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Editorial: CIM needs to face the music in wake of recent Title IX scandal

Following the dismissal of a months-long investigation into a formal complaint of sexual harassment against the Cleveland Institute of Music’s (CIM) principal conductor Carlos Kalmar, he retains his employment, raising concerns regarding CIM’s stake in the matter.

The investigation was initially spurred by then-Title IX Coordinator Vivian Scott after reading one of Kalmar’s course evaluations. Scott emailed current CIM students on April 27 asking individuals to come forward and assist with her investigation into Kalmar’s alleged actions. Scott felt it her responsibility as the Title IX coordinator to address these claims, but noted she could only do so much under the law without particular details from students. Within this email, she referenced that “this is not the first time that [she has] heard his name – detailing inappropriate behavior of varying degrees.” However, Kalmar’s attorney had a different perspective, stating Kalmar “has never been accused of wrongdoing in his impeccable 40-plus year career,” adding that he “has been improperly identified in connection with a possible Title IX matter.” The institute retained the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio and partner at the BakerHostetler law firm, Carole Rendon, to lead the investigation.

Following her email, Scott was removed from her position, raising numerous questions concerning the contradiction between Scott’s statement referencing previous allegations and Kalmar’s attorney’s claims concerning his “improper identification.” According to Friedman Menashe Nemecek & Long LLC, “Vivan Scott’s statements are concerning, as she has already given credibility to the Complaint at issue, alleging that this is not the first allegation of inappropriate conduct.” However, with Scott’s removal, the school silenced a voice that was in support of the students and urged them to come forward.

The investigation has not gone unnoticed by the public eye, specifically in classical music communities. Following the announcement of the official investigation by Executive Vice President and Provost Scott Harrison, 2023 commencement speaker and intended Honorary Doctorate recipient Anne Midgette bowed out of her role in CIM’s graduation, citing her discomfort with the ongoing investigation based on her interactions with students and faculty. In a May blog post, she wrote, “However, regardless of what the investigation determines, I am not convinced, based on my many conversations, that CIM has acted in the best interests of its students and faculty, and I am therefore uncomfortable appearing to support the leadership of the institution at this particular time.” Midgette’s citation of conversations with students raises the question of whether CIM itself went so far as to acknowledge the voices of its own students.

The lack of action in support of its students on behalf of the CIM administration raises numerous questions as to whose well-being the school is looking out for. Despite accusations of sex discrimination, Kalmar maintained his title as principal conductor and was not, at any point, publicly prohibited from working with students, even on a temporary basis.

Dean Southern, who is the vice president of student activities and affairs, acting Title IX coordinator and dean of the institute, wrote, “The conduct was not on the basis of sex, nor was it so severe or pervasive as to create an objectively offensive environment such that it denies anyone equal access to educational opportunities at CIM based on gender.” In some ways, such a response is among the worst CIM could deliver. The institution is not turning a blind eye to the alleged abusive behavior of their principal conductor, but is rather recognizing the potential threat to their community and denying its impact on CIM students.

Although Southern, in saying this, may have intended to ease the minds of students, his words have the opposite effect when analyzed. In saying “the conduct was not on the basis of sex,” Southern validates students’ claims as to the inappropriate behavior of Kalmar, but simultaneously invalidates the severity of these claims. By claiming such behavior does not “create an objectively offensive environment,” CIM’s administration is not stating that Kalmar’s actions were not offensive; rather, they were not offensive enough to constitute more firm action. This statement is incredibly dismissive of the students who came forward, recognizing that their objections to his conduct have been heard but not deemed important enough to act on.

Dismissing claims of sexual harassment is not unique to CIM. Case Western Reserve University has also turned a blind eye to numerous claims of sexual harassment on its campus. In a statement made on Aug. 22 regarding a recent investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the department concluded, “CWRU did not comply with Title IX and its regulations in several respects, including the University’s response to known student-on-student and employee-on-student sexual harassment and to a well-known climate of sexual harassment in its Greek Life program.”

On multiple occasions, CWRU failed to follow predetermined procedures for identifying serious threats—for instance, repeat harassers. The DOJ cites an instance in which CWRU “was on notice of five allegations of sexual harassment, including rape and sexual assault, against one student. Although the complainants were either reluctant to seek a formal resolution or wanted to remain anonymous, the University failed to perform a threat assessment ‘to assess any potential violence or danger,’ as CWRU policy contemplates in such situations even absent a complainant.” Of paramount importance in this case is CWRU’s failure to contact the police, speak with the student concerning four of the five allegations or interview several known witnesses to the accounts. The DOJ goes so far as to suggest that, had the university taken action in this case and followed their own policies and procedures, CWRU may have been able to prevent three following incidents by the same respondent which were reported three months later.

The DOJ’s report goes on to detail several additional accounts of CWRU receiving allegations, sometimes by groups of students, yet failing to investigate the reports or inform the proper authorities.

Much like the failure of CIM to support its students, the DOJ cited reports of numerous instances in which CWRU failed to ensure its own students received supportive measures. In many cases, such measures are necessary to prevent substantial disruptions to their education. As a consequence, several students reported having to enroll in additional semesters, take a gap year or even withdraw from CWRU as a whole.

The preeminent difference between the two university cases is timing. CWRU knew about these reports for an extended period of time and failed to take action; as a result, the university’s students have suffered. CIM, however, has the chance to take action now to protect its students. With the allegations coming to light only last May, the institute acting now could help prevent its students from being put in the same position as CWRU students, who have been forced to compromise their education as a result of the university’s failure to take action.

Professors hold a significant position of power over their students and their education. There is no denying that when students feel unsafe in their learning environment, their education will be impacted—particularly when they have to fear apathy from their school’s administration and dismissal of their claims. CIM’s overall inability to support its students in this matter is demonstrated most poignantly by their removal of Scott, who offered support to students through this difficult time. In any case, the continuance of Kalmar’s employment with no promise of continued monitoring of the situation shows an utter disregard for the students whom the institute claims to be nurturing as “the future of classical music.”

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Unsigned editorials are typically written by the opinion editor but reflect the majority opinion of the senior editorial staff.

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