College Removes Instructors as Students Find Their #MeToo Moment

Sofia Zarul Azham, left, and Dominique Machain, students at the School of Visual Arts, complained that their professor had acted inappropriately toward them.

Two teachers at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan were removed from the classroom this past semester after students in the college’s film and animation department complained about improper conduct on their part.

“There’s a whole culture in S.V.A. film of dismissing inappropriate male behavior,” said Ella Laytham, a former student, who said she had an issue with a professor in 2012.

But this past semester, inspired by the #MeToo movement, students began aggressively calling attention to their grievances.

They posted the names of the teachers on social media. Three students complained to the school’s Title IX office, which looks into reports of harassment or sexual misconduct.

In one complaint, Dominique Machain said that in 2016, when she was a freshman, Roy Frumkes, her narrative writing professor, told her in graphic detail about a student he said had gone to his apartment and had sex with him. Then, she said, he added that if she wanted a recommendation she should visit him there. The implication, Ms. Machain said, was clear.

“I almost felt paralyzed,” she said.

Credit...Lars Niki/Getty Images

In recent weeks the school responded, saying Mr. Frumkes’ employment had been terminated after an investigation found that he had violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy, according to a letter from an administrator. The letter did not detail the findings. Mr. Frumkes, who did not respond to requests for comment, is appealing. The school’s letter said that until his right to appeal has lapsed or been exhausted his employment would be suspended.

Another instructor in the department, Robert Haufrecht, was suspended in March and his contract was not renewed. The school said the suspension was in response to concerns raised by students but did not detail them. One student, Ashley Priessnitz, said she had complained last semester that Mr. Haufrecht, her acting teacher, had showed her unwanted attention, and had told her in class to rehearse suggestive scenarios, like washing herself.

“I started wearing baggy clothes to class because any time I wore normal clothing he would comment on my appearance,” Ms. Priessnitz said. “If I saw him in a hallway at school I would duck around a corner.”

Mr. Haufrecht declined to comment.

Several weeks ago, an administrator in the film and animation department, Mary Lee Grisanti, wrote to students, referring to Mr. Haufrecht. “I want you to know that your voices have been heard by this school at the highest levels,” she said.

The school’s response illustrates the ripple effect of the #MeToo movement, which surfaced in the high-profile precincts of Hollywood but is now prompting action in more prosaic places like colleges and businesses.

The School of Visual Arts, with more than 4,000 students from around the world, was founded in 1947 as the Cartoonists and Illustrators School and offers a variety of degrees.

Credit...Shirin Tinati

“The College is firmly committed to the rights of all members of its community,” Joyce Kaye, a spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “SVA responds to sexual misconduct complaints swiftly, investigates them thoroughly and resolves them in accordance with local, state and federal laws.”

Ms. Kaye did not respond to questions about Mr. Frumkes.

The school’s film and animation program offers courses in screenwriting, cinematography and directing. Among its alumni are the horror director Ti West; Dan Minahan, who has directed episodes of “Game of Thrones,” and “House of Cards”; and Michael Giacchino, a composer who was named to the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2015.

Several students and former students said they were frustrated by the school’s response when they complained in the past.

One former student, Courtney Wilder, said she had complained to Salvatore Petrosino, an administrator in the film and animation department, almost two decades ago when, she said, Mr. Frumkes made her feel uncomfortable by calling her in her dormitory, inviting her to his apartment and giving her presents in class.

She said Mr. Petrosino told her that he would talk to Mr. Frumkes, but that no one followed up with her.

“It really shook my confidence as a young woman,” she said, “what people see as your value and who you can trust.”

The school is now investigating Ms. Wilder’s complaint. Mr. Petrosino did not respond to phone and email messages requesting comment.

In recent weeks the school’s president, David Rhodes, wrote Ms. Wilder to apologize for her treatment by faculty and staff. “I thought that I had cleaned house in 1996,” he said. “Obviously I was wrong.”

The recent complaints about Mr. Frumkes came in earlier this year. Ms. Machain and a second student, Sofia Zarul Azham, said they realized that they each had similar experiences with him. Ms. Zarul Azham said that Mr. Frumkes had asked her to his apartment, invited her to a restaurant and once commented on her breasts. The two women decided to go together to the Title IX office, accompanied by a professor, Nana Simopoulos, who acted as their adviser.

“He made me uncomfortable many, many times,” Ms. Zarul Azham said of Mr. Frumkes.

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