By Megan Lupo
With recommendations from Rider University and Dean of Westminster College of the Arts Marshall Onofrio, two consultants were hired by Kaiwen Education to assist Westminster Choir College’s proposed buyer with the transitional process, but one of those individuals was singled out for criticism and poor judgment at the University of Connecticut (UConn), in her handling of a report of possible child molestation seven years ago.
On Dec. 11, 2011, former department head of music at UConn Catherine Jarjisian received an anonymous letter that alleged a UConn music professor was fired from a children’s camp for molesting a camper in 1992, according to the report of the Special Counsel commissioned by the Connecticut attorney general.
Labeled at the top, the letter stated, “Do Not Let UConn Become a Penn State or Syracuse U. Story.”
When Jarjisian brought the letter to a dean, she told investigators, he commanded her to file the letter away at her home, according to the report issued in 2014.
The dean denied that Jarjisian informed him, but investigators found a Dec. 13, 2011 email where Jarjisian wrote the dean to add a discussion about the anonymous letter to their meeting agenda, according to the Special Counsel’s report. Jarjisian did not inform other university officials of the letter, despite its serious nature, the report concluded.
Although the letter arrived during the time when Penn State’s assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was regularly in the news regarding allegations he sexually abused children over a span of 15 years, as mentioned in the letter, the Special Counsel’s report concluded that Jarjisian hid the letter and did not appropriately report it to multiple authorities at UConn.
In a Feb. 21 email announcing that WCC agreed to a non-binding term sheet with Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd, President Gregory Dell’Omo announced the consulting role of Jarjisian, a music education and administration retiree.
Dell’Omo wrote that Jarjisian would “lead and coordinate efforts to obtain accreditation with the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), the accreditation body charged with maintaining national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees and other credentials for music and music-related disciplines.”
Later that same day, Onofrio sent an email to Westminster students and faculty that included a paragraph praising Jarjisian’s credentials and listing a short biography of her career and experience.
Onofrio’s email stated that he recommended Jarjisian himself, and continued, “I have been working [with her] since September, on issues related to NASM accreditation.”
However, Jarjisian said in a Feb. 27 interview, that she didn’t work with Onofrio at that time.
“It was supposed to start then, but it never really got off the ground until a good bit later,” Jarjisian said. “It was difficult, getting the new owner to respond quickly. I think there were cultural and language difficulties, at least that’s what I understood. There were weeks that would go by and nothing much would happen and then so on, something would happen.”
In a follow-up email regarding the Special Counsel’s report, Jarjisian asserted that she followed the policies at UConn in place at the time she received the letter and denied any wrongdoing.
Jarjisian said after Onofrio contacted her for the consulting job, “I had to supply my résumé to the owner through his agent. At some point, the recommendation to hire me had to go before the [Rider] University board, and that was approved.”
Dell’Omo, Onofrio and Jarjisian all said Jarjisian was not employed by Rider.
Dell’Omo refused to comment on if he had knowledge of the Connecticut report, in which investigators concluded that Jarjisian’s lack of action with the letter is “inexplicable.”
His only comment to the concerns of Jarjisian’s past was, “I just know our administrators over there at Westminster had worked with her in the past and I understand that she’s highly experienced in the area of music accreditation. She seemed like a natural choice.”
Onofrio wrote in the Feb. 21 email, “She has taught and administered at a variety of institutions, and our discussions have been wide-ranging and mutually informative. We are planning for her to visit the campus and meet with various constituencies in the near future.”
But the Connecticut report found Jarjisian’s “failure to report the letter to anyone else for a period of 14 months … put minors on campus and university students at further risk.”
Onofrio said, “It is my understanding that Ms. Jarjisian did indeed forward the letter of complaint to her supervisor, thus complying with policies then in place at UConn. She was not named in any lawsuit, and at no time was she accused of wrongdoing.”
In an email to The Rider News, Jarjisian added, “In accordance with institutional policy — UConn’s and those of many other institutions — I gave the letter to my supervisor. … After that I heard nothing until after I retired (May 2013). At no time before or after was I accused of any wrongdoing.”
Jarjisian said that she was qualified to do accreditation work due to her years of experience.
“I’ve spent a good part of my career doing it. I was a visiting evaluator for NASM when I was an institutional representative to NASM. I served on visiting teams and chaired visiting teams,” Jarjisian said. “I taught new evaluators, and I served on the commission for two terms – so six years – and a number of times was back as a [substitute] or an extra when the workload for the commission was extensive. Everybody thought I would be a good choice.”
Professor of music theory and composition Joel Phillips said in a statement the university did not consult the Westminster faculty when searching for consultants.
“One of [Onofrio’s] choices reflects very poorly on Rider, Westminster and Kaiwen,” Phillips said, later confirming he was referring to Jarjisian.
To read the full Special Counsel report, go to http://bit.ly/2HRNxd1
Additional reporting by Shanna O’Mara and Gianluca D’Elia