by Paul Bowers
Seven months after the College of Charleston dropped an investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against a prominent piano instructor, the professor's accuser has sued him, the college, and two college administrators. The lawsuit, filed April 1, alleges that the teacher's actions damaged him psychologically and that the school failed to protect him.
The defendants in the case are the college, President George Benson, former Music Department Dean Steve Rosenberg, and Enrique Graf, a world-renowned pianist and former artistic director of the International Piano Series at CofC. Graf resigned in July 2013 in the midst of a college investigation of alleged sexual misconduct, but CofC later dropped the investigation in late August after the school's Department of Public Safety announced that "there is not sufficient evidence to support an arrest or criminal charges."
The lawsuit, which seeks actual and punitive damages to be determined by a jury, describes the plaintiff as a "prodigy" on the piano who has been playing since age three-and-a-half. The lawsuit also states that the student's family was "impoverished" and would not have been able to send him to music school. In the summer of 2007, according to the complaint, Graf met the plaintiff (who goes by "John Doe" in the complaint) while traveling to meet a student in the plaintiff's home state, and Graf ended up offering the plaintiff a full scholarship to study piano with him at the College of Charleston. The plaintiff says it was the only scholarship he was offered at any school.
In the fall semester of 2008, at age 17, Doe says he started in the piano program at the college with Graf as his instructor and academic advisor. Doe states that his relationship with Graf started as "a normal student-teacher relationship," but that by the end of his first semester, Graf had begun to display "a pattern of repeated, unwanted, and extremely inappropriate sexual advances" toward him that continued until after Doe had received his undergraduate degree.
Doe's complaints are largely unchanged since that the college dropped its investigation of his allegations last fall. Doe adds that he didn't report or resist Graf's alleged advances because Doe "was concerned of the repercussions that might follow for Plaintiff's education and career should [Doe] refuse." Doe says he contemplated suicide after he "endured great and debilitating psychological abuse, psychological trauma, shame, humiliation, self-loathing, depression, guilt, and physical abuse at the hands of Graf."
The lawsuit alleges that the college had been "put on notice" twice about alleged sexual misconduct in 1994 and 2006, when other students of Graf's filed complaints against him (both cases were eventually dropped). The suit states that the college "willfully, wantonly, and/or recklessly failed to protect its past, current, and future students."
Asked for a response, a college spokesman said he could not comment on a pending lawsuit.
Graf's attorney, Allan Holmes, called the 2013 investigation a "lynching" of his client's reputation, and Graf said the allegations were "absurd, baseless and untrue." At the time, Graf also criticized the three-month investigation as overly lengthy and poorly managed, with an inexperienced lawyer overseeing the Department of Public Safety's inquiry.
Some of Graf's students also spoke out in Graf's defense last fall, including an Artist Certificate student named Chee-Hang See who called the investigation a "witch hunt" and wrote that the published allegations could damage the careers of students who had him as a pupil.
"What do I say? What can I say?" Chee-Hang wrote at the time. "Will my successes as a musician so far be viewed any differently? Will prospective colleges and employers consider that I might have earned my scholarships and concertizing opportunities only because I had been involved indecently with Mr. Graf?"
UPDATE, 5 p.m.: Graf returned a request for comment via e-mail, saying:
This is a frivolous lawsuit. While his lawyer says that the plaintiff is suing because he wants "the college to get its act together," his lawsuit is just a baseless attempt to get money. His mother — with a claim that didn't attract a lawyer — is suing MUSC for money. I categorically deny his claims, and I look forward to my complete vindication.
Graf's attorney, Allan Holmes, gave the following comment:
Enrique has been on tour out of the country, and he hasn't been served with the complaint. He's not due back here until late April. While no one welcomes the expense of a frivolous lawsuit, Enrique looks forward to having the matter tried in a fair and impartial proceeding. We anticipate filing damages claims against the plaintiff on Enrique's behalf.