Boston University College of Fine Arts professor Eric Ruske appeared in court Wednesday as the university seeks to drop five of the 10 allegations listed against Ruske in a sexual harassment case.
Former BU student Maria Currie and current CFA senior Erin Shyr initiated a civil lawsuit against Ruske, a renowned horn player and a professor in CFA’s School of Music, The Daily Free Press reported on April 14.
While the nature of the alleged harassment ranges from suggestive comments to requests for pictures of the young women via text and email, the two students accused BU of violating Title IX policy and mishandling their complaints, according to the complaint filed in April.
“I was harassed by Eric Ruske when I was a freshman,” Shyr told the Free Press. “It was my spring semester, and I was talking to my peers in the School of Music and they said, ‘Yeah, he does that. You’re not the first one.’”
Ruske was represented by Lawrence Elswit, BU’s in-house counsel, on Wednesday.
BU spokesperson Colin Riley wrote in an email that Wednesday’s hearing was a preliminary step in BU’s attempt “to dismiss claims that the university believes have no legal merit.”
Riley wrote that the university’s representation of Ruske “is consistent with its obligations under university bylaws.”
The five allegations that BU seeks to dismiss are one Negligent Hiring, Retention, and Supervision claim from Currie, two Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress claims – one from each plaintiff — and one Assault and Battery claim from Shyr, according to Shyr’s attorney Sara Burns.
Burns said the university believes that the Negligent Hiring, Retention, and Supervision claim from Currie should be discarded because her case of alleged harassment occurred first, so BU had no reason to suspect inappropriate behavior from Ruske or to take steps to prevent the situation.
Shyr and her representation disagree. They allege that Ruske already had a reputation for sexual comments toward his students before the first case of alleged harassment against Currie.
“If [BU is] ready to rush to his defense and say that it’s a personality problem, that seems to indicate to me that they very much knew the type of person that they’ve hired,” Burns said. “Despite that, they put him in a position where he could sexually harass students and failed to correct his behavior.”
While the university confirmed that Ruske is still teaching classes at BU this semester, Shyr said she is disappointed with the way the university is handling the case.
“The fact that they are still allowing Eric Ruske to teach speaks volumes,” Shyr said. “That looks like [BU] is standing by a man who has a reputation of sexually harassing young women, and it further cements the idea that, as long as you’re really good at something, as long as you’re exceptional or talented, we can turn a blind eye.”
Several BU students said that although they do not know the full details regarding the allegations, the university should deal with the lawsuit seriously.
Natalia Torres, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she knew there was a case against a CFA professor, but she wasn’t aware of the details.
“[BU] shouldn’t drop the allegations against him because what he did, and what I know about what he did, was wrong,” Torres said. “[No one] should be excused from that, no matter what kind of caliber they are as a professor.”
Mike Kelly, a CAS freshman, said he did not know about the case before he came to BU this fall, but he believes no allegations should be dropped before the trial starts.
“My initial reaction would be that [the five claims] should not be dropped before the trial, and that all claims should be addressed in a full manner,” Kelly said.
Temma Pelletier, a freshman in the College of Communication, said that though she didn’t know about the case, the university should properly deal with an accusation as serious as this.
“Obviously the knee-jerk reaction is that [BU] should not want to drop charges on something like that,” Pelletier said.