Hofstra student claims letter allegedly written by music professor demonstrates sexual harassment
A letter left in senior music education major Angelina Scolari’s student mailbox – allegedly written by tenured professor of music Chandler Carter – expressed romantic affection for her and prompted her to file a report claiming sexual harassment.
In the spring of 2018 Scolari found the letter attached to her graded final project in an envelope that read, “Confidential.” She said, when she opened the letter, her eyes “zoom[ed] in on the words ‘foolish and dangerous attraction.’” The letter appeared to have been signed by the professor.
“I would consider what Carter did sexual harassment,” Scolari said.
The University’s updated definition of sexual harassment, as per Hofstra’s Harassment Policy, includes the following: “Sexual harassment is conduct that exploits power or authority in order to elicit sexual submission, or inappropriate sexual conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile or abusive environment for working, learning, or enjoying other opportunities and activities.”
The Chronicle reached out to Senior Forensic Document Examiner Dennis Ryan for an official analysis of the letter. He is certified by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners. After comparing the letter to confirmed writing samples of Carter’s class notes, he said, “There are indications or evidence to suggest that the author of the ‘confirmed’ writing may have written the two page letter.”
The letter read, “I could call it a school-boy crush, but I’m not a school boy. It’s more a mid-life crisis, I suspect, which may have little to do with you. Regardless, I’ve felt this way for well over a year, but have tried to conceal it to protect both you and myself, but also everyone around us. Such feelings from a teacher toward a student – while inevitable given that we’re only human – are usually toxic to all involved when expressed openly. For that reason, I ask that you keep this to yourself.”
Scolari responded to the letter by writing “No” on a post-it note and placing it on Carter’s mailbox a few days after she had received the letter.
She decided to come forward and report the letter, despite her apprehension. Scolari brought the letter to the attention of Philip Stoecker, a professor of music and the department chair. “I was terrified to report it,but I knew that I had a responsibility to,” she said.
After Scolari met with Stoecker, he reported the letter to Title IX.
Stoecker was contacted various times and could not be reached for comment.
Scolari also confided in Cindy Bell, the chair of graduate studies in music education, about the letter. Scolari said Bell told her that she is a thoughtful, enthusiastic student and that it didn’t come as a surprise to her that a faculty member would take an interest in her.
“I want to be myself as a student and not feel like that’s going to put me in danger. [Bell] was trying to help me see [Carter’s] side,” Scolari said.
Bell was contacted various times and could not be reached for comment.
Scolari was contacted by Chief Human Resources Officer Denise Cunningham after she reported the letter to Stoecker. Scolari said that Cunningham was very supportive and completely took her side.
The following week, Scolari said that Title IX officers informed her that they had a conversation with Carter, and that he was “remorseful and apologetic.”
When reached for comment, University Relations said, “While an unsolicited letter in which a faculty member requests a relationship with his former student, who is still an undergraduate student at the University, may not constitute sexual harassment under the law, the University does not condone such behavior. In collaboration with faculty, the University is proposing changes to our formal policies on such matters. The University is committed to fostering a climate of mutual respect and trust in faculty/student relationships, which is an essential component of our academic mission.”
Other music department students got word of Carter’s actions and a few chose to write anonymous letters to Dean Benjamin Rifkin of the Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, expressing their concerns about Carter’s employment at Hofstra.
They expressed that their concerns “should be seen immediately,” according to the cover letter. Approximately 30 students signed the cover letter and over 10 students wrote anonymous, individual letters that were attached. Names of students who signed the cover letter were withheld for fear of retribution.
“These students find the University’s response to Professor Carter’s actions, or lack thereof, to be detrimental to the music department, and the student body, as a whole,” the cover letter detailed. It further read, “It’s on us to create a learning environment where ideas are challenged, yet students feel welcome and safe; with this in mind, we implore you to re-examine Professor Carter’s place here at Hofstra University.”
Other students who heard about the letter have responded on the record to The Chronicle.
“I am definitely not okay with him still working here,” said Kathryn Pericak, a sophomore drama performance major who had Carter for a section of the Honors College Culture and Expression lecture class in 2018.
“I think it is irresponsible of the administration here at Hofstra to ignore a situation of this severity. It enables predators like him on campus to prey on women who feel like their voices will be disregarded,” said Claire Feasey, a sophomore English major with a concentration in publishing studies.
Another anonymous student who has to take a class with Carter as a requirement for her degree said, “I have to be with this professor for three days a week next semester, which makes me super uncomfortable and distracts me from learning.”
Scolari was also involved with the writing of the anonymous letters. In the final few sentences of her letter to Rifkin, she stated, “For every moment that passes by with men like Dr. Carter enjoying the benefits of a career at this University without ever facing meaningful consequences for the violation of women’s boundaries, the administration fails the women of the music department, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the University as a whole.”
Scolari received an email from Rifkin on Friday, Feb. 1, saying that he received all of the letters.
In the email he said that he and Provost Herman Berliner met with Carter toward the end of the fall 2018 semester to address the matter, but due to the confidentiality of the case, he could not provide any information beyond that.
When The Chronicle reached out for comment, Rifkin responded, “The University and our academic departments followed all established policies and procedures for any and all complaints. The exact disposition of any report that has been filed is confidential.”
The consequences for Carter’s actions are unknown due to the confidential matter of the case. University Relations confirmed that Carter is still a professor of music at Hofstra.
“Nobody would know about Dr. Carter if I didn’t talk about it,” Scolari said. “It makes me really worried about what other concerns might have been raised about other professors that no one even knows about.”
The Chronicle attempted to contact Carter various times, through various methods, but he could not be reached for comment.