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A University of Manitoba jazz professor who retired after the institution investigated an allegation of sexual harassment has been placed on leave by the prestigious American music school that recently hired him.

Berklee College of Music in Boston announced on Thursday it has placed Steve Kirby on leave "pending our review and assessment."

MATT DUBOFF PHOTO</p><p>A U of M official says the university wasn’t contacted by Berklee College of Music before it hired Steve Kirby.</p></p>


A U of M official says the university wasn’t contacted by Berklee College of Music before it hired Steve Kirby.

"The college is currently looking into this matter and reiterates its commitment to fostering a safe and respectful environment for our community members," Jay Kennedy, Berklee’s vice-president for academic affairs/vice provost, said in a statement.

"It is our practice not to comment publicly on internal personnel matters out of respect for all involved and we have nothing further to add at this time."

The Free Press reported on Wednesday that the 61-year-old Kirby had resigned earlier this summer from his 14-year career at the university in the wake of the institution meeting with several female students to address concerns described as "sexual in nature."

One of the women later told the CBC she experienced lewd comments from Kirby, as well as unwanted touching, hugging and kissing. A report from an internal investigation concluded the woman’s allegations had merit and entailed sexual harassment.

When contacted by the Free Press on Wednesday, officials at Berklee expressed surprise over the allegations, but said they would investigate. The on-leave placement comes the day after the investigation began.

An official at the University of Manitoba said no one from Berklee called the school to ask for a reference about Kirby.

Kirby, a bassist who has played and performed with jazz musicians, including Wynton Marsalis, Elvin Jones and Abbey Lincoln, was hired by Berklee to teach music composition.

Kirby has been unavailable for comment, and his wife, Anna-Lisa, a sessional music instructor at the U of M, said earlier this week he was out of town and would not be giving interviews.

She said the university did not have a role in her husband choosing to retire and there were no negotiations about it.

In a statement, Jazz Winnipeg said it was recently made aware of the allegations against Kirby, who is as a board member.

"We take issues surrounding misconduct and harassment incredibly seriously. This type of behaviour has no place in our organization and will not be tolerated from anyone we work or associate with. These allegations are deeply concerning to our organization and we are taking steps address them."

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances, which Kirby was artistic director of until recently, said they had never heard anything negative about Kirby.

Bev Aronovitch, series producer, said Kirby "did a great job for us and he did a great job for the city building the jazz scene. I feel very badly about this. He made a great contribution to the city."

In an email to subscribers of the jazz series announcing the opening of its upcoming 2017-2018 performances, Jeff Morry, senior program director for the Asper Foundation, and Debbie Figowy, cultural arts and adult services program co-ordinator of the Rady Jewish Community Centre, praised Kirby and confirmed his taking a position in Berklee’s jazz composition department.

"He was, and is, much loved and will be greatly missed," the email said in part.

"We wish him well in his new position and hope he will return to visit often."

Aronovitch would not say whether Kirby will still be welcomed back since information surrounding the sexual harassment allegations is still coming out.

A local women’s group said it is concerned about what happened and if it will continue.

Mary Scott, a board member of the Institute for International Women’s Rights’ Manitoba chapter, which promotes women’s human rights, said she has "appreciation and respect for the student(s) who spoke out."

"This is not easy to do. There is a tremendous power relationship between a professor and student. So good for her."

Scott also said she, and Florence Okwudili, co-chair of the organization, are concerned about the possibility the "inappropriate behaviour might continue."

"One gets away with it, then why not do it again?"

John Danakas, U of M executive director of public affairs, said earlier this week that no one from Berklee called the institution to check Kirby’s references.

But Danakas said, even if someone from Berklee did call, "the university follows generally accepted practices in responding to reference requests."

Barbara Bowes, president of the Legacy Bowes Group, a recruiting company, said that would mean no information would be given about any allegations about sexual harassment or investigations. She said most organizations only confirm the employee worked for them, what time period they worked and their position.

"Every termination/forced retirement under circumstances such as this usually comes with a very tight confidentiality agreement on each side," Bowes said.

But Bowes said Berklee’s move to announce an investigation and put Kirby on leave is "standard procedure."

"They have to protect their reputation," she said.

"That’s how organizations need to manage when they get that first complaint."


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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