The University of Connecticut will pay an outside law firm to investigate its own employees' handling of allegations the school received as early as 2006 that a music professor engaged in sexual misconduct.
The school said it is cooperating in multiple law enforcement investigations into allegations against Robert Miller, 66, a former head of the music department who has worked at UConn since 1982. Miller was placed on administrative leave June 21 and barred from campus. He could not be reached for comment Monday. He is being paid his $135,741 salary and has not been charged with any crime.
However, investigations by UConn and state police are continuing – and now UConn's Board of Trustees has asked state Attorney General George Jepsen to solicit proposals to retain an outside law firm to investigate whether UConn officials handled the allegations properly. The firm also would represent and advise UConn in an internal probe into whether it complied with federal Title IX procedures concerning sexual abuse allegations.
Jepsen's office, in documents released Monday, revealed that at least some UConn officials may have known since at least late 2011 about alleged misconduct by Miller. Further, Jepsen's office states that "between 2006 and 2011, several allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with minor children by this same faculty member were allegedly brought to the attention of University employees."
"The investigation must be conducted in a way that is mindful of the possibility that the university may be subject to [legal] claims in the future,'' Jepsen's office states in the request for proposals. "Some of the allegations that were presented to UConn [police department] in 2013 were allegedly received by a department head in 2011 but there are questions as to whether appropriate action was taken prior to 2013."
The current UConn administration, headed by President Susan Herbst, says that it only learned of the allegations on Feb. 14, when the new dean of the School of Fine Arts gave the school's Title IX administrator a December 2011 letter outlining accusations against Miller. A UConn employee had brought the letter to him a day earlier.
A UConn spokeswoman said it is unfair to liken this case to the 2011 scandal at Pennsylvania State University over the mishandling of allegations of sexual abuse, which led to the conviction of assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky for abusing underage boys, and to the downfall of coach Joe Paterno for failing to pursue reports of that abuse.
"I wouldn't want to draw parallels between this and the Penn State situation, because the situations aren't parallel," said UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz. But, she said, UConn will ensure "transparency" and "the independence of an outside investigation" by having a law firm conduct the probe – and by creating a public website for information and updates about the investigation at http://www.uconn.edu/public-notification/.
Proposals are due July 29 from law firms seeking to conduct the probe. Jepsen's office will select the firm to do the internal investigation of UConn, and will submit its finding to the school's Board of Trustees, not Herbst's office.
The school has budgeted $250,000 to pay for the investigation, but the figure could go higher "depending where the investigation goes," Reitz said.
Some of the alleged misconduct by Miller, according to court documents and Jepsen's office, involved claims of improper physical contact with boys at a summer camp.
A spokesman for The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp in Ashford confirmed that Miller was a volunteer at the camp from 1989 to 1992 when the improper contact was alleged to have taken place.
"These events date back more than 20 years. At that time, the camp immediately removed Mr. Miller from his position," Ryan Thompson, the organization's senior development officer, said in an emailed statement. "When the current investigation began several months ago, it was unclear whether the matter was reported to the appropriate authorities at that time. Therefore, the camp immediately made a report to the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and has continued to cooperate fully with authorities."
The camp's lawyer told police that one of the boys had "confided in his parent" about "inappropriate incidents" in 1992.
Authorities also are investigating a statement that a student made to a UConn faculty member soon after news of Miller's suspension last month "that the student was not surprised to hear" of the investigation "because the faculty member was known to have visited freshman dorms, provided drugs to students and had sex with students."
The latter statement appears in Jepsen's 40-page request for law firms' proposals to do the investigation. It also says that the faculty member who reported the student's comment "also indicated that the faculty member now being investigated was known to have a history of having sex with boys."
The statute of limitations has expired for any crimes that might have occurred in Connecticut, but one person claimed he had been assaulted in Virginia, where the statute of limitations has not expired, according to court documents. Miller began his music teaching career in Fairfax County, Va., public schools before coming to UConn three decades ago, according to his biography on UConn's website.
In order to corroborate one victim's memory, police took pictures inside of Miller's Mansfield house in order to "determine his credibility as a misconduct witness against Miller," according to a search warrant affidavit.
On June 20, authorities searched Miller's house in Mansfield, and UConn seized his university computers. He was put on administrative leave the next day.
"It is important to note that no one has been charged with a crime in relation to these allegations, and the university has not made any final determination regarding the status of an employee," Herbst said in a statement released early Monday. "Yet any accusation of sexual misconduct by faculty, staff or students is among the gravest issues that any institution must face."
Reitz said the school expects the outside investigation to answer who at UConn knew about the allegations and what action was taken between 2006 and 2011.
"This will be the central focus of the self-initiated retrospective review, expected to be undertaken by an investigatory firm selected through the RFP [request for proposal] process," Reitz said. "The same questions that others are asking are being asked by the board of trustees and this administration and will be the driving focus of the outside law firm's review."
"The [current] administration became aware of this on Feb. 13 of this year," Reitz said. As to what action was taken by previous administrators on the allegations, Reitz said, "Those will be reviewed as part of the independent counsel study."
Richard Kenny, a lawyer who represented 40 victims in the recent sexual abuse case against Dr. George Reardon, a now-dead endocrinologist at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, said he gives credit to Herbst, who began as president in June 2011, "for stepping up and taking an aggressive position."
But, he said, if any suggestion was made to university officials as early as 2006 of the possibility that Miller was abusing children, "They should have at that point worked from the premise that this was happening and we need to take it seriously and move forward."
Kenny said the university should have done this even if the allegation regarding Miller was only "kind of having an idea. That's good enough …. You can't work with the benefit of the doubt going to the supposed perpetrator. You need to go the other way when it comes to children. "
Kenny said that if university officials had any inkling that Miller was abusing children, they should have involved police immediately. "I'm not talking about anything more than getting the police involved from day one and letting them do their job," said Kenny. "You cannot take the position that it will be embarrassing to the school if this is let out. You need to take the position that the police are better suited to investigate this."
The UConn police investigation opened in February after receiving the December 2011 letter, which had been sent to a department head whom UConn would not identify Monday.
State police are asking anyone with information on the case to call major crime squad detectives at the Tolland state police barracks at 860-896-3200.
Courant Staff Writer Hilda Munoz contributed to this story.