USU president addresses sex assault allegations in school’s music department

LOGAN — Utah State University President Noelle Cockett held a press conference Friday, announcing the dismissal of two facility members in the school’s music department, accused of sexual assault and harassment. She also described other actions being implemented by the school.

Earlier this year, several reports on social media by former students of USU’s Piano Program claimed occurrences of sexual assault, harassment and gender discriminations. The allegations prompted the school to launch an independent investigation.

Cockett said investigators found numerous complaints from current and former students about Professor Gary Amano and three other faculty members. She explained that she is committed to creating a campus intolerant of their behavior.

“It will take all of us within the campus community,” Cockett said. “We have a shared responsibility, faculty, staff and administration. This is a community call to action. But I am confident that we can move forward as an institution.”

The investigator’s report found more than a dozen complaints, describing a pervasive culture of gender discrimination in the school’s piano program. It also uncovered events of unwelcome sexual advances and sexual relations between faculty members and the students they taught. The incidents occurred between the late 1990s through 2017, and were not taken seriously by the leadership of the program or the university.

Cockett said based on the report’s findings, Amano created a hostile academic environment for women and discriminated against female students. He also tolerated sexual harassment of students by faculty members who he was supposed to be supervising.

“On Monday April 2, Professor Amano submitted a letter, announcing his retirement, effective that day. Professor Amano is no longer working at Utah State University.”

The second faculty member accused in the report has also been barred from future employment at USU. Their identity was not released because of student privacy concerns. Professor Dennis Hirst was also sanctioned and removed as the piano program coordinator. Two other former faculty members were also investigated but they no longer teach at the school.

Cockett, who became the school’s 16th president last year, called on faculty and staff to demand an end to the behavior outlined in the report.

“These issues challenge the very mission of our university and threaten the futures and careers of more than just the victims, and more than just those directly involved. It is my strongest commitment to move this university forward to better assure the safety, well-being, and care of our students, staff and faculty.”

Cockett also outlined changes that the music department is implementing to prevent inappropriate behavior in the future between faculty and students. She said the school is also considering installing windows and cameras in areas where individual music lessons are held.

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