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Memos Lay Out Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Opera Star David Daniels

David Daniels, performing at New York's Carnegie Hall in 2013.
Hiroyuki Ito
Getty Images
David Daniels, performing at New York's Carnegie Hall in 2013.

Last month, opera star David Daniels and his husband, William "Scott" Walters, were indicted by Harris County, Texas on a felony charge of sexual assault. Simultaneously, the singer is battling the University of Michigan (UM), where he has taught since 2015 and where he was granted tenure in May 2018. Earlier this year, the school began seeking to fire Daniels over multiple, serious allegations of sexual misconduct.

NPR made a public records request of the public university to learn more about the circumstances and the timeline of the steps that the university has taken to fire Daniels, a process which it initiated in April. The documents provided by the university in response reveal specific and disturbing allegations against the singer.

Daniels and Walters have both maintained their innocence in all allegations. The Texas indictment stems from an accusation made by singer Samuel Schultz, who came forward last August to accuse the couple of having drugged and raped him in Houston in May 2010.

The University of Michigan's findings were gathered in a Mar. 26, 2019 report made by the school's Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). An internal university memo dated Apr. 19, 2019, which cites elements from the OIE report, lays out several alleged instances of what UM calls "a pattern of behavior that is harassing, abusive and exploitative of University of Michigan students, specifically students in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance in which he is a faculty member." These allegations were mailed to Daniels on Apr. 22 as part of the university's formal notification that it intends to dismiss him.

The university specifies five types of misconduct allegedly committed by Daniels. In four of the five categories, UM describes multiple episodes of alleged misconduct, including potentially criminal activity. These allegations include:

  • "Soliciting" multiple UM students for sex in exchange for money, which the university notes is "potentially criminal activity by a person in a position of power." (Solicitation is a criminal offense in Michigan.) In at least one such instance, the university alleges, Daniels suggested that he would also help boost the student's professional career.
  • Sending pornographic images and at least one pornographic video of himself to UM students.
  • Making open and graphic sexual comments to multiple UM students and to at least one prospective student.
  • Commenting on his desire for sexual relationships with multiple UM students or trying to engage in sexual banter with them, including during lessons and in other academic and performance settings.
  • Providing "false information" to the OIE in response to a review of a March 2018 allegation that Daniels had possibly "solicited" a student for "sex in exchange for compensation." During a subsequent investigation of that accusation, the university says, Daniels provided "information that, at a minimum, appeared to be misleading."
  • The university also points out that at all times during these alleged episodes, "Professor Daniels exercised potential or actual academic supervisory authority over some or all of the students." (UM's standards code explicitly states that sexual harassment by faculty and staff is illegal by both federal and state standards and "will not be tolerated at the University of Michigan.")

    The accusations detailed in the university memos are undated. It's unclear if any of them precede a separate allegation made by graduate student Andrew Lipian, who last year filed a civil suit against UM and Daniels, claiming that Daniels drugged and assaulted him in March 2017. Lipian came forward about two months after Schultz made his accusations public, though he later dropped Daniels as a party in his suit.

    The university became aware of Lipian's allegations in August 2018; by Aug. 22, the university publicly announced that Daniels had taken "a leave of absence" from teaching. In 2018, Daniels was paid over $191,000 by UM, according to the school's annual salary disclosure reports, which are published each November. (In 2017, he received over $174,000 from the university.)

    Last November, the UM student paper, The Michigan Daily, reported that Daniels was awarded tenure within two months of the university receiving a complaint that Daniels had propositioned a student for sex in exchange for money over the Grindr app. The complaint, the newspaper said, was known to both the OIE and to police in Pittsfield Township, Mich, where a report was filed, but the case was closed for lack of evidence.

    UM has scheduled an initial dismissal hearing for Daniels on Nov. 11. Daniels declined to comment to NPR about the university's accusations and the ongoing dismissal proceedings, except to say in a statement that he "will address those allegations at the time set by the university, in what he hopes will be a fair and impartial process."

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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