herself from the room.
In another instance, Jessica said the word “fuck” in front of Shipps. Immediately after she did that, she reacted in embarrassment. Shipps noticed her embarrassment. He quickly grabbed her hand and began stroking it. He told her that “you can say fuck in my office any time that you want.” She was left feeling extremely uncomfortable after this interaction.
Jessica also alleges she was aware of some female students switching out of Shipps’ studio mid-year or mid-degree due to discomfort studying with him. The Daily spoke to other former faculty and staff members who repeated similar allegations.
Jessica alleges she told an SMTD administrator of some of Shipps’s behavior. She says the administrator laughed off her complaints. During her time working with Shipps, she never saw the University take any disciplinary actions to address her complaints.
Music schools are somewhat unique in their relationship between faculty members and students. In almost all cases, students spend their entire degree studying privately with one specific instructor. Students get to know these faculty members quite well, spending an hour a week for many years learning from these mentors.
“Your mentor can be the path to your future, as so much of non-traditional … music employment is based on networking,” Tindall told The Daily. “It’s mostly freelance, you piece things together and few musicians have skills to find employment outside of music because of the narrow scope of conservatory education. Add the narcissistic star culture in performing arts, and it’s the perfect storm.”
These allegations are not the first allegations against a Music, Theatre & Dance professor to surface. This past summer, baritone Samuel Schultz accused Music, Theatre & Dance professor David Daniels and his husband Scott Walters of sexual assault. An investigation by The Daily found evidence the University was made aware of other allegations against Daniels in March 2018. Daniels was awarded tenure in May, though he is currently on leave.
But unlike Daniels, who joined the Music, Theatre & Dance faculty in 2015, Shipps’ ties to the music school run deep. He is currently the chair of strings and the faculty director of the Strings Preparatory Academy. He is the former associate dean for academic affairs and a former member of the Music, Theatre & Dance School’s executive committee. He has been on the faculty at SMTD since 1989, and he has taught some of SMTD’s most famous alumni.
“There is nothing more important than the safety of our University of Michigan community. Your university takes every concern about safety very seriously. It is one of the reasons we have our own Division of Public Safety and Security that focuses exclusively on the needs that are unique to our community of students, faculty and staff,” Public Affairs spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote to The Daily in an email statement. “When there are concerns that involve sexual misconduct, it is our normal practice to ask the Office for Institutional Equity to review all such allegations. If there are allegations that may be criminal in nature, U-M Police or local police also are notified immediately.”
The circumstances of Shipps’ hiring at the University remain unclear. In particular, it is unclear whether the University was aware of his alleged misconduct at the North Carolina School of the Arts.
A request by The Daily for records relating to Shipps from the UNCSA yielded just one document: a human resources spreadsheet from the 1988-1990 academic years listing Shipps’ reason for separation as “Other.”
It is unclear what this “Other” means, or on what terms Shipps left the North Carolina School of the Arts. The Daily contacted Larry Alan Smith, dean of the high school program at the North Carolina School of the Arts from 1986-1990, for comment.
“I was at NCSA from 1986-90. It was long ago, and I have done so many things since then,” Smith responded by email, before refusing to comment. The Daily emailed Smith further but did not get a response.
Meghan’s allegations about having told Hickok of her after-hours interaction with Shipps, furthermore, cannot be confirmed. Hickok has since passed away, as has Richey.
While multiple individuals The Daily communicated with believe members of the administration were aware of these allegations, no concrete evidence has emerged — under North Carolina Public Records law, almost all records relating to Shipps’ time at the North Carolina School of the Arts need not have been preserved in the approximately 30 years that have elapsed since he left the school.
“We have found no records or reports regarding the alleged incidents, which happened some 30 years ago,” the UNCSA Director of Communications noted in an email to The Daily.
According to University policy as outlined in Standard Practice Guide Policies 201.95, the University conducts background checks on employees’ “credentials, criminal history, and other information related to employment and appointment decisions.”
The University notes “It is important that the University’s academic, research, patient care and service missions are supported by qualified employees and appointees with a safe and secure environment for all University constituents, including students, visitors, patients and employees.”
“The university’s faculty background check policy went into effect in 2013,” Fitzgerald stated in an email. “Before 2013, background checks were conducted at the discretion of the hiring unit. Pre-employment background checks include a criminal conviction check and verification of the highest academic degree disclosed by the candidate.”
Shipps’s faculty file in the Bentley Historical Library contains no documents from Shipps’ hiring committee. Memos of Shipps’s hiring and appointment to the role of associate dean for Academic Affairs both contain mentions of his time as an instructor at the North Carolina School of the Arts, though they give no indication as to the circumstances behind his leaving the school.
The Daily filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records from Shipps’ hiring committee at the University pertaining to his previous employment at the North Carolina School of the Arts. This request was denied because the School of Music, Theatre & Dance does not possess any such documents.
“Please note that Professor Shipps was hired by the University of Michigan nearly 30 years ago,” the Freedom of Information Act Office told The Daily.
Public Affairs, furthermore, noted “the University’s records retention guidelines specify that job applicant files be retained for three years,” as outlined in SPG 201.46.
The Daily spoke with an Ann Arbor-based freelance musician with extensive ties to the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. This musician requested anonymity, citing privacy and professional concerns. They allege they were aware of some of the allegations against Shipps at the time of his hiring in 1989, and that they expressed these concerns to a faculty member.
That faculty member was Yizhak Schotten, a professor of viola. The musician alleges they spoke with Schotten in the old second floor lobby of the music school by the mailboxes soon after Shipps’s hiring had been announced by SMTD but before he had started teaching lessons.
“Yizhak, I heard this guy is a scumbag,” they remember saying, adding some details about the nature of the sexual misconduct allegations they had heard against Shipps. They asked if the school was aware of these allegations when they hired Shipps, as they were concerned that these allegations had not been disclosed to the University.
Schotten’s response is something that they say they will never forget:
“That’s all in the past,” he allegedly said, dismissing their concerns.
The musician remembers being incredibly concerned at this response. “Did Schotten understand the nature of these allegations?” they remember thinking.
The Daily spoke to Schotten. He declined to comment on the record, explaining that he does not definitively remember these events from nearly 30 years ago.
Twelve years before Shipps was hired at the University, in the spring of 1977, Maureen O’Boyle began studying with him. At the time, Shipps was the concertmaster of the Omaha Symphony and O’Boyle was a high school student in Lincoln, Neb.
At the end of her second year of lessons, O’Boyle decided to leave high school early. She was 17 years old at this point, and she had just auditioned for and won a job in the Omaha Symphony as a full-time member of the first violin section — an impressive feat for a teenage musician. She moved to Omaha to study with Shipps at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and play in the first violin section. She was living alone in a small studio apartment.
Soon after moving in, she was told by the University of Nebraska-Omaha she would not be able to study with Shipps for college credit. But Shipps had reassured her she would still be able to study with him. He promised he would give her lessons — in return for her babysitting his daughter.
A couple of weeks later, Shipps allegedly invited her to a party after an evening rehearsal. She was the first to arrive to the party in Shipps’s detached basement studio. As the other guests arrived, he poured her a large “screwdriver” (a strong alcoholic drink). Marijuana was also being passed around. It was O’Boyle’s first time smoking and drinking.
“I’d never had one (a screwdriver) before, or any significant amount to drink,” O’Boyle said in an email to The Daily. “I was very drunk, and very high, incoherent.”
As the party came to an end, O’Boyle sat on the couch while the other guests began to leave. Eventually, she was left alone with Shipps. She was 17; he was in his mid to late 20s and married with a young daughter.
“Steve had sex with me on that couch, where I always unpacked my violin for a lesson,” O’Boyle said. “So, that’s how I lost my virginity. I do vaguely remember that moment, though most of the night is a blackout. (I) remember knowing what was happening with the feeling that my life was already horribly off course.”
After that night, O’Boyle continued studying with Shipps and babysitting his daughter.
“I babysat regularly, often spending the night in the spare bedroom,” O’Boyle said. “Sometimes we had violin lessons; sometimes Steve just wanted a blowjob on the couch.”
The year was incredibly difficult for O’Boyle. In a couple of instances, while ostensibly babysitting Shipps’s daughter or having a violin lesson at his house, she remembers almost being discovered by his wife.
“I remember Steve coming out of the shower in nothing but a towel when Steve and (his wife) were getting ready to go out,” O’Boyle said. “(She) gasped at him for doing that in front of me; he laughed it off like it was no big deal.”
She also remembers being incredibly depressed throughout the year, spending most of her time alone in her apartment.
“I spent a lot of time tearing off my cuticles until there was no skin around my nails at all,” she said. “Once I showed up for a lesson and had torn my fingers up to the point they were bleeding. Steve angrily washed and bandaged them, and I was so grateful he’d noticed even though he seemed irritated at me. It was a very difficult year.”
Near the end of that year, O’Boyle decided to move back to Lincoln to live with her family.
“My life in Omaha was an unmitigated disaster, and I just commuted to Omaha for the last couple of months of the Omaha Symphony season,” she said. “I prepared for and took auditions for other universities, and went to Indiana University the following September.”
The Daily spoke with another individual with knowledge of these events at the time who confirmed O’Boyle’s account.
Years later, a young violinist also from Lincoln, Neb., decided to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts for her junior and senior years of high school. She asked not to be identified in this article, citing privacy concerns. The specific years that she studied with Shipps have also been redacted — these alleged events occurred in the mid- to late-1980s. In this article, she will be referred to as Anne.
Anne and her parents had known of O’Boyle’s experiences with Shipps, but they thought he no longer had sexual relationships with students — he had helped O’Boyle win an incredibly difficult audition and these allegations were in his past.
“Despite our knowledge of the relationship Steve had had with (O’Boyle), my parents and I decided it was best for me to finish my last two years of high school at the North Carolina School of the Arts, studying with him,” Anne wrote in an email to The Daily. “I wanted to focus on violin as much as possible, and I convinced all of us that I wouldn’t follow the same path.”
Shipps had an impressive reputation as a teacher by this time, and Anne was determined to study with him. She had a pleasant experience studying with him at the beginning of her first year. Toward the end of that year, however, she began babysitting Shipps’s daughter. Soon afterward, he began an ongoing sexual relationship with her. She was 16 at the time, and he was in his 30s.
“I remember when it started, in his car, as he drove me home from babysitting one night,” Anne wrote in an email to The Daily. “For the next few months, I sometimes had a lesson during my scheduled slot. Other times, we were engaged in heavy petting and he taught me how to perform oral sex on him.”
Around the end of that year, Anne decided to keep a journal to document her experiences with Shipps. She has kept that journal to this day, though it has sustained significant water damage. On the first page, she describes her struggle to keep her relationship a secret.
“I am 17 as of June (redacted.) I bought this notebook because I have a lot of secrets. I can talk about some of my secrets to a few certain people but when they are around I don’t think they really want to listen. Then there are the other secrets,” she wrote.
Anne also speaks of Shipps’ reputation around the North Carolina School of the Arts as a faculty member who had already had multiple relationships with students.
“Steve has had the reputation for fooling around with his students in the past,” she wrote.
Anne also describes Shipps as being a good teacher, though alleges his interest in sexual acts frequently interfered with her lessons.
“He is very good at switching roles and being a teacher. (O’Boyle) said the relationship was all on his terms and when he wanted to have sex, they would arrange something and if not, he would just conduct a normal lesson as if nothing had happened between them. I mean it’s good that he can do that and still be a teacher and get things done at lessons but can you imagine just never knowing what to expect; if he wanted you that day or not?” she wrote.
The Daily spoke with five former North Carolina School of the Arts students with knowledge of these events at the time. All confirmed Anne’s account.
Many high school music students use the summer to attend intensive summer music programs, and Anne was no exception. She decided to continue her studies with Shipps at the Indiana University strings program that summer. In a diary entry before she left for the summer, Anne describes what Shipps had told her about his plans for her.
“Maybe I won’t even unpack my violin. I don’t know but as of the end of May when I went home, I know what he expected from me this summer. I also know what I led him to believe I would give/get from him. ‘I bet I could make you come (sic.). Can I make that my project for this summer?’ ‘We’ll have fun this summer.’ ‘We’ll take a day this summer and get away.’ All these things he says to me as we kiss and explore. Why wouldn’t I assume what I assume about my lesson tomorrow: Would he have a change of brain just because I have? He won’t be hurt. He gets to have his cake and eat it too,” Anne wrote.
Anne also described her fears of being discovered and the damage to her career that she feared would ensue.
“The things that would happen if we were found out would be: he would probably be fired but first, I would be thrown out of school, every connection I might have through him would be a negative one, rather than a positive one, if at all. I guess what I’m saying is that I would sort of be blacklisted, he would have a lot of reason to hate me since it would probably be my fault that we were found out, he might have a hard time finding another job etc. etc. In other words — nobody can know. I need him as a teacher at this point in my life,” Anne wrote.
At the beginning of the summer program, Anne got back in touch with another young Nebraskan violinist named Wendy Olson Posner. (Posner later attended the University of Michigan, and her allegation against Shipps from her time at the University appears above.) Anne knew Posner from home, though they had not been particularly close until that summer. Posner was hoping to study with Shipps that fall when she would begin her studies at the North Carolina School of the Arts.
Anne’s diary entries from the first days of this program document her struggle telling Posner of her relationship with Shipps.
“I want so much to talk to Wendy. I almost did just now. I think she may have figured or will soon figure it out. Oh I wish I could talk to her about it. But I guess that’s why I have this notebook, right? The main reason I can’t tell her is because she is going to North Carolina School of the Arts next year (where I have been for the past year). I think I influenced her in her decision to go there and study with Steve and Steve has had the reputation for fooling around with his students in the past. I of course did my best to dispel that thought from her mind,” Anne wrote.
Despite her misgivings, Anne began rationalizing her relationship and shifting some of the blame for it back on herself.
“At least now that I’m 17, he’s only twice as old as me,” she wrote.
Posner describes learning of this relationship before she got to know Shipps. Anne told Shipps that Posner knew of their relationship, and Posner was forced to keep this relationship a secret.
“That was sort of my introduction to him and very early on, it may even have been before I had my first lesson with him,” Posner said. “My friend confided in me that she was involved with him. I tried to keep the secret. I didn't tell anybody.”
When they both went to the North Carolina School of the Arts that fall, this secret drew the two of them together even as it alienated them from the community around them.
“Part of me is stuck in that ... teenager part of my brain,” Posner said. “Even though I know on some level that generations are going by and girls are still being hurt by this man, it’s only in really lucid moments that I realize that I’m stuck, I’m still worrying about my friends as if we’re all still 17. The whole thing was deeply disempowering, and that sense of being powerless really sticks to the way I think about this whole subject even now.”
By the spring of her senior year, Anne had left the school and moved back in with her parents. Despite having lined up auditions with major music schools such as the Curtis Institute of Music, Anne was struggling emotionally and mentally.
Anne received a letter from Shipps shortly after moving back in with her parents. A copy of this letter was provided by Anne to The Daily.
In it, he shares his thoughts about colleges to which Anne might consider applying. Anne described being amazed by the tone of this letter and the lack of regard it seems to demonstrate for her overall well-being.
The letter reads: “[Redacted] - I hope to speak to you before you get this. But Curtis looks worse & worse. NY City (Delay or Dicterow) looks like the best bet. Boston looks good — both University & Conservatory. Northwestern looks bad after doing research. Talk soon if you can afford a call. Steve”
Though many of the women in this article have gone on to achieve great career success, they described their interactions with Shipps as having forever changed their views on student-teacher interaction and their perception of the larger professional music community.
Maureen O’Boyle, for example, currently teaches violin at the University of Tulsa, where she is an associate professor of music. She described her experiences with Shipps as having affected her to this day, both in her private instruction and in her general interaction with students.
“I am extremely careful about my relationships with students,” O’Boyle wrote in an email to The Daily. “I have never socialized with my students, other than at public, post-concert events. There is no couch in my office at TU or at home. I don’t even hug my students, except after degree recitals in front of their parents. I don’t discuss my personal life, or my students’.”
“That is one of the most damaging things about using lesson time to have sex with your students, though as a student I had no inkling of this at all,” O’Boyle wrote in an email to The Daily. “I also meet with advisees every semester. I keep the door open for these meetings, since nobody is playing the violin. If there is no music coming out, my office door stays open.”
Meghan described her experience with Shipps in strong terms, expressing concerns over the fact that Shipps has continued to teach young violinists.
“When I looked back at it, it seems to me that lowering the lights after hours, locking the door … I think that he set a trap,” Meghan said. “I think it was thought about ahead of time and it was considered how he was going to do this and how he was going to get away with it and I think that he went out of his way as a predator does. To this day I think the man is a predator ... I was horrified to find out he'd gotten a second teaching position at University of Michigan.”
Meghan had told the dean at the North Carolina School of the Arts about her uncomfortable interaction with Shipps. As an international student, she moved home assuming these reports would prevent Shipps from holding any future teaching positions.
“How is it possible that he got another teaching position?” Meghan asked. “I assumed he had left in shame and with the records — I didn't know if it was a criminal record or if it was just that the university had dismissed him with cause — but I had assumed that there was paperwork that followed him … that he wouldn't have any references.”
Anne spoke of her fears as to how this article will be perceived. She decided to speak on the record after learning of more recent allegations against Shipps — she says she came forward for the good of Shipps’s current and future students.
“I have nothing to gain from divulging this information about Steve,” she wrote in an email to The Daily. “I seek no settlement. I never got a bad grade. When the article comes out, we can expect to be judged as ‘sluts,’ ‘crazy,’ ‘liars’ and seeking attention/financial gain.”
She expressed shock at Shipps never having been reprimanded, and fear that his behavior would continue if he was never held accountable for his actions.
“It would not surprise me if he were the same as he was, since the only consequence for his actions appears to have been a slap on the wrist or possibly some stern words spoken in an office,” she wrote. “He has probably never had to own the fact that he has a problem or that his behavior has ever been inappropriate. The rest of us have been struggling for years.”
Posner expressed similar concerns over Shipps’ continued interaction with young students.
“There were (multiple) instances in which he got involved with 17 year olds in the two years that I attended NCSA — these were young women I knew quite well — and having seen how it affected (these) young women at the time, I would feel irresponsible recommending him as a teacher to any female student, and particularly to girls of pre-college age,” Posner said.
She also spoke about the effect these events had on her life. She is careful to note that they didn’t affect her career or influence her decision to pursue music only as a hobby. But still, these events have stayed with her over these many years. They defined who she was a teenager and stayed with her in the 30 years since. To this day, she struggles with what she should have done differently — and what she can do now.
“For my friends, I have reason to believe that this whole chapter was a devastating, life-derailing event,” Posner said. “For me, a relative bystander, it resulted in years of guilt alternating with rage at the entire system — rage that didn’t seem to have a safe outlet. I believed — and still do, frankly — that the people in positions of authority who I might have chosen to confide in must have already known ... and would not have acted. Now that I am well into middle age myself, and safe from any significant risk of harm, it occurs to me that I’ve become another one of those people who could have acted but has chosen not to.”
UPDATE: University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Stephen Shipps has been on leave from the University since Friday, Dec 7. He has stepped down as chair of strings and as director of the Strings Preparatory Academy.
The Michigan Daily stands with survivors of sexual misconduct. Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center offers free and confidential resources for University of Michigan students, faculty, and staff. Call 734-764-7771 to schedule an appointment with an advocate or (734) 936-3333 to reach a 24-hour crisis line
The Daily has created a new tip line just for these kinds of stories — firstname.lastname@example.org If you are a survivor on campus, if you faced challenges during your Office of Institutional Equity investigation or if you have faced barriers to reporting at all, please consider sending us your story. This is a private tip line viewable by a small team of reporters committed to this work.