Sixteen-year theatre professor Richard “Ric” Roberts retired eight days after university officials informed him that student complaints against him had brought on a Title IX investigation.
“The complaints centered around a negative teaching environment in classes and productions,” Provost Deborah Huntley said.
Huntley “spoke to students and colleagues and found sufficient corroboration to report this behavior for disciplinary action,” she wrote in a June 20 memo obtained by The Vanguard via a Freedom of Information Act request. Huntley said she first learned of the complaints in late April or early May.
Roberts, who was chairman of the theatre department, was the subject of 16 student complaints, Huntley wrote. The memo was the second of this nature Roberts received. Dean of Arts and Behavioral Sciences Marc Peretz said he sent Roberts a prior memo detailing student complaints “on or about” May 14.
Peretz said he received the complaints “on or about” April 30.
“All the student concerns were brought to my attention at the same time,” he said. “The concerns were related to the students’ educational environment.”
Roberts’ resignation was effective July 1. The Vanguard obtained his resignation letter from Roberts’ personnel file via a separate Freedom of Information Act request.
“After much conversation with my family and close friends, I am going to pursue other professional artistic opportunities,” Roberts wrote.
Reached via private message, Roberts did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Huntley said she could not explain the nature of the complaints or the three categories the memo said the complaints fell under.
“While specifics may have varied between the complaints, there was considerable overlap between students,” she said.
Peretz concurred, saying “to provide any specific information might compromise the students’ privacy.”
“Concerns from the categories intersected, as they all related to the same thing,” he said.
Huntley’s memo to Roberts stated that the university’s Title IX officer, Mamie Thorns, would begin a Title IX investigation. Title IX is a federal law mandating that no one be discriminated against in the education system on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I cannot discuss the categories without compromising the privacy of the students who submitted the complaints,” Huntley said. “However, some students reported issues that raised the possibility of a Title IX violation.”
Faculty Association President Deborah Bishop declined to comment, as did David Rzeszutek, who assumed the position as department chairman after Roberts resigned.
“The allegations of [redacted] are all serious infractions that are inconsistent with our educational missions and that warrant disciplinary action,” Huntley’s memo stated. “However, the level of discipline will be determined by the fact-dining of the Title IX investigation.”
The investigation was completed after Roberts resigned.
“The investigation was not yet complete when he retired,” Thorns said. “It was completed after his retirement.”
Huntley said Roberts was not disciplined, as he resigned before the Title IX investigation concluded.
“No disciplinary action was taken because the Title IX investigation was still underway when he retired,” she said.
Huntley said students were not notified about the complaints or Title IX investigation because the investigation stopped. There are 36 students majoring in theatre.
“We did not have the outcome, and it would be inappropriate to inform students of a complaint prior to the completion of the investigation,” she said.
“Roberts retired prior to the conclusion of the fact-facting efforts,” he said. “It was premature to issue discipline when we received his notice of retirement.”
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