Shuichi Komiyama

Shuichi Komiyama

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An investigation by Montana State University into allegations against MSU Orchestra conductor Shuichi Komiyama has concluded that he had an intimate relationship with a female student and violated university policies against sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

Komiyama, 47, a charismatic conductor credited with breathing new life into MSU's orchestra and jazz programs, has denied all the allegations.

The investigation concluded the female student had a reasonable belief that the professor had "considerable power over her success" and that she had to give in to his sexual advances to receive his assistance in furthering her career, receiving special instruction and getting into graduate school.

The investigative report says the student alleged that Komiyama, 47, insisted on a sex act in his MSU office. She further alleged that, after she tried to end the affair, he once forced her to have sexual intercourse.

Komiyama denied ever having sexual contact of any kind with the student, the report said. MSU identified the student throughout the report as Student A.

The report also says that other female students accused Komiyama of making sexual advances toward them, and investigators concluded, "there is a preponderance of evidence supporting these allegations, further supporting the allegations of Student A."

The Chronicle obtained this week a copy of MSU's 18-page investigative report into Student A's allegations from her attorney, Geoffrey Angel of the Angel Law Firm in Bozeman. Angel said he hopes other witnesses will come forward as a result of the report becoming public, but he declined further comment.

Sections of the report were blacked out by MSU to protect several students' privacy and some words were blacked out by Angel to protect his client's identity.

Komiyama's attorney, Chuck Watson of Bozeman, said the assistant professor of music "continues to deny" the allegations that he sexually harassed the student, violated MSU's discrimination policy or ever forced her to have sex.

"I think it's sad this matter is being treated opportunistically by a former student," Watson said. "I think this is probably a case of hurt feelings that unfortunately is being turned into something else. These are complicated relationships, particularly in the arts."

Watson said that in his 20 years representing defendants in Bozeman, "I have never been approached ... by as many people with favorable opinions of my client," and many had commended him for defending Komiyama.

Leslie Taylor, MSU legal counsel, said the university believes this is a confidential employee matter, and the university cannot release any information, except that Komiyama "remains on suspension."

The Chronicle and the Montana Newspaper Association sued MSU in June seeking disclosure of documents to explain why Komiyama was placed on paid leave, arguing that the public's right to know outweighed the right to privacy of a person in a position of public trust. MSU is opposing the Chronicle's request, arguing that the documents concern employees and students who have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The case is pending in Gallatin County District Court.

Taylor would not comment on whether MSU has taken any actions since the investigative report. She would not discuss whether MSU has held any hearings before a committee of faculty, one of the steps spelled out under the Board of Regents policy for terminating a tenured professor. Among the reasons that a tenured professor can be terminated are willfully concealing a felony or crime of moral turpitude when seeking employment, or unethical exploitation of students.

Komiyama pleaded guilty in California when he was 25 to a felony for having a sexual relationship with a high school girl nine years younger, starting when she was 14. MSU was not aware of that conviction. The university only extended background checks to all prospective employees, including faculty, beginning in 2010. Since the Chronicle reported the conviction, Komiyama has registered as a sex offender, as required by Montana law.

MSU put Komiyama on paid leave in April after the student's allegations first surfaced. Komiyama, a tenured assistant professor, is earning $53,737 a year.

Greg Young, interim director of the MSU School of Music, said Friday he has been given the go-ahead to replace Komiyama for one year. He has hired Eric Funk to rehearse the orchestra, and he will bring in guest conductors for performances. Ryan Matzinger will lead the MSU Jazz Band.

According to MSU's investigative report, female Student A told the head of the music department on April 8 that she had had a sexual relationship with Komiyama.

Three days later, Komiyama was placed on paid leave, as required by the regents' policy. On April 14, MSU President Waded Cruzado directed Diane Letendre, MSU interim affirmative action director, to investigate.

Letendre and Beth Merrell, MSU associate legal counsel, interviewed 16 male and female students, including student assistant conductors, witnesses, students who made complaints or requested interviews, and former students. They interviewed Komiyama with his attorney, seven MSU staff and faculty members, three members of the public, one parent and people suggested by Komiyama.

The investigators concluded that on the major allegation that there was a sexual relationship, "Student A's statements are more credible than Professor Komiyama's," based on the preponderance of the evidence, including witness statements, emails and the professor's changing stories when confronted with evidence.

The investigators wrote there was not enough evidence to conclude sexual acts were physically coerced, but that Student A did feel pressured to stay in Komiyama's good graces.

They concluded that Komiyama "implicitly and explicitly conditioned his help with her musical career on sexual favors from her." That constitutes a "quid pro quo" form of sexual harassment under the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights guidelines.

Whether a student resists a teacher's advances and suffers harm, or gives in, the Office of Civil Rights says, "the student has been treated differently, or the student's ability to ... benefit from the school's program has been denied or limited, on the basis of sex." That violates Title 9, the federal law outlawing discrimination in education on the basis of gender, and MSU's sexual harassment policy.

The investigators concluded that "Professor Komiyama's conduct constitutes serious and pervasive conduct of a sexual nature that created a hostile educational environment."

The report also "concluded Professor Komiyama did not maintain appropriate boundaries with students and blurred the lines between mentor, friend and professor."

According to MSU's investigative report:

In 2008, Student A met Komiyama, had long conversations about her ambitions, and became part of a sort of club of students who hung out at his house. There was eating and drinking, and while she and some students were over 21, "it was common for students to get drunk and for underage students to drink." While Komiyama denied supplying alcohol to underage students, investigators found that the professor hosted social gatherings with students and that underage drinking did occur at some of those events.

In 2009, Student A witnessed what happened to a male student who fell out of favor with Komiyama. The young man was kicked out of the orchestra, made fun of by the professor and students, and treated "horribly," she said.

Although Komiyama denied treating the student badly, "the preponderance of the evidence supports the fact that Student B was ostracized by Professor Komiyama, which could reasonably cause concern to other students dependent on Professor Komiyama's help in their education," the report said.

In 2010, Student A traveled to Hawaii with the MSU Jazz Band, which performed on a cruise ship and held music workshops for school children. She said there was considerable drinking in Komiyama's room, and she once found him in boxer shorts and a T-shirt in his cabin alone with a female student, identified in the report as Student C, who confirmed the report to investigators.

Student A and other students went on a camping retreat with Komiyama and his wife on the Madison River, where there was considerable drinking and sexual talk.

Student A said she believed the professor was "manipulating her by pitting her against Student C" and "felt if she didn't do everything necessary to please Professor Komiyama, he would shift his attention" to another student.

An intimate relationship began at the Montana Music Educators Conference in Missoula in October 2010. After the conference, students went to Komiyama's hotel room, where Student A said she and he were "cuddling" and touching on his bed. The professor denied cuddling, but other students witnessed it; some thought Student A instigated it. Three female students spent the night in his room to save money.

The following Saturday, Komiyama invited Student A to his home for dinner while his wife was out of town. They watched videos on his bed, cuddled and "spooned." The next evening, they kissed, removed clothing and touched. She said she went along "because she worried about what he would do if she rejected him."

For several weeks, they went out on "dates" and were alone in his office "where they drank and kissed and he insisted that she perform oral sex on him." He told her "all good women (musicians) do this; it's just part of the music business."

She said last November he told her he loved her and wanted her to say the same. Her boyfriend overheard some of the conversation, prompting their breakup. The boyfriend confronted Komiyama, who denied the relationship and said that Student A was "obsessed" with him.

On Nov. 7 or 8, Student A alleged Komiyama came to her apartment at night, brought alcohol, and she got very drunk. He then took off her clothes and had sexual intercourse with her. "She stated she was crying and saying ‘No' while it was happening," according to the report. He denied it ever happened.

After that, Student A said she tried to avoid physical contact. Nevertheless, Komiyama took her to a hotel and gave her a medallion, which he described as one of his most prized possessions, and a diamond ring, to show he loved her. She refused to stay at the hotel with him.

After this rejection, he emailed her several times a day, alternately berating and wooing her, spread rumors about her, insisted she take lessons from him, and said, "if she did not do what he said, she would not get into graduate school. He told her that if anyone found out about their relationship, he would deny it and say she was an obsessed student," the report said.

Last spring, she returned the medallion. He provided considerable help to her in applying to graduate schools.

Student A alleged Komiyama went to bars and restaurants alone with Student C, that Student C said he had kissed her, and that Student A once saw a text message to Student C that said something like, "Oh baby, watching porn."

Student A told investigators she came forward because "she wanted to assure that no other student had to experience this conduct from Professor Komiyama."

She turned over to investigators 42 email messages from Komiyama from December 2010 through February. They include: "just in case your phone isn't working ... I love you ... call me later TONIGHT!" and "More and more we talk, I feel your trust and love. (make sure your mom don't read this stuff) Good nite Love."

On Dec. 30, his email said: "I'm sick and I need to fix myself cause this is not me and it's not your fault, love."

And on Jan. 1, his email said: "Alright so you're angry, don't love me anymore ... ok I got it ... but here's the reality ... grad school... career ... and decide quickly...."

He emailed that he was working every day with Student C to improve her skills.

In February he emailed Student A asking for the medallion back and saying she could sell or keep the ring. "I don't hate you ... I just feel sorry for you."

In Komiyama's interview with investigators, he alleged Student A had a bad reputation and a serious drug problem with cocaine and prescription drugs. No other witnesses accused her of having a drug problem. The investigators concluded the weight of the evidence did not support his allegation.

Komiyama said his messages about wanting to meet her were only about music lessons, and that the music group was like a family and he used the word "love" in that way.

Komiyama admitted having a picture of Student A on his cellphone background. When investigators visited his office, they found a photo displayed of him with Student A. The only other photos were of "groups of younger students" at music events. (Komiyama had also worked with high school students in the Billings Youth Orchestra.)

Several MSU students interviewed stated they drank with Komiyama in his MSU office after concerts. (MSU's policy allows alcohol in student living quarters if students are of legal age and in areas and at events approved by the president, but prohibits alcohol in all other cases.)

Student C told investigators Student A confided to her that Student A and Komiyama were having a sexual relationship. Student C said she also felt Komiyama was pitting her against Student A. He confided in her that he was in love with Student A and that the whole thing had "broken his heart."

Student D told investigators Komiyama told her he was having sex with Student A, but a few days later Komiyama retracted the statement.

Several witnesses said they saw students alone with the professor and that his office door window was sometimes covered.

Some said Student A was flirtatious, wore suggestive clothes and appeared happy about her relationship with the professor.

Faculty witnesses said they saw underage drinking at Komiyama's home. Some faculty members said he was more involved with students' futures than is normal. All faculty said they observed that he "failed to maintain appropriate boundaries in his relationships with students" with frequent socializing and drinking. One faculty member who attended the gatherings stopped because of such concerns.

One faculty member said he had worried about Komiyama's relationship with Student A. He said it was obvious that she "adored" him, and that Komiyama "likes to be adored."

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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