UC Davis revokes titles from professor after past sex assault allegations surface

D. Kern Holoman in a photo provided by UC Davis in 2006.
D. Kern Holoman in a photo provided by UC Davis in 2006. UC Davis Department of Music

D. Kern Holoman, the former longtime conductor of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and music instructor, was stripped of his distinguished professor and emeritus titles Monday after allegations surfaced that he sexually assaulted a college freshman 30 years ago.

That student – Danny Gray – is now a 50-year-old UC Davis administrator who said Tuesday he decided to go public with his story as the #Metoo movement gained momentum this fall with victims of sexual assault and harassment naming their attackers.

Gray describes in great detail his sexual harassment and assault allegations against Holoman in a blog post Tuesday titled “#MeToo Arrives at the University of California.” He accuses Holoman, 70, of inappropriate incidents that spanned four years, beginning in 1987 when Gray says he was sexually assaulted by the professor in a hot tub.

Holoman denied allegations of sexual assault without specifically addressing the incidents in a statement.

“I am distressed and deeply apologetic for my role in any event that has harmed Danny Gray in any way, and heartsick at the thought of harm that has festered for 30 years,” Holoman wrote in a statement sent to Gray by Holoman’s attorney, Steven Sabbadini. “Our memories of that time differ markedly, but the remorse is very real. I continue to treasure memories of our long friendship and its focus on the beauties of art, literature and history.”

Neither Holoman nor Sabbadini responded Tuesday to requests for comment.

Holoman retired from UC Davis in 2013 as a music professor and having served as the symphony orchestra conductor for 30 years. As a student, Gray performed in the violin section of the symphony.

Gray, director of academic employment and labor relations in the office of the vice provost for academic affairs, provided an advance copy of his blog post to the university last week. That sparked negotiations over the weekend between the university and Holoman that resulted in the professor agreeing to relinquish his emeritus status, said UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis.

Holoman agreed to be demoted from distinguished professor to professor and relinquish his emeritus status, which means he can no longer teach or pursue research related to the University of California, according to a disciplinary letter signed by the university and Holoman on Monday. Holoman can, however, use the university library to finish his current projects as long as he has no contact with students.

Gray said that after the 1987 assault, the music professor began to lavish him with unwanted attention. That included writing Gray a letter almost every day when the student was studying in England for the summer, some with inappropriate photos, Gray alleged in his blog post.

Gray alleges that the professor raped him after he reluctantly agreed to persistent invitations to spend a weekend at his Mendocino County beach house.

Gray said he complained to the university after the incident, but eventually renewed his friendship with the professor sometime in 1990. He said Holoman groped him during another visit to the professor’s home, and he again reported the incident to the university.

He doesn’t know if Holoman was ever punished for his conduct, Gray told The Bee Tuesday. There is no documentation on file of Gray’s complaints to the university, Topousis said.

Gray never pursued criminal charges against Holoman, and the statute of limitations for the alleged crimes that Gray described ran out 10 years after the incidents. Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last year that eliminated the statute of limitations for sex assaults occurring in 2017 and thereafter.

In 1997, Holoman was suspended for a month for unprofessional conduct in another case that did not involve Gray, according to Topousis. That suspension was documented in a UC Davis letter obtained through a public records request filed by The Davis Enterprise, which first reported Gray’s allegations Tuesday.

The 1997 letter didn’t spell out the offense, but warned that any future finding that the professor violated campus sexual harassment policy or the Faculty Code of Conduct could result in his dismissal. It said Holoman had to agree to professional counseling.

In the blog, Gray said he was flattered by the attention Holoman gave him and recalls feeling like he had won the lottery for the director of the symphony and chair of the music department to befriend him. He told The Bee that people might have trouble understanding why he could remain friends after the assaults.

“I have spent a long time thinking about that and trying to understand my own behavior and I understand it’s hard to understand.” he said Tuesday. “The one thing I’ve learned is it’s surprisingly common. I can say I was immature. I was very impressed with titles.”

Gray said he last encountered Holoman when the professor came to his Chicago apartment in the early 1990s and tried to kiss and grope him. “I pushed him off of me, and then, overcome with existential despair, I broke into tears,” he wrote. “... Holoman wordlessly left my apartment and shut the door. I never heard from him again.”

Gray was living in San Francisco in 1996 when he said he learned Holoman was being named the dean of the College of Letters and Sciences. “I shut the door to my office and screamed on the phone,” he said.

He said Associate Vice Chancellor Dennis Shimek was on the other end of the line. Gray said he told him he was going to The Sacramento Bee and that Holoman wasn’t named dean.

Shimek was unavailable Tuesday, and Topousis said the university could not confirm Gray’s account.

Holoman continued to teach occasional courses after his retirement.

Meanwhile, Gray accepted a job as an attorney with the university in 2014.

He said Tuesday he remained silent about his experiences until earlier this year when he heard Holoman had been asked to return as symphony conductor. Gray said he told his story to a vice provost.

Holoman did not get the job after being considered to return for the spring quarter as conductor, Topousis said. She said the school made that decision because of the 1997 offense unrelated to Gray.

Months later, Gray said, the #Metoo movement inspired him to write the blog post that resulted in Holoman losing his university titles. He said it had never occurred to him until recently that he could come forward and tell his story.

“I’m so inspired and in awe of the courageous people coming forward and walking through the shame and the fear that I know you feel when you contemplate doing something like this,” he said. “I want to contribute to this healing we are going through.”

UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May issued a statement Monday acknowledging that sexual assault victims are on campus. But he stopped short of mentioning Gray or Holoman by name.

“Many of the reports of abuse emerge after years and sometimes decades of silence and shame. In the past, few if any institutions had adequate reporting and investigative processes, UC Davis included,” May said in the statement. “Our protocols and processes have improved greatly over the years. I am encouraged that our team is dedicated to being thorough, fair to all parties and timely.”

Topousis confirmed Monday that the statement was a response to Gray’s allegations. She expects that more people will come forward at the university with similar cases as a result of the #Metoo movement.

She said the university has a website that offer advice and resources.

“When someone is brave like Mr. Gray it encourages other people who know they are not alone,” Topousis said.

On Monday, May asked that the university’s chief compliance officer, chief human resources officer and vice provost for academic affairs to begin reviewing practices and systems involving sexual harassment records, said Topousis. The recommendations are due at the end of January 2018.

Gray is pleased with the university’s actions over the last week, including the negotiations that resulted in the relinquishment of Holoman’s status as professor emeritus, which he says is long overdue.

“That includes their absolutely comprehensive support of me, which has been communicated unequivocally over and over again,” he said. “I’m angry that this was mishandled 30 years ago, but I’m not angry at all at the current administration.”

Editor’s note (Dec. 13): This story has been updated with additional information provided after deadline related to Gray not pursuing criminal charges in the past. This version also corrects a typo intended to refer to attackers being named as part of the #Metoo movement.

Powerful men continue to be accused of sexual harassment and assaults, and have been responding by accepting, hedging or dodging the allegations.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert