Ex-University of Michigan professor guilty in case involving sex with girl

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

A former University of Michigan violin professor on Wednesday pleaded guilty in federal court to transporting a 16-year-old girl across state lines for sex nearly 20 years ago.

Stephen Shipps, a professor at the UM's School of Music, Theatre and Dance from 1989 to 2019, entered the plea as part of a deal with prosecutors that dismissed a similar charge involving the same girl.

Shipps, 68, of Ann Arbor, was charged with two counts last year and was set to stand trial on Nov. 23.

Stephen Shipps

He was facing up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But under the plea agreement, the sentence will not exceed 71 months or just under six years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 17, 2022.

Music professors are influencers at prestigious universities with competitive programs like the one at UM and "often have the ability to make or break careers," said Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin.

Shipps successfully launched many careers but also had a dark side, she added.

“Shipps used his position of trust to sexually exploit a child," said Mohsin. "I commend the brave young woman who stepped forward and exposed Shipps’s abuse. This case proves that the passage of time, no matter how long, will not deter us from bringing to justice those who prey on our most vulnerable.”

The sentence will cover Shipps' transporting of  a girl from Michigan to New York in 2002, according to court documents.

Restitution to all victims would be determined at sentencing, according to the agreement. 

Shipps will also be required to register as a sex offender. His lawyer, John Shea, could not be immediately reached.

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined to comment.

The case was investigated by the UM police department and Homeland Security Investigations.

“Thanks to the remarkable bravery of Shipps’ victims and painstaking investigative work by HSI, this disgraced professor is being held accountable for coercing vulnerable young women into sex acts,” said James C. Harris, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations at field offices in Michigan and Ohio.

Shipps was chairman of UM's strings and faculty director of the String Preparatory Academy Program, which offered instruction to young musicians of elementary school through high school age.

He also served on the faculties of Indiana University, the North Carolina School of the Arts, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and the Banff Centre in Canada. He also taught students at summer music programs in the Czech Republic, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Shipps took a leave of absence from UM in December 2018, days after the university's student newspaper, the Michigan Daily, published a story on Dec. 10 about Shipps that documented reports of unwanted touching, sexual misconduct, sexual relationships with teenage students and inappropriate statements.

He retired from UM in February 2019.

More than a year and a half later, in October 2020, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged him with two counts of transporting a minor girl across state lines to engage in sexual conduct.

Shipps is among several other UM faculty members involved in sex scandals, including former Provost Martin Philbert, the late Dr. Robert Anderson and others including David Daniels, a former professor in the UM School of Music, Theatre and Dance. 

Staff Writer Robert Snell contributed.