University neglects numerous sexual misconduct claims against famous voice professor

Thursday, November 1, 2018 - 7:01pm

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Design by Roseanne Chao

An allegation of rape crumbled the facade surrounding University of Michigan professor David Daniels this summer, dubbed by many as one of the best countertenors in the world. The alleged assault, however, is not the only report of Daniels’predatory sexual behavior. Through police reports filed with Pittsfield Township, The Michigan Daily found the Office of Institutional Equity knew about an report of Daniels’s questionable behavior as early as March 2018 — and the University still awarded him with tenure in May. 

Daniels is one of the most recognizable figures in international opera, and made waves when he joined the faculty at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance in 2015. In August, the music world buzzed about an allegation of rape made by baritone singer Samuel Schultz, who said Daniels and his husband, Scott Walters, raped him at a Houston opera festival in 2010.

Daniels made tenure on May 17 with approval from Melody Racine, former SMTD interim dean. Nowhere in Daniels’s tenure review are the March reports of sexual misconduct mentioned.

Furthermore, the Department of Public Safety and Security knew about Schultz’s allegation July 18, and on July 19, they learned from Music, Theatre & Dance senior Samuel Kidd that he had been solicited on Grindr by Daniels. Daniels faced no public admonition or repercussions until late August when he was put on leave.

This information was confirmed through interviews with sources and a document acquired by The Daily earlier this year through the Freedom of Information Act. The document is a Pittsfield Township Police Department record concerning a Grindr solicitation allegation Kidd made against Daniels. This record was transferred to Pittsfield from DPSS and contains information on all prior DPSS investigations into Daniels.

The Daily also requested information on investigations on Daniels from both DPSS and OIE, but both FOIA requests were denied because of University policy that prevent the offices from disclosing records that may interfere with ongoing investigations.

Allegations against Daniels are continuing to pile up. Just last Wednesday, Music, Theatre & Dance graduate student Andrew Lipian filed a lawsuit claiming he was assaulted by Daniels in March 2017. Lipian accused the University of knowing about Daniels’s abuse of students and failing to do anything about it. The suit alleges that in August, a faculty member became aware of Lipian being sexually assaulted by Daniels and reported it to OIE. As of yet, Lipian says he has not been contacted by the office.

This Wednesday, Daniels released a statement through a press release denying Lipian’s allegation.

“These allegations are both false and malicious,” Daniels wrote. “I have never had a physical relationship with the individual mentioned in this complaint. The events alleged here never happened and I intend to defend my reputation. I am an openly gay man who has been married to a wonderful partner for the past four years. It pains me that someone, for reasons that I cannot fathom, would attempt to destroy my career, the program at Michigan and all that I hold dear.”

When The Daily reached out to University Public Affairs for a statement after Schultz’s story broke in August, Associate Director Kim Broekhuizen affirmed the University’s commitment to investigating every report seriously and carefully, and its belief in maintaining an environment free of sexual misconduct.

At the University of Michigan, every report we receive, in whatever form, is taken seriously and is carefully reviewed for appropriate action,” Broekhuizen wrote in a statement. “We believe that no one should ever be subjected to discriminatory harassment or sexual misconduct. We are deeply committed to the creation and support of a safe and productive learning environment for all our students, faculty and staff.”

After obtaining the Pittsfield records and talking with sources, The Daily has found that, at least in Daniels’s case, students and faculty alike feel the University has neglected to thoroughly address sexual misconduct.

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David Daniels joined the School of Music, Theatre & Dance faculty in 2015. One of the University’s most famous alumni, he enjoyed a quick rise to fame after graduating with a master’s degree from the vocal program in 1992, making his Metropolitan Opera Debut only five years after graduation. Daniels was well known in the opera sphere as the “world’s leading countertenor.” He’s so famous that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiated his wedding to Walters.

Daniels’s reputation has largely benefitted the University — it’s attracted several prospective students. Student 1, a student in the voice department who requested to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns, recalled when she auditioned for the program and the excitement surrounding Daniels joining the faculty.

“There were a lot of countertenors there (saying), ‘Omg I just can’t wait to see if I can study with Daniels! I hope he’s in my audition room!’” Student 1 said.

Student 2, another student in the voice department who requested anonymity, was Daniels’ student. He said part of why chose the University was because he felt he meshed well with Daniels, and he knew he was a huge deal in the opera world.

SMTD Faculty Member 1, who also requested anonymity, expressed the strong sense of pride among the School of Music, Theatre & Dance community that such a famous alum came back to teach at the school.

“We had such high hopes for him,” Faculty Member 1 said. “Everybody was so proud that he was on the faculty.”

Student 2 said part of why he was drawn to study with Daniels is because of his friendly, bubbly personality. Student 1 agreed and said her interactions with Daniels were nothing but positive. 

“Daniels was very openly friendly,” Student 1 said. “Cracking jokes, always had a huge smile on his face … (if asked) who was the most positive energy source in the program, I would probably say him as a professor.”

And yet, these faculty members and students agreed Daniels’s humor was often overtly sexual. Lipian’s lawyer Deborah Gordon writes in the lawsuit that she spoke with a faculty member who noted Daniels’s overtly sexual humor. Faculty Member 1 echoed this sentiment.

“It’s one of those ‘in retrospect’ things,” Faculty Member 1 said. “He would make jokes that I wouldn’t have been comfortable making.” 

Student 2 described how in his lessons, Daniels’s humor became increasingly sexual over the years.

“In lessons, he would pretty often talk about sexual things, which made me very uncomfortable,” Student 2 said. “I never expressed to him my sexuality at all but sometimes he would make assumptions about my sexuality and make comments as if I would laugh about certain things that might be popular in gay culture, in gay sexual cultures.”

This same student noted on several occasions, Daniels made sexual comments regarding other students.

“I remember times specifically, it was after one of my performances, (Daniels said) ‘Who was that boy who played X role? How old is he?’” Student 1 said. “(He was) making comments about how attractive the person is. I don't know, it just made me sort of uncomfortable that he was talking like that in front of me.”

Looking back, these students and faculty said it isn’t hard to imagine, then, that this kind of behavior was a hint at something more insidious.

***

Student 3, who requested anonymity due to privacy and safety concerns, said he was messaged on Grindr—a dating app geared towards gay and bisexual men—by someone with the username #GoBlue on March 26, 2018. #GoBlue offered him money to come over to his house and engage in sexual activity. After some initial conversation, #GoBlue let him know he was a faculty member at the University about to get tenure in May, and said because of this, they would have to be discreet.

The student told #GoBlue he thought he was messing around with him, and so #GoBlue revealed he was David Daniels. To confirm this, the student asked him to send a picture of himself touching his nose in real time.

The student provided The Daily with some of the text of this Grindr conversation, as well as the picture of Daniels touching his nose.

Daniels: Looking to make a hot dad/son fantasy to happen!$$$$$$ Does that interest you?

Student: Face? depends if I’m into you lol

Daniels: You come to my west side hotel , sit back to some porn, let daddy suck you off! You leave each time with $200 bucks. Very discreet here. U ofM affiliated so need to private (sic) and discreet about this.

NO SELL

NO SELL Buy this photo
NO SELL
 
The student was very distressed by this incident and confided in a friend. It was this friend who, on March 29, filed a report on behalf of the student, keeping the student anonymous. The student was unsure where the report went after that. He was not contacted by anyone until July, when DPSS detective Maureen Burke spoke with him over the phone.

In the Pittsfield police record, Burke and another DPSS detective, Margie Pillsbury, wrote that after they learned about Schultz’s allegations against Daniels in July, they learned of this student’s March allegation—though there was no explanation for the delay. Burke and Pillsbury contacted OIE Senior Investigator Elizabeth Seney and learned the student’s campus security authority had been forwarded to OIE to investigate the incident.

Seney told the detectives that though she reached out to some students, she was unable to identify the victim. When she reached out to Daniels, he denied the allegation, and she provided him with information on faculty-student relationships. Seney sent DPSS a description of her conversation with Daniels, which is included in the records obtained by The Daily.

“I advised him of the concerns that had been raised (what I sent you yesterday), and he denied engaging in the alleged conduct (both concerns), and expressed surprise and concert at them,” Seney wrote in the description. “I … provided him with information that faculty are expected not to make sexual advances toward students, graduate or undergraduate, including via social media or dating/hookup apps, that while the policy doesn’t outright prohibit relationships, they are strongly discouraged and the policy should not be construed to allow for sexual advances or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

After this conversation, Seney halted the investigation. The University’s Procedural Guidelines for Handling Discrimination and Harassment Complaints provides some insight as to why she did this — the policy states the University may not be able to look into an anonymous complaint “unless sufficient information is furnished to enable the University to conduct a meaningful and fair investigation.”

However, it seems Seney’s investigation was not mentioned when Daniels was up for tenure. The Daily reached out to Seney twice to find out more about this case and ask if any other University affiliates knew about the report. Seney never responded, choosing to let Public Affairs make a statement on behalf of OIE. In this statement, Broekhuizen said all reports made to OIE alleging criminal behavior are turned over to law enforcement first.

All reports to the Office for Institutional Equity that allege actions that may be criminal in nature are transmitted to law enforcement for review,” Broekhuizen wrote in the statement. “The University’s standard practice with any allegation that could be criminal in nature is to defer to the law enforcement investigation before commencing an OIE investigation. A criminal investigation takes precedence over an investigation of a possible policy violation.”

The Daily also reached out to multiple School of Music, Theatre & Dance faculty members who may have known who within the School of Music, Theatre & Dance was aware of this incident. Voice Department Chair Stephen Lusmann redirected The Daily to Dean David Gier, who initially agreed to speak with The Daily, but then redirected the request to Public Affairs. Freyja Harris, the school’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, also declined to comment.

Anonymous School of Music, Theatre & Dance Faculty Member 2 offered some perspective on what the University’s dilemma may have been.

If a faculty member submits one of these reports to OIE, is the Dean notified even if they don't find anything?” Faculty Member 2 asked. “Let’s say she was aware this was happening in March, can she really say anything to the people reviewing tenure if it hadn't been proven? Because again, we don’t want a false accusation, right?”

Nonetheless, Faculty Member 2 said, OIE investigators should have relayed Daniels’s case to his tenure committee.  

“I think this was handled very badly and I think it’s a problem,” Faculty Member 2 said. “And it’s not exclusive to our school but this happens. You have star faculty and they need to be held accountable just as much as everybody else. And certainly, during his tenure review, this information should have been given to the people who were reviewing his case for tenure.”

***

Schultz said he has also found the University’s handling of his claim against Daniels troubling.

On July 10 of this year, Schultz made a post on his Facebook page and website about his recovery from an experience of sexual assault in 2010. However, he didn’t mention his assailants.

On July 16, DPSS learned an anonymous user was posting on School of Music, Theatre & Dance websites about allegations of Daniels and Walters being serial rapists and targeting young males. Also on this day, an individual— whose name was redacted in provided records— sent the University’s regents and executive officers an email detailing Schultz’s rape allegation against Daniels and Walters.

“You need to decide which side of history you want to be on … I have now informed you of Daniels’ actions,” the email reads. “Many people in the opera & classical world are aware of them and are distancing themselves from Daniels and UM. Everything you do now on will be seen either as doing the right thing or engaging in a cover-up. I hope you do the right thing.”

On July 18, DPSS contacted Racine, the interim dean at the time. She said Daniels had told her Schultz was the one making the posts and was referring to an incident Daniels said “was consensual and occurred in 2010 in Houston.”

Schultz was contacted by DPSS this same day, and they asked if he was the user posting anonymously on School of Music, Theatre & Dance websites. Schultz told DPSS it wasn’t him but shared the details of being raped by Daniels and Walters in 2010. DPSS passed this information to the Houston Police Department.

From July 18 to Aug. 22, the University did not do anything to publicly penalize Daniels. Schultz said though DPSS did their duty as the law enforcement, he was upset by the fact that Daniels didn’t face any sort of repercussion from the University until there was press coverage.

Why wouldn’t the University, in order to protect their students, immediately start investigating and put someone on leave if they've been accused of rape?” Schultz said. “I don’t understand why it took press attention for the University to start doing the correct and moral thing as far as a response.”

Schultz said DPSS has reached out to him a couple of times to ask for updates on the Houston investigation, and each time, Schultz declined to speak about the investigation. Instead, he has asked DPSS what the University is doing to respond to other students who have come forward with allegations against Daniels.

“Any time I reply with that message, radio silence,” Schultz said.

Schultz urged the University to take his claim seriously and create a safe environment for its students, faculty and staff.

"I know I’m not a student of the University,” Schultz said. “But I was raped by a tenured faculty member of this University and they have a responsibility in creating an equitable environment for their students' faculty and staff to investigate and properly deal with abuses.”

***

At least two other people, both students at the University, went on the record with accounts of what they said was predatory behavior by Daniels — Andrew Lipian and Samuel Kidd.  

Kidd told The Daily he was also messaged on Grindr by David Daniels under the profile #GoBlue on Feb. 26, 2017. Using language almost identical to Daniels’s messages to Anonymous Student 3, Daniels offered Kidd money for sex, complimented him on his singing and told Kidd he would help him “move ahead” in the music industry.  

As the conversation continued, Daniels asked Kidd for his discretion because he was affiliated with the University and one year away from tenure. After Daniels identified himself by sending a selfie—which The Daily confirmed with police reports— Kidd responded to Daniels saying the messages and his behavior were not acceptable. He then blocked Daniels on Grindr. According to the police report, Kidd received a Facebook message from Daniels the same night apologizing for his behavior and blaming it on his lack of experience in academia.

The Daily acquired screenshots of this Grindr conversation through the Pittsfield police report. Following is the content of Daniels and Kidd’s messages, as well as a selfie Daniels sent of himself and a screenshot of his message to Kidd on Facebook.

NO SELL

NO SELL Buy this photo
NO SELL

NO SELL

NO SELL Buy this photo
NO SELL

NO SELL

NO SELL Buy this photo
NO SELL

NO SELL

NO SELL Buy this photo
NO SELL

Kidd described how upsetting and shocking this experience with Daniels was for him, considering Daniels was such a powerful person in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.  

“It was traumatic … Whenever someone in a position of authority or power abuses that authority or power, it’s kind of a jolt,” Kidd said. “And you’re like, ‘Wow, how could they think that’s okay?’”

Going to events at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance after this incident became difficult for Kidd. He recalled how he would avoid routes that went near Daniels’s vocal studio and would walk in the opposite direction whenever he saw him.

“The University hires people because they’re supposed to build positive relationships and be useful professional resources,” Kidd said. “He was someone who had that profile and just completely destroyed any chance of that, and abused that position was kind of disturbing.”

Like many survivors, Kidd worried about the repercussions of pressing charges against a powerful figure like Daniels. Kidd stated the climate in the music industry makes it hard for people to come out with cases of sexual misconduct and this is why he originally kept his story to himself.

“So much of your success can be based off of one person’s recommendation or lack thereof, so I felt that it was just too much hassle and it was in my best interest to not say anything,” Kidd said.

Ultimately, Kidd decided to come forward in July because he was inspired by Schultz’s public allegation against Daniels. Kidd also heard rumors that Daniels had continued to message other students, and so he hoped by publicly pressing charges, this wouldn’t happen to others.

Kidd spoke with Pillsbury over the phone on July 19 and told her about this incident with Daniels. DPSS then transferred his case over to the Pittsfield Township Police Department. On September 20, the case was denied authorization of charges and was closed. Pittsfield Chief of Police Matthew E. Harshberger wrote in an email that it was closed because of a lack of evidence to meet the nature of the crime.

After reviewing the case investigation and evidence, charges were denied by the prosecutor’s office due to lack of evidence to meet the elements of the offense and to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Harshberger wrote. “The case is now closed.”

In Lipian’s lawsuit, he claims Daniels made sexually explicit comments to him and sent him videos of Daniels masturbating. He claims he also received multiple texts from Daniels requesting he send videos of himself masturbating. This culminated, Lipian alleges, on March 24, 2017 when he went over to Daniels’s house. There, he says, he was drugged and assaulted.

In response to Lipian and Kidd’s allegations, John Shea, one of Daniels’s attorneys, said Daniels denies all accusations. He wrote this in response to an email The Daily sent two days after Lipian’s lawsuit was reported in the Detroit Free Press.

“Prof. Daniels was unaware of Mr. Lipian’s allegations until the Free Press publicized them two days ago,” Shea wrote. “He has never been contacted by anyone about them, including law enforcement and the University. He denies them, and will respond further in the course of the lawsuit. As for the Grindr allegations, they were reviewed by local police and prosecutors and authorization of criminal charges was denied.”

***

In addition to alleging the assault, Lipian is alleging no investigation was ever launched and he was never contacted by OIE — even though a faculty member reported Lipian’s assault to OIE.

In the Public Affairs statement written above, Broekhuizen writes the University’s standard procedure is to defer any reports that have criminal elements to law enforcement before beginning an OIE investigation. This is the same response University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald gave to the Free Press regarding Lipian’s allegation.

DPSS spokeswoman Melissa Overton echoed this sentiment, saying while DPSS and OIE work together much of the time, DPSS handles the criminal aspect and OIE tries not to interfere in this.

“The Police department typically handles the criminal investigation aspect and OIE does not want to interfere in an investigation because we're both gathering statements and evidence, and we don't want to overlap in that case,” Overton wrote.

Gordon says, though, after looking into OIE policies, this is not a requirement in OIE investigations.

In the University’s policy, it is stated that the University will inform any law enforcement of its own investigation into misconduct. It doesn’t say, however, that it is required to wait to investigate until law enforcement is involved. What it does say is that the University is allowed to take solely their own investigations’ determinations into account and apply repercussions where it sees fit.

“The University will fulfill its legal and ethical obligation to take immediate and appropriate action in response to a report of Prohibited Conduct, even if there are other external processes or procedures pending in connection with that same report,” the policy states. “Similarly, if the University finds Prohibited Conduct has occurred, the University will take appropriate action, regardless of external proceedings that may also be pending.”

Gordon said she was surprised the University had hired Daniels and quickly gave him tenure, given he had no academic background. She also expressed confusion as to why the University didn’t exert its control over Daniels’s behavior, as faculty members, as opposed to students, are a group the University has complete control over.

“You’d think that given their concern with sexual assault on campus and sexual harassment on campus, they’d at least have their faculty that are dealing directly with students and have power over students,” Gordon said. “You’d think that they’d at least have that really well under control. How could this really have happened, given what they say about their concerns?”

***

The University is allowed to take corrective action against a professor if that professor acts inappropriately, even if an investigation is not conclusive. This is stated under Corrective Action in the Procedural Guidelines.

“If the report finds that discrimination or harassment occurred, the University will determine appropriate corrective action, up to and including dismissal,” it reads. “The University may also take corrective action if no discrimination or harassment is found, but Respondent is found to have engaged in inappropriate workplace behavior.”

So, after discovering an anonymous allegation in March, after speaking with Samuel Schultz and Samuel Kidd in July, after, according to Gordon’s lawsuit, learning of Lipian’s assault in August — why does Daniels remain on leave, continuing to receive University pay and benefits? And why did it take a month for the University to take any sort of action?

It is unclear what the School of Music, Theatre and Dance’s  plan is in terms of keeping Daniels on as a professor. Daniels has been on leave since late August, but as of now, no interim professor has been hired and Daniels hasn’t been officially fired. Student 1 said this inconclusiveness makes her uncomfortable. She speculated that the School of Music, Theatre & Dance may want to keep Daniels, but doubted this would be able to happen.

“It’s just a little bit unsettling to know if he’s coming back,” she said. “What I think is that SMTD wants him to come back and they somehow want to get this to blow over, but I don't think it will.”

Schultz says while he has, for the most part, received affirmation after coming out with his story, he’s encountered some people who have been less supportive.

“I will say the overwhelming amount of communication to me has been supportive, but there have been very prominent, hateful responses from powerful people within my own industry,” Schultz said.

The University has no control over the larger music industry. But Schultz urges the University to realize “no industry, no institution, no powerful person within an institution, has more value than the dignity and sanctity of the human body and mind.”

“Without providing a safe place for them to talk about their complaints, and have those complaints taken seriously and investigated thoroughly, and followed up on accordingly, why would anyone want to speak up if they feel like they won’t be believed or listened to?” Schultz asked. 

Correction appended: portions of this article were updated to better reflect the nature of students' accusations about the OIE process. All allegations against Daniels detailed above are still unconfirmed.