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Utah State University reassigns classes of piano professor after former student files a lawsuit alleging sexual assault

( Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune file photo ) The Old Main Building on the campus of Utah State University in 2016.

Utah State University’s president announced Wednesday that a piano professor’s classes have been reassigned amid a new investigation after a former student alleged she was sexually assaulted by the teacher in 1994.

The announcement comes a week after the former student, Jaime Aikele Caliendo, filed a civil lawsuit lodging allegations against professor Dennis Hirst. In the lawsuit, Caliendo says she was 17 and Hirst was 23 when he assaulted her in his apartment. Hirst was then a teacher in USU’s Youth Conservatory.

USU President Noelle Cockett emailed students and employees in the music department on Wednesday, announcing that Hirst’s classes will be reassigned to other professors this fall while a four- to six-week investigation by outside lawyers takes place.

“I encourage you to report any information you know to the Title IX office,” she wrote, “so we can more quickly wrap up this investigation and bring closure to everyone involved, including our students.”

The Title IX office investigates sexual misconduct and discrimination.

Caliendo shared her allegations against Hirst with the school earlier this year, during a wide-reaching investigation of the piano department following complaints of sexism and abuse. The resulting report, released in April, included Caliendo’s account, along with those of more than 40 current and former students.

The university earlier this year had hired the report’s investigator, Salt Lake City attorney Alan Sullivan, following a series of social media posts by former piano students who said they were harassed, bullied and assaulted while at USU.

That investigation found that piano students had endured “pervasive” sexism and abuse from piano faculty, and school administrators had done little to address complaints of discrimination and multiple assault allegations against faculty.

In response to those findings, the head piano teacher resigned and the school demoted the leader of its Title IX office. Hirst kept his position but received a letter of reprimand for enabling sexist and abusive practices; he later disputed those findings.

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