N.E. Conservatory Say They Have No Complaints About Peter Benjamin

The Boston Globe reports that New England Conservatory officials said they have received no complaints from students or alumni about a convicted sex offender hired by renowned conductor Benjamin Zander to make videos over the past decade.

Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for the conservatory, would not confirm that Zander had been fired, but she said in a phone interview that his departure was warranted.
Zander believed Peter Benjamin was remorseful and determined to turn his life around.

Zander was one of numerous faculty members who used the services of Peter E. Benjamin, 68, but he was the only one to admit knowledge of the videographer’s crimes. Zander has said he was fired after refusing to resign.

“His decision showed poor judgment,” Schwartzman said. “The conservatory had no choice but to take the action it took.”

Benjamin spent five years in prison during the 1990s after pleading guilty to charges of rape and sex abuse. His case included allegations that he secretly videotaped himself having sex with three teenage boys.

Zander, 72, the revered conductor of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra and faculty member for the past 45 years, left a deep imprint on the thousands of students he inspired with rousing talks and exacting standards over more than four decades at the New England Conservatory, leaving many dismayed that he left on such a discordant note.

Schwartzman acknowledged during the weekend that the institution did not follow its own policies to protect children. She said that in November 2010 the school began screening its vendors for criminal backgrounds, not just staff and volunteers, which they had previously done to comply with state law. They did not check Benjamin’s background, however.

Last week, school officials sent e-mails to some 6,500 current and former students and their families, explaining that they learned in mid-December that a videographer on campus was a convicted sex offender.

During the weekend, Zander sent a letter to his youth orchestra telling them he preferred to stay in a job he adored. He told them he knew Benjamin’s crimes were of a “sexual nature,” but he said he did not know details.

New England Conservatory officials yesterday said they have received no complaints from students or alumni about a convicted sex offender hired by renowned conductor Benjamin Zander to make videos over the past decade, and they defended the decision to cut ties with him last week.

Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for the conservatory, would not confirm that Zander had been fired, but she said in a phone interview that his departure was warranted.
Zander believed Peter Benjamin (above) was profoundly remorseful and determined to turn his life around.

WBZTV
Zander believed Peter Benjamin (above) was profoundly remorseful and determined to turn his life around.

“There might be some who think that certain people in an organization can be held to a different standard, because of their prominence or because of the number of years they have been affiliated or because of their role or because of the degree to which they are revered,” Schwartzman said. “But when an institution is presented with information that a senior faculty member has made a decision without consulting anyone else about bringing a sex offender on a campus that serves children, the organization has no choice but to take strong disciplinary measures.”

Zander was one of numerous faculty members who used the services of Peter E. Benjamin, 68, but he was the only one to admit knowledge of the videographer’s crimes. Zander has said he was fired after refusing to resign.

“His decision showed poor judgment,” Schwartzman said. “The conservatory had no choice but to take the action it took.”

Benjamin spent five years in prison during the 1990s after pleading guilty to charges of rape and sex abuse. His case included allegations that he secretly videotaped himself having sex with three teenage boys.

Zander, 72, the revered conductor of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra and faculty member for the past 45 years, left a deep imprint on the thousands of students he inspired with rousing talks and exacting standards over more than four decades at the New England Conservatory, leaving many dismayed that he left on such a discordant note.

But in interviews on and off campus yesterday, students and their parents had mixed feelings about Zander’s departure.

“Sometimes he does things that annoy people, but like a lot of students, I think [Zander] is a very, very, very great person,” said Rafael Horowitz Friedman, 19, a freshman oboist. “I can see why the administration thought he used poor judgment. But is this the way to treat someone who had such a huge impact for so many years?”

While dropping his son off at the school, Bill McShane said he thought the administration responded in a “knee-jerk fashion.”

“You get the sense that the administration was reacting to national concerns,” he said. “At the very least, I think Zander had the responsibility to inform the conservatory that he was employing a sex offender. But I still don’t think I would have fired someone who has been there for so long and done so much good.”

“It seems unfair to me,” said his son, Billy McShane, 19, a sophomore.

Others said the school, which could be held legally accountable for any crimes committed on campus, had no choice.

“Zander has been really great for the conservatory, and I think he’s a fantastic musician,” said Vani Jagannathan of Southborough, who has a son and daughter in the conservatory’s youth program. “As a parent, my first obligation is to my child. If the university administration thinks they made the right decision, I support them.”

Schwartzman acknowledged during the weekend that the institution did not follow its own policies to protect children. She said that in November 2010 the school began screening its vendors for criminal backgrounds, not just staff and volunteers, which they had previously done to comply with state law. They did not check Benjamin’s background, however.

Last week, school officials sent e-mails to some 6,500 current and former students and their families, explaining that they learned in mid-December that a videographer on campus was a convicted sex offender.

During the weekend, Zander sent a letter to his youth orchestra telling them he preferred to stay in a job he adored. He told them he knew Benjamin’s crimes were of a “sexual nature,” but he said he did not know details.

He also told students he thought his removal had been influenced by other events, including previous disagreements with conservatory president Tony Woodcock.

“I felt it was the right thing at the time to give this man a chance,” Zander wrote. “I deeply regret the upset I have brought to you all inadvertently as a result of the way this has all played out.”

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