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Oberlin conservatory professor resigns after allegations of sexual misconduct

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OBERLIN — A world renowned and respected Oberlin Conservatory professor has resigned from his post after allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with students emerged and the college started a Title IX investigation.

Oberlin College spokesman Scott Wargo confirmed Friday that on Aug. 10 the college’s Title IX coordinator took a report alleging that James David Christie, professor of organ, had violated Oberlin’s sexual misconduct policy by engaging in inappropriate behavior with students.

The college informed Christie of the allegations Aug. 11 and immediately placed him on administrative leave pending an investigation, Wargo said in an email.

At that point, Christie tendered his resignation.

A similar timeline played out at a Massachusetts college that is investigating the organist in the face of sweeping allegations from multiple people. According to the Boston Globe, Christie resigned his post as distinguished artist-in-residence at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

In Oberlin, an investigation supervised by the Title IX coordinator will move forward.

According to a definition by the ACLU, under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault. A college or university that receives federal funds may be held legally responsible when it knows about and ignores sexual harassment or assault in its programs or activities.

Wargo’s email said Oberlin College and Conservatory explicitly prohibits sexual relationships between faculty/staff and students.

Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar addressed sexual misconduct allegations with references to the #MeToo Movement in an Thursday letter to the college community.

The social media hashtag took on broader meaning, energizing victims and survivors to speak up and speak out about the ways alleged perpetrators have abused and victimized.

Institutions of higher education have not been immune.

Allegations tied to places like Michigan State University and Ohio State University have led to criminal charges against once-respected professionals, lengthy investigations and the establishment of new offices to deal with the fallout.

Ambar did not mention Christie by name.

Instead, she spoke of receiving “several reports from alumni alleging violation of our sexual misconduct policy by faculty members” and how the college has responded.

“In each instance, we launched an independent investigation,” Ambar wrote. “While these allegations concern actions that occurred some years ago, it is possible that we may discover more recent misconduct as we continue our investigations.”

“Some of the individuals facing these complaints,” Ambar continued, “chose to tender their resignations rather than participating in our investigative process. Despite these resignations, our investigative processes continue so we can ascertain the facts. Others participated in the formal process. In each instance, we used an independent investigator to complete fact-finding or to conduct climate assessments in the appropriate departments to determine if the conduct was more than an isolated occurrence.”

Ambar said the policies regarding relationships between Oberlin employees and students are clear.

“The sexual misconduct policy explicitly prohibits sexual relationships between employees and students, including relationships that are consensual, because of the potential negative impact on individuals as well as on the college’s learning and working community,” she wrote. “I believe strongly that as a community, we can have no greater goal than to ensure that Oberlin’s educational environment is safe, fair, equitable, and inclusive to the highest ethical and academic standards, and that it is free of all forms of discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct and violence.”

Ambar said a plan is in place this year to have the college’s Title IX coordinator review policies and procedures with a group of faculty, staff and students and will make recommendations to improve the sexual misconduct policy and related training and compliance.

Christie has earned several accolades as an organist.

A November 2017 news article posted on the Oberlin College website details how celebrated Christie, who is also a 1975 graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, was as an organist.

He served as professor of organ since 2001.

The American Guild of Organists’ New York City Chapter named Christie International Performer of the Year for 2017.

Christie was widely regarded as one of the finest organists of his generation. He has performed around the world with symphony orchestras and period instrument ensembles as well as in solo recitals. In 1979, he became the first American to win first prize in the Bruges (Belgium) International Organ Competition — and the first participant to win first prize and the audience prize in the same year.

At Oberlin, Christie was a sought-after mentor for organ students.

In January 2017, according to the college’s online article, Christie, joined by fellow organ faculty member Jonathan Moyer and Curator of Organs David Kazimir, led a dozen Oberlin organ students across Germany and the Netherlands on a tour of 25 important historic instruments spanning four centuries of organ making.

Contact Lisa Roberson at (440) 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.


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