Miltenberg: “Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Professors Set Off Social Media Frenzy at Berklee College of Music,” The Boston Globe


One Berklee College of Music professor was put on leave after a student reported that he bought her alcohol at a bar and asked her to join him in a public restroom to “shake his penis.” Another professor has been under investigation for allegedly putting a clarinet between his legs in front of a class and instructing a female student to blow into the mouthpiece. She felt her professor was “emulating a sexual act.” And one of the elite music school’s best-known faculty members, Livingston Taylor, is facing complaints from two women who accuse him of making inappropriate remarks about their bodies in class. A young harpist took to Instagram to say the professor said that “my body/appearance is my biggest asset.” “My professor told me that I will be successful in music because men are drawn to me in a sexual way,” wrote the student, Leng Bian. She did not name Taylor in the post, but three students in the class confirmed he made the remarks. The allegations set off a firestorm on social media after the accusers uploaded accounts of their professors’ conduct to Instagram and Facebook. Two Facebook groups are, sometimes-heatedly, debating whether the 6,700-student school in the Back Bay has a permissive attitude toward sexual harassment … Only two months away from her Berklee graduation, Leng Bian posted a black-and-white photo of her smiling and holding her harp — her “favorite pic” of herself, according to the caption. Below the picture, she detailed the sexual comments she allegedly endured from her unnamed professor — identified by others as Taylor — in the 32-student class. With more than 3,000 likes and 300 comments, her public post encouraged the administration to terminate her alleged abuser. Bian, who could not be reached for comment, reported the issue to the equity office before posting online. A male student who spoke with the Globe said that while he found Bian’s story factually correct, he believes she misinterpreted the comments from Taylor, who he described as “an old man who is just out of touch.” “I don’t think he had any intention of making her feel so disgusting,” he said. “But the fact is that he did.” One of Bian’s peers filed her own complaint against the professor, a popular singer-songwriter as well as the brother of James Taylor, who has taught at Berklee for decades. She said that Livingston Taylor called her “short” and “chunky” in a chat after class. She also said Taylor told her that “people that look like you don’t get seen, you have to see others.” The woman has contacted the equity office about opening an official investigation. The week following Bian’s post, chief equity officer Kelly Downes sent an e-mail to students saying the professor had been placed on leave. Taylor’s classes were canceled for a week and are now being taught by a substitute, according to students in the class. Spurred by Bian’s willingness to make her case public, senior Mina Alali drafted her own Instagram and Facebook posts three days later. Like many students, Alali considered Peyman Farzinpour, who is an award-winning conductor, to be an excellent teacher and close mentor. She said their relationship changed one night in July 2019 when he allegedly took her out for pizza and wine followed by visits to two bars, all the while making repeated sexual comments. Alali even has an audio recording from the night in which a man asks her to join him in the restroom, after which she promptly asks for the check. On Instagram, she posted a picture of herself in the tank top and shorts she wore the night in question along with a seven-paragraph account of the incident. “What was supposed to be a coffee outing to discuss mental health, mindfulness, meditation, turned into a date-like outing where he explicitly expressed his sexual attraction to me,” she wrote. Farzinpour’s lawyer, Andrew T. Miltenberg, denied what he called “false and malicious allegations, which are clearly meant to malign (Farzinpour) and destroy his career.” Miltenberg also said Alali “aggressively pursued a romantic encounter” with the professor, and that “when he refused, it set her on a course of vindictiveness.” Student-teacher relationships are prohibited in Berklee’s relationship policy.

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