UM violin professor on leave after sexual misconduct claims

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Stephen Shipps

A renowned University of Michigan violin professor has taken a leave of absence and reportedly will retire next year as a report emerged alleging sexual misconduct spanning four decades.

Stephen Shipps, employed by UM since September 1989, went on leave Dec. 7, according to university spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen. He also stepped down as chairman of strings in UM's School of Music, Theatre & Dance and as faculty director of the String Preparatory Academy pre-college musician program.

His departure came three days before UM's student newspaper, the Michigan Daily, published a voluminous investigative story on Dec. 10 about Shipps that documented alleged reports of unwanted touching, sexual misconduct, sexual relationships with teenage students and inappropriate statements.

The university confirmed his leave of absence but declined to elaborate.

This week, the Daily published an email from Shipps that it obtained from a student, saying he was retiring in May 2019. It also said that David Gier, dean of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, asked Shipps to not have contact with his class.

"I will honor this requirement and ask that you do to (sic), as difficult as that may be," Shipps' email said, according to the Daily.

Rick Fitzgerald, a UM spokesman, declined to confirm that Shipps is retiring next year, saying, "We have no further information to share." 

Shipps — who served as a UM associate dean for academic affairs for the School of Music, Theater and Dance from 2001-06 —  could not be reached for comment. His attorney, David Nacht of Ann Arbor, declined to comment.

Shipps hired Mort Meisner Associates, a firm that represents on-air television news talent and performs public relations and crisis management. Meisner also declined to comment.

The report included several interviews with women who requested anonymity.

But a few allowed their names to be published, including Maureen O’Boyle, who told The Detroit News  she has since been approached by UM's Office of Institutional Equity and plans to file a Title IX complaint regarding Shipps. 

O'Boyle, an associate music professor who teaches violin at the University of Tulsa, alleges she lost her virginity to Shipps when she was a 17-year-old high school student in the late 1970s.

At the time, he was  concertmaster of the Omaha Symphony and she had moved from her home in Omaha and was studying with him and playing in the symphony.

One night, Shipps invited her to his house after rehearsal along with other musicians, O'Boyle said.

She became inebriated after Shipps poured her a vodka drink and she smoked marijuana, O'Boyle said.

He allegedly told her he would take care of her and make sure she got violin lessons from him if she babysat his young daughter.

After everyone else left, O'Boyle said Shipps had sex with her on a couch where she always unpacked her violin for lessons.

"I remember knowing what was happening, seeing and feeling my body from afar, with the feeling that my life was already horribly off course and there was now no repairing it," O'Boyle wrote in a lengthy document outlining what happened with Shipps.

O'Boyle also alleged Shipps was having sex with other students besides her and recounted seeing Shipps with another violinist, who was her best friend. He allegedly wanted to have sex with both of them.

O'Boyle said Shipps had a profound effect on her life, contributing to a struggle with depression and coloring all of the relationships she has had since.

"It's monstrous," said O'Boyle, now 56.  "It is beyond monstrous."

The Daily also reported that Professor Yizhak Schotten, a faculty members in the Music, Theatre & Dance school, became aware of some of the allegations against Shipps from an Ann Arbor-based freelance musician after his hiring was announced. But it was not clear whether Schotten reported any of the allegations to university officials.

Schotten did not respond to requests for comment from The News. He told the student newspaper he did not remember what happened when Shipps was hired three decades ago.

Shipps is the second professor in UM's School of Music, Theatre & Dance to take a leave this year following allegations of sexual misconduct.

UM Professor David Daniels, a renowned opera singer, went on leave in August amid claims he and his partner, Scott Walters, sexually assaulted another performer in May 2010 at the Houston Grand Opera.

Daniels, hired by UM in 2015, and Walters separately denied the allegations.

In October, UM master's degree student Andrew Lipian filed a lawsuit alleging that Daniels groped him, sent sexual photos and videos of himself, and requested sexual photos and videos from him.

The suit alleges that UM was "deliberately indifferent  to the actions of Daniels" though a faculty member allegedly became aware of the alleged sexual assault and reported it to the UM Office of Institutional Equity. However, Lipian had not been contacted by the office, according to the suit.

In November, the San Francisco Opera said it removed Daniels, a countertenor, from the June 2019 production of Handel’s “Orlando” due to sexual assault allegations against the singer.