Flute camp chief stands by flutist accused of sex misconduct

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A prestigious flute camp in North Carolina is standing behind an instructor who was the subject of a University of Cincinnati sexual harassment investigation.

In the course of its October 2016 investigation into complaints against then-professor Bradley Garner, the Ohio university found evidence of "pervasive" misconduct, including "unwanted sexual advances and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" and a "hostile environment," dating back to the 1990s, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Tuesday .

Investigators interviewed a former professor who said he'd witnessed sexual misconduct, including videos of the flutist having sex with two students, as well as nine students who said Garner kissed them, touched them inappropriately or made inappropriate remarks. The report said the world-renowned musician had a pattern of targeting Asian students and those under 18.

Although the College-Conservatory Of Music's interim dean recommended firing Garner last February, the 61-year-old star flutist remained until his December retirement. He denied the accusations in a sworn affidavit, and criticized the university's investigatory process.

"What should have been a simple investigation into false statements by two students instead turned into a wide-ranging, rumor-seeking, undisciplined witch hunt," he wrote.

In total, the report The Enquirer obtained through a public records request was based on interviews with 21 prospective, current and former students, faculty and staff.

Several of those students said they met Garner at the annual Wildacres Flute Retreat, a weeklong camp for 50-60 students ages 12 and up, in the mountains of western North Carolina. The camp plans to retain Garner, and its head has emerged as one of his staunchest defenders.

Course Director Anna Thibeault told The Asheville Citizen-Times she'd never heard complaints about his behavior.

"He's a great teacher, he's a wonderful player, and he's a really nice person to work with. I was disgusted with what I read in the Cincinnati (paper)," she told the North Carolina newspaper.

Former Wildacres teacher Helen Spielman cast doubt on that account. She told the newspaper she hadn't directly witnessed inappropriate behavior at the camp, but had twice raised concerns about the allegations against Garner in the past year. She suggested implementing a code of ethics for the camp, but says she was rebuffed on both fronts. Spielman said Thibeault told her Garner wasn't a danger and referred to some 15-year-old girls as "little nymphos."

Thiebault rebutted Spielman's assertions by telling the newspaper that she had tried to explain to the "horrible old biddy" that "the situation is far more complicated than just this whole 'me too' thing," referring to a hashtag used on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment among women.

Thiebault says Spielman misinterpreted the example she used of a 15-year-old girl that the course director says she nicknamed "Lolita."

Thiebault stressed that inappropriate behavior wasn't welcome at the Little Switzerland retreat, and called the allegations against Garner a "witch hunt." She says Garner will remain on faculty, but Spielman will "never, ever set foot on Wildacres again."

The camp will celebrate its 40th anniversary at its retreat this June.

A spokeswoman for The Juilliard School said Thursday that while Garner was barred from the University of Cincinnati's campus during its investigation, he was placed on leave at Juilliard in December 2016 and didn't teach at the school in the spring semester of 2017. Spokeswoman Alexandra Day said Thursday that Garner's annual contract expired last June and was not renewed. A New York University spokesman says Garner is no longer an adjunct faculty member there as of Wednesday.

In addition to Garner's employment at Wildacres and Yamaha, his attorney says he's still teaching master classes for students around the world.