More reports come regarding harassment at music academy

In the last days of March, the Ombudsman, the State Police and the Council of the Jāzeps Vītols Music Academy (JVLMA) received another application regarding the currently suspended lecturer Māris Kupčs. The application has been signed by 28 current and former students and faculty members of the Academy and is accompanied by 11 specific signed testimonies, Latvian Television's De Facto" reported.

The experiences of the applicants range from the very recent past to much earlier, a decade or more ago, thus showing that the events were not random.

"We have witnessed or witnessed the mobbing and bossing, manipulative working style, unethical attitude, tactless (sexist, misogynistic, homophobic) comments, contempt, humiliation and belittling of students and lecturers by Māris Kupčs, psycho-emotional pressure and violence, favoritism, exclusion of students and lecturers, blackmail to achieve personal goals, as well as the concentration of power in the hands of oneself and persons close to oneself, making oneself an authority unquestioned by anyone in public," reads an excerpt from the joint submission.

The petition states that the authors wish to provide moral support to the victims, in particular the female students who were sexually assaulted, and to shed light on the environment in which this may have occurred. It also seeks to demonstrate, through concrete evidence, the character and working style of Lecturer Kupčs.

An extract from another added testimony: "I have seen a concert in [place] where Māris' former students [name] performed and Māris has come with his associates to listen to the concert, but during the concert, he openly laughs, mocks, comments and tries to influence the performers negatively."

Two of the authors of the petition, who studied at the Department of Ancient Music, agreed to speak openly with De Facto.

One of them, Jēkabs Bernāts, a student at the JVLMA and also a representative of the student council, told De Facto: "We have all experienced roughly the same things, and the text of the submission shows this very well - we have all suffered from bossing, mobbing and favoritism. That was the way I felt my democratic voice could make another contribution... Because I heard that there would be a lot of signatories, and that was another encouragement - to collect as much of this evidence as possible to show that the situation is out of control."

Sniedze Kaņepe, a former student at the JVLMA, said: "As I said before, I believe that Māris Kupčs is an expert in his field. But it's not about that, it's about his attitude. And the attitude that we, students and teachers alike, should expect is to be respected and to be allowed to express ourselves and then not to have our opinions belittled. Because I believe that everyone has the right to make a mistake."

De Facto asked Māris Kupčs to give his opinion in an interview. In a telephone conversation, he also asked to see the positive feedback on his work but refused to give an interview and stressed that he would do so after the trial.

The Ombudsman's Office, which also received the complaint, is asking the Academy to assess it first, giving it a month to do so. A reply from the Academy is expected by May 4.

The former rector, Guntars Prānis, who had been in the post for the past seven years, says he has spoken to several lecturers and heads of departments, who have also changed over the years. Kupčs has also been spoken to, sometimes harshly, but has not been replaced as there have been counter-arguments.

Prānis resigned from his post, but the Academy this week introduced the acting Rector, Ilona Meija, the current Academy Senate President, who will take up her new post on May 1.

At her suggestion, the Academy carried out a student survey at the beginning of the year, which revealed the extent of the problem, which was unexpected.

"Let me put it this way - sudden and unexpected. That would be my correct answer. Clearly, something.... There is always some sympathy, antipathy, bohemianism in the artistic community, that's the way it is, but specifically what I saw in the questionnaires, that was shocking news for me," said Meija.

Kupčs was suspended for three months following a scandal in mid-March over alleged sexual harassment of female students at the academy. After this period, the new management of the JVLMA will have to decide on the future employment relationship.

However, by then, the review of this application, and possibly others, will most likely not have been concluded. The Council of the Academy has referred the application to the Ethics Committee, but several of its members have already said that they do not wish to continue to serve on the Committee. Therefore, the first step will be for the College to find someone to serve on the Ethics Committee.

"I can definitely see that a professional psychologist would have to be involved, as well as credible faculty members," Meija said.

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