The December 23 editorial in the Citizen-Penguin written by Keats Dieffenbach and Daniel Parker raises profoundly important issues as America attempts to deal with the numerous accusations of sexual misconduct that have taken place in all sectors of our society. I have always believed that the artist should lead the way in addressing the moral issues that confront our nation and our world, rather than being at the periphery of these societal issues. That is why I applaud Keats and Daniel, on the part of many Juilliard students, for sharing their views with our community.
As I have stated on many occasions, The Juilliard School is dedicated to creating and maintaining a safe environment of inclusion and diversity which shows respect for all individuals, as well as developing and acting upon shared community values. My colleagues and I of the faculty and administration have strived to provide that environment in a continuous fashion, both through policies that govern faculty, staff, and student conduct and ongoing training and programming. The Juilliard School has a zero-tolerance policy for any acts of sexual misconduct or any other inappropriate activities that violate our standards of conduct.
Keats and Daniel write that Juilliard, whether consciously or not, was “complicit” in enabling James Levine to act in ways that were harmful to individuals. I do not want to parse definitions of the word in question. I can only state in the strongest possible terms that The Juilliard School would never consciously put young artists under our aegis in any situation which would cause them harm. I can categorically state without hesitation that I was not aware of any credible information that indicated hiring Mr. Levine would put our students or other community members at risk.
However, the editorial addresses larger issues which go beyond Juilliard’s confines. Essentially, the writers ask Juilliard to react to information that was spread word-of-mouth or never reviewed in a legal setting. We cannot act responsibly as an institution on rumor alone. It is my belief that artists, no matter how extraordinary their artistic prowess may be, should also be judged equally on their humanity and their personal actions. Importantly, there is no policy, no set of regulations in a free society that can regulate all human activities.
During my thirty-four years as Juilliard’s president, my colleagues and I have acted quickly and definitively when we have been presented with evidence that an occurrence took place involving a Juilliard community member which was inappropriate or illegal. One need only refer to our various regulations posted for our community which clearly present the processes which exist to address these issues. The standard of proof for investigating and acting upon allegations is based on decades of legal procedures that are now evolving. We will continue to evaluate our policies and procedures to ensure that they meet the needs of our community and are informed by the ongoing dialogue taking place on these issues in our society today.
As we begin a new year, thankfully individuals have been empowered to tell their harrowing experiences in public, some of which date back many years. As Keats and Daniel state, these are “courageous, credible survivors who have publicly detailed the violations and pain they experienced.” Their experiences point to a level of conduct by perpetrators that are abhorrent and unacceptable.
Therefore, how do we act responsibly as an institution within the context of this new cultural paradigm? Clearly, this new cultural shift must prevail. Our writers urge Juilliard to “lead the way” in attempting to right the wrongs of the past and, perhaps just as important, to prevent future acts of misconduct at Juilliard and in our society. I accept this invitation with enthusiasm and look forward to future conversations where all members of the Juilliard community can address these issues and find a way to approach the future with a clarity that permeates our efforts with the best values the Juilliard community can realize.
Joseph W. Polisi