Manitoba·CBC Investigates

Female students allege sexual misconduct against former U of Manitoba jazz prof Steve Kirby

A celebrated jazz professor and musician has parted ways with the University of Manitoba after an internal investigation report found that he repeatedly made inappropriate sexual comments and unwanted sexual contact with a female student.

Kirby retired from U of M, now teaching in Boston

Steve Kirby was the subject of sexual harassment allegations by students, and former students, of the University of Manitoba's jazz program. (CBC)

Celebrated jazz professor and musician Steve Kirby has parted ways with the University of Manitoba after an internal investigation report found he repeatedly made inappropriate sexual comments and unwanted sexual contact with a female student.

Kirby has been a fixture on the local jazz scene since he moved to Winnipeg from the U.S. in 2003. He taught jazz at the University of Manitoba for well over a decade and is known internationally as a premier jazz bassist having toured and recorded with musicians such as Wynton Marsalis.

Now, a group of students and former students allege he was also using his position to kiss, hug and make lewd comments toward students.

The University of Manitoba says Kirby retired in late June. But an internal investigation report obtained by CBC News sheds light on some events that happened before he left.

'Intimidating environment'

The report, dated June 12, 2017, concluded Kirby's conduct with one female student constituted "sexual harassment" and would have created an "intimidating, humiliating or offensive work or learning environment" for female students.

It goes on to say Kirby "was in a position of authority and has the ability to confer or deny a benefit to students."

The report details the specific allegation from one of the students who complained about inappropriate comments, sexually explicit analogies, unwanted and lingering touching, long unwanted hugs and intimate ear-whispering.

According to the report, Kirby told her he "loved to watch how she moved on stage" and simulated a sexual act while using it as an analogy to music in a teaching session.

"At times he would kiss her neck below the ear during a hug and would whisper in her ear, 'You are so beautiful.… You know I think about you, right,'" the report says the student alleges.

"Oh my God. You're so beautiful," the report says he is alleged to have told her. "Well, your face is. Can't look below your neck because who knows what I would do then."
An internal University of Manitoba report says Steve Kirby denied many of the points raised by the complainant about sexual harassment. (CBC)

In another instance, he is alleged to have made inappropriate comments about her clothing, saying, "The pattern makes you start at the bottom and your eyes go up and makes you wonder [where] your legs end and then there is your ass!" according to the report.

It concluded all of the allegations made by the student had merit.

The report also contained transcripts from the student's lessons with Kirby, in which he talked about another student.

"I can't look at her because I'm a wolf. I'm just going to put that out there," the transcript reads.

"You will never look as beautiful in your 50s — as hot — as you look right now.  Actually, you'll look hotter. I think you'll look hotter," the transcripts show Kirby saying to the student.

At least one woman has now complained to police. A Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson said police are unable to confirm an investigation into a specific individual, and would only be able to make that information public if charges have been laid.

Kirby denies 'sexual approaches'

Although the University of Manitoba said Kirby retired, a release from the Izzy Asper Jazz Performance series in September indicated Kirby would no longer be its artistic director because "he moved to Boston to assume a position in the jazz composition department at the prestigious Berklee College of Music."

Eric Gould, chair of the jazz composition program at Berklee College, confirmed Kirby joined the faculty and was surprised to hear of the allegations. He specifically asked about "that sort of thing," he told CBC News.

"I called the references that were provided to me and received no negative information," Gould said.

Jay Kennedy, vice president for academic affairs/vice provost at Berklee, said the college "just recently learned of these reports.

"We take seriously allegations of any type of sexual misconduct. Berklee is committed to creating a safe and welcoming environment for all members of our community and will continue to gather information on this matter," Kennedy said in a statement.

Attempts to contact Steve Kirby were unsuccessful but in the internal report, he denied many of the points raised by the complainant. He "denies all claims made of any sexual innuendo or outright sexual approaches," the report said.

The University of Manitoba said Steve Kirby was on leave from the university for six months before retiring this June. In an email to CBC, public affairs executive director John Danakas said the university "cannot comment on specific investigations to ensure and respect individual privacy and confidentiality."

"The university maintains strong policies and processes and is committed to upholding them for the safety and security of all members of our community," Danakas said.

He also said no one from Berklee College contacted the faculty of music or human resources department about a reference for Kirby.

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