Editor’s note: This story is about sexual harassment and misconduct. It contains graphic images and descriptions.
Composition professor Dan Welcher resigned on March 2 shortly before the University moved to terminate him for “repeatedly engaging in an array of unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” according to documents obtained by The Daily Texan.
Last September, an article by VAN Magazine detailed a number of allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual contact of students against Welcher. UT received 11 written reports of “similar allegations against Welcher regarding similar harassment directed at other current and former students” after the article’s publication, according to the documents, which the Texan obtained via an open records request.
Music students were informed via email Monday morning about the results of the investigation. Mary Ellen Poole, director of the Butler School of Music, said in spite of everything going on, she wanted to provide closure to the matter of Welcher’s involvement with the University.
“Many of you know that an investigation was launched last fall against Professor Dan Welcher. This process concluded, and the university determined that there was sufficient evidence that he violated UT’s policies on sexual harassment,” Poole wrote. “This resulted in the Provost’s (Maurie McInnis) recommendation to terminate his employment. Subsequently Welcher resigned, effective immediately, and Dean Dempster accepted this resignation in lieu of pursuing termination, earlier this month.”
“My (virtual) door remains open,” she said. “Thanks to those who courageously came forward to share your stories, and I am grateful to every one of you, colleagues and students, for your persistence through these challenging days.”
The Office for Inclusion and Equity investigation included interviews from 35 witnesses. Welcher was found to have violated the prohibitions on inappropriate forms of sexual harassment and misconduct stated in the Handbook of Operating Procedures.
The investigation did not detail specific instances of misconduct, but its executive summary described seven different forms of inappropriate actions Welcher took during his time at the University:
- Referring to students in inappropriately affectionate terms
- Making sexually suggestive jokes and other references
- Inquiring into the sexual and romantic activities of students
- Exposing students to nude imagery while at his home
- Giving shoulder massages
- Touching and kissing others about their face
- Touching or attempting to touch students on the buttocks
“There was a sustained pattern of verbal and physical behavior, which a reasonable person would find offensive,” the summary said.
Welcher told the Texan via email that he was unaware of the executive summary of his investigation, but when emailed a copy of it, denied that it detailed an array of misconduct.
After the provost’s office accepted the findings of the investigation, UT began taking steps to fire Welcher, but he resigned before that process could be completed, according to the documents. University spokesperson Shilpa Bakre said in an email Monday morning that Welcher was notified of the potential for termination in mid-February.
Bakre said the investigation took approximately four months, and the decision to fire Welcher was made jointly by the provost and Doug Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts.
The same day Welcher resigned, UT President Gregory Fenves accepted recommendations from the law firm Husch Blackwell regarding changes to the University’s sexual misconduct policy. However, Bakre said in an email that the timing of Welcher’s then-impending termination and the Husch Blackwell announcement was purely coincidental.
“The decision to pursue termination was based on the processes and policies in place prior to the HB recommendations,” Bakre said in an email.
Poole and Bakre both mentioned the Husch Blackwell recommendations as part of University and School of Music efforts to make it easier for survivors to report sexual misconduct in the future. Before those recommendations were accepted, the School of Music had already begun required Title IX training.
“The university works hard to create a culture where consistent vigilance and reporting are strongly encouraged,” Bakre said. “The implementation of mandatory Title IX training for everyone within the Butler School of Music and across the College of Fine Arts continues.”
After the VAN Magazine article was published, the Texan reported in early October that Dempster temporarily barred Welcher from contact with students pending an investigation into his conduct. This included the suspension of the rest of his involvement at the University through the end of the academic year. In August, Welcher began a yearlong “phased-retirement,” during which he would take the fall semester off but be back teaching at UT in the spring.
In response to questions about Welcher’s conduct for the December article "Afraid to speak up," Welcher’s lawyer Joe Crews said the Texan had repeated the “lurid unsubstantiated allegations” described in the VAN article.
However, the findings of the University’s investigation line up with many of the allegations detailed in the VAN article, as well as those described by the Texan in “Afraid to speak up.” Nearly a dozen students and a former professor in the music school described a culture of fear that made accusing Welcher of inappropriate behavior all the more difficult, with many saying they feared he would damage their careers in the tight-knit music industry if they spoke up.
Welcher said in an email to the Texan that the OIE report did not change his position on the allegations made against him over the last nine months.
“Over the six months of the OIE investigation, I cooperated fully while attempting to defend myself against exaggerations and outright lies,” Welcher said. “The OIE chose to be silent to my requests for clarification and delivered its ‘final report’ to the Provost without my having seen these allegations at all.”
Welcher said he decided to resign “not because of any sense of guilt, but because it had become clear that I was never going to receive anything remotely resembling due process.”
“My conscience is clear, and many former students and colleagues would have attested to my character if they had been given an opportunity to speak up,” Welcher said.
Despite his denials, the VAN article, the Texan’s article “Afraid to speak up” and the OIE investigation all describe a pattern of alleged sexual misconduct going back for at least the last several years of Welcher’s time at the University.
Dempster said in a statement provided by Bakre that the OIE report and decision to terminate Welcher “sends a message to our community that sexual harassment will not be accepted in the College of Fine Arts or anywhere else at the University.”
“In spite of the new challenges brought by the pandemic, the college is continuing mandatory Title IX training and education for all faculty and making certain that resources are readily available for our community to access,” Dempster said in the statement.