Composition professor leaves music school following sexual misconduct allegations

Chase Karacostas

Update 9:22 p.m.: 

Composition professor Dan Welcher said in an email to The Daily Texan that he has not yet heard from the Office for Inclusion and Equity, the College of Fine Arts or the Butler School of Music about specific allegations apart from the VAN Magazine article.

"Without that information, I cannot comment further. I will fully cooperate with UT’s Office of Inclusion and Equity in its investigation of my conduct,” Welcher said. “Until the publication of the article last week, I thought I was a popular and successful teacher. No one had given me any reason to think otherwise. I care deeply for the integrity and reputation of the Butler School of Music, and will do whatever I can to support the University of Texas and its students."

Update 5:13 p.m.:  

Other institutions are cutting ties with composition professor Dan Welcher after former students accused him of sexual misconduct. 

The University of Redlands in California canceled a visit by Welcher scheduled for this month as a guest composer for an annual symposium that includes a week-long residency at the school.

In an email sent to parts of the school Friday, Joseph Modica, the director of Redlands’ School of Music, said that his school’s administration decided to cancel the visit upon learning of the allegations, but he also insisted that he did not know if they were true. 

“The University of Redlands takes these situations very seriously, however, and my highest priority is to ensure our students have a positive educational experience,” Modica said in the email, which was shared with The Daily Texan. 

A spokesperson for the school confirmed the cancellation. 

The Austin Chamber Music Center had a profile of Welcher on its website detailing his accomplishments in music and composition over several decades. 

Austin Chamber’s executive director Peter Helf declined to comment for this story. Welcher’s profile was deleted off of their website shortly after Helf responded to The Texan. 

Original Story: 

Editor's Note: This article has been updated since it was originally published to include comments Welcher made to the music school and additional comments from University spokespeople.

The Butler School of Music said Monday evening that composition professor Dan Welcher would not be returning to the University following allegations of sexual misconduct that arose last Thursday. 

The allegations first came out in a VAN Magazine article, the contents of which have not yet been confirmed by The Daily Texan. Former music students said Welcher frequently made inappropriate sexual comments and at times was “uncomfortably affectionate” in written and verbal communications, according to the article. 

Butler’s director Mary Ellen Poole, in an email sent to the music school Monday evening and obtained by The Daily Texan, said that after getting out of a two-hour meeting about the allegations she felt “sick to (her) stomach,” adding, “I believe everyone who has spoken up. It has broken my heart. And now I must figure out a way for us to move forward.” 

Welcher is not currently teaching any classes at UT. He is serving a one-year phased retirement going into Spring 2020.

“What I learned this afternoon has added many layers to my understanding of the ways Dan Welcher’s behavior has interfered with students’ learning, with their professional confidence, with the integrity of their physical selves and with their pride in saying they have studied at the Butler School,” Poole wrote. “The first important step is to assure you, tonight, that Dan Welcher will not be returning to the Butler School except to clean out his office.”

University spokeswoman Shilpa Bakre said there were no findings of misconduct involving Welcher in a statement included in the VAN Magazine article. 

However, in a separate statement to The Texan, Bakre said as soon as UT learned of the new allegations that “swift action was taken to refer the alleged wrongdoing to the appropriate University offices for review.”

“Professor Welcher is prohibited from any contact with students until the matter is resolved,” Bakre said, clarifying later that he has not resigned or been officially fired.

Welcher apologized to music faculty in an email Sunday night for his conduct, acknowledging he would be stepping aside from the school and did not want to cause “any further unpleasantness.” He also plans to avoid campus, according to the email.

“I'm profoundly sorry to have unwittingly brought shame and embarrassment on the Butler School,” Welcher said in the email obtained by The Daily Texan. “I know there is nothing I can say to undo the discomfort I have apparently caused some students, except ‘I'm sorry.’”

Poole first contacted the music school about the allegations last Thursday and said in an email to students and faculty that “sexual misconduct will not be tolerated at the Butler School.” 

“Remember that all employees are obligated to report any such incidences. My door is always open to anyone with concerns,” Poole wrote. 

Poole and other music school staff also continued to reach out to students in the days following the VAN article’s release to offer support to students, according to emails obtained by The Texan. 

In Monday’s email, Poole said Welcher will not be teaching any composition classes in the spring and a concert of Welcher’s scheduled for Feb. 9 has been canceled. All of his other duties have either been or will be reassigned to other professors, and any students who were assigned to his studio for the spring will be found alternate teachers, according to the email. 

Poole said Doug Dempster, dean of the Fine Arts School, has requested the Office for Inclusion and Equity to open an investigation into the allegations laid out in the VAN article. 

“It doesn’t seem fair at all that the burden of reporting sexual harassment, sexual misconduct or the creation of a hostile work environment that interferes with your education should be on YOU,” Poole wrote. 

The VAN article also cites a piece by the Chronicle of Higher Education published 17 years ago detailing similar allegations. The Chronicle reported that an investigation was conducted but did not find evidence of sexual misconduct, and that all students and faculty interviewed as part of the investigation denied the allegations against Welcher.

While encouraging students to come forward if they had experienced harassment, Poole acknowledged the limitations and criticisms of the reporting system, which she said were “cumbersome,” “slow” and do not always “result in what we would consider justice.”

“But the only way through this that I can see is for us to talk to each other about it, for faculty and staff to acknowledge the responsibilities that go with their power and influence, more often than in a yearly video training on sexual harassment,” Poole said. “I can’t expect that you will trust me to figure out how to make this better on the level of the Butler School. But I hope that somehow you will."

An earlier version of this article reported that Welcher emailed the music faculty on Monday night, when the email was actually sent Sunday night. The Texan regrets this error.