University Seeks To Dismiss Theater Professors After Sexual Misconduct Findings

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University Seeks To Dismiss Theater Professors After Sexual Misconduct Findings

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Julia Jade Moran

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Julia Jade Moran

Julia Jade Moran

(Ticket Box Office)

Sarah Willson, Editor-in-Chief

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Central Connecticut theater professors Joshua Perlstein and Thomas Delventhal are in the process of being “dismissed” after a nine-month-long investigation concluded the two “repeatedly engaged in sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior with several students.”

The findings brought dozens of new complaints to light as a result of investigations that began in April of 2018 by law firm Shipman and Goodwin. The investigation found more than a decade of complaints of sexual misconduct against Perlstein were dismissed or investigated in a “cursory manner,” by administrators. 

“[Perlstein and Delventhal have] received, by now, the first letter that starts the process to dismiss [them],” Dr. Toro said. “The process to dismiss [them] is the process to fire [them].”

Investigators reviewed thousands of documents, emails, text messages and interviews with dozens of faculty, staff and current and former students and stated that there was significant evidence Perlstein was untruthful about having a sexual relationship with a student for an “extended period of time.” The report also said he had a “history of questionable interactions with female students” and was “involved in sexual misconduct with one or more students.”

During interviews with investigators, current and former students repeatedly used the word “creepy” to describe Perlstein. Students said Perlstein often staged warm-up exercises, improvisations and visualizations where he asked students to act out words such as “sex” or “orgasm.”

During the course of the investigation, Delventhal admitted to “kissing five students on the neck and/or forehead.” The report concluded he was “untruthful during his investigatory interview” and “denied attempting to engage in any relationship with current or former students.”

There are no pending criminal charges against Delventhal or Perlstein, according to Director of Public Relations Janice Palmer.

The Culture Of The Department:

The report stated that “it appears as though the informality of the department has led to a climate in which personal space and boundaries are not respected.”

Those interviewed throughout the investigation said that it was not unusual for students and faculty to socialize at parties or other gatherings where alcohol is consumed, according to the report. 

Investigators outlined that “for quite some time, there has existed tension and conflict between various staff and faculty members within the theater department.” 

The report went on to say that “such divide appears to have a negative impact not only on the working relationship but also the learning environment since most of [the] students interviewed commented on the tension that they perceive between various members of the department.”

According to the report, some high-level administrators were aware of concerns for more than a decade. 

 While setting goals for the theater department, former Dean and Provost Susan Pease reported that the department needed to “shape up.”

 ‘”Shape up” means  1) [professors] have to stop sleeping with students. 2) They have to stop yelling at students and each other…”

New Revelations:

Though the report included allegations that were first outlined in the extensive article published in April 2018 by The Recorder, it also highlighted new complaints filed by what Dr. Toro said were “dozens” of students.

Dr. Toro said each complaint filed has been “thoroughly investigated.”

Though Dr. Toro said multiple new complaints were submitted after Perlstein was placed on administrative leave nine months ago, the report by Shipman and Goodwin highlighted a complaint from a former CCSU student that dates back to 2013.

The former student said Perlstein invited her to accompany him to see a show in New York City. The student alleged that, without her knowledge, Perlstein organized for the two to stay overnight in a one-bedroom apartment where Perlstein engaged in non-consensual sexual contact.

In an interview with investigators, Perlstein admitted to having engaged in a “consensual relationship” with one of his students, claiming that the sexual relationship was limited to a “one or two week time period.”

Evidence of the relationship was found through Perlstein’s text messages sent to the student in early 2014, the report stated.

“In the fall I believe I am up to 80 blowjobs,” Perlstein said in a chain of texts. Another text from February of 2014 stated “Sorry about attacking your butt… it was aggressive and wrong… have a swell day. Love yoi [sic].”

Through text, Perlstein also discussed theater rehearsals with the student for the play Oleanna, a play in which there are only two actors – a male and a female. Perlstein, who was rehearsing as the male lead, texted the student: “I was planning on kicking your a** in rehearsal…”

Perlstein sent a subsequent message: “I love your f[*@k]in a**… you look so good these days.”

In a spurt of texts sent later, Perlstein threatened to go to the former students home if she did not answer his messages. 

The report said that as a result of the student’s multiple attempts to end the relationship, Perlstein threatened to cancel academic events the student was scheduled to perform. 

Perlstein Denied Engaging In “Most” Of The Conduct: 

In interviews with investigators, Perlstein denied engaging in “most of the conduct alleged or claimed that the allegations were a product of one or more ‘misunderstandings.'”

The report also said that Perlstein was not “fully forthcoming” and/or provided some information that was “clearly untruthful.”

Shipman and Goodwin concluded that Perlstein attempted to “conceal” his actions since he stated it could “put his job in jeopardy.”

Perlstein said in an email sent to The Recorder over the weekend that he would “speak after the entire situation is resolved.” He was reached for comment the day the results of the investigation were released, but did not respond.

A Rebuilding Of The Office Of Diversity and Equity: 

The report outlined concerns that Chief Diversity Officer Rosa Rodriguez and her predecessors were “not welcoming or friendly, and in some cases intimidating and/or lacking follow through.”

Investigators said that the office failed to interview those who filed formal reports against theater faculty members, adding that the office was not satisfying “the crucial function of receiving, investigating and addressing complaints.”

As a result, and “in addition to several procedural changes instituted last spring,” Dr. Toro said she will oversee the “reengineering” of the Office of Diversity & Equity and the Human Resources Department.

Dr. Toro said she will be announcing the appointment of “new leadership” for the Office of Diversity and Equity.

Dr. Toro And Others Aim To Move Forward:

“I am disgusted and disheartened by what I have read in the reports. They indicate that two of our professors repeatedly engaged in sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior with several students,” Dr. Toro said in a statement. “Also disturbing are the apparent failures by administrators who, over the years, did not protect our students.”

 Despite this, Dr. Toro painted a picture of a new CCSU – one she said she hopes will make everyone proud.

“It’s a new day for the university. The people who failed them are not here anymore,” Dr. Toro said. “But, let me just say, we need to change the culture of the institution [and] there are the steps towards accomplishing that. The president by herself cannot change the culture. I will rely on faculty, staff, students and alumni to help me build the type of environment we all want for central.”

Though those who alleged sexual misconduct against Perlstein often said they felt frustrated and “left in the dark” with the investigation, Anna Kelly, who said she said she was assaulted by Perlstein in 2004, stated that she gives Dr. Toro ” a lot of credit for starting this investigation.”

“The report was shocking and it was awful but I’m encouraged by the fact that it’s out there now and we can finally start working towards the change that’s needed to happen for a long time,” Kelly said. “I think this is going to encourage actual consequences towards those who have been unchecked and unpunished.” 

Kileen Nadeau, who also alleged sexual misconduct by Perlstein, said that she is “pleased that the investigation is done” and that the findings of the investigation “were in our favor.”

“It’s still painful and sad at the same time,” she continued. I can’t help but think it didn’t have to be this way. It didn’t have to go on for as long as it did.” Hopefully, there will be a real and comprehensive change to CCSU’s policies. It’s hard to imagine it getting any worse. but I’m remaining hopeful that they can only go up from here.”

Delventhal and Rodriguez could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Dr. Toro will hold a discussion about the reports in Memorial Hall’s Constitution Room at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.