Christian Baldini, conductor of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, is on unpaid administrative leave after a university investigation found he engaged in unwanted sexual conduct toward an undergraduate student, according to a document obtained this week by The Sacramento Bee.
The news comes two weeks after Baldini’s predecessor, D. Kern Holoman, lost most of his academic privileges after decades-old sexual assault allegations surfaced.
The university opened the Baldini investigation in May after a student complained that he kissed her on the cheek, pressed her buttocks against his body while teaching her to tango, called her a “bad girl” during an office visit and sent her text messages asking to meet last school year, according to a university report provided in response to a Public Records Act request. UC Davis officials said they are withholding the student’s name to comply with federal privacy laws.
Baldini, 39, was suspended for four months, beginning in December, and cannot be on university property without special permission.
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He called the incident a misunderstanding and said that nothing sexual was intended in a statement he provided Wednesday. He said he is devastated by the accusation.
“My faults are failing to recognize that my behavior could have a reaction in her that was unintended,” he wrote. “I feel contrite and remorseful that one of my students would have felt this way by something I did, and I deeply apologize for any stress and pain this may have caused.”
Baldini has been conductor of the UC Davis orchestra since 2009. Jeffrey Thomas, a professor at the university, took over for the fall 2017 and winter 2018 quarters, said UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis. Baldini was on a preapproved sabbatical during the fall, she said.
Baldini also has been the music director and conductor of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento since 2012. He also has conducted the Munich Radio Orchestra, Buenos Aires Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra and San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, according to the UC Davis website. The president of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
According to the UC Davis report, the complainant told university officials that Baldini, who also works as an associate professor, called her a “bad girl” during a meeting in his office on Nov. 15, 2016. After that meeting, Baldini reportedly sent the student a message: “It would be nice to have more time to talk.”
When she agreed to meet a few days later, the woman said she was surprised that Baldini sat next to her on a bench instead of across from her. Others interviewed by the university said they generally sat in chairs or at an instrument when they met Baldini in his office.
The woman said Baldini repeatedly touched her hands and asked her to dance the tango with him, which led him to hold her such that her buttocks were pressed against him. At the end of the meeting, Baldini allegedly kissed her on the cheek. That night, Baldini reportedly sent the student an email saying he enjoyed spending time with her. She did not respond.
On Jan. 14, Baldini contacted the student asking if she was OK and suggested times they could meet to talk, according to the report. She reportedly said she did not need to meet. He responded that he didn’t need an “official” meeting, according to the report.
Baldini offered his own version of the events in his statement to The Bee: “During a brief conversation in my office, the student in question expressed interest in knowing more about my culture, music and regional foods. When she mentioned she would love to dance but that she was terrible at it, in a very casual way I volunteered to teach her a couple of tango steps. Upon her enthusiastic acceptance of my offer we proceeded to do a brief tango demonstration which at the time seemed to be completely harmless and innocent.”
Baldini told university officials that he called the student a “bad girl” but denied touching her repeatedly, kissing her or dancing in a manner where their bodies were touching.
A witness said that Baldini sometimes kissed women on the cheek, according to the report. “Greeting with a kiss on the cheek, hugging and touching is common in the culture of my upbringing,” said Baldini, who was born and raised in Argentina, but has lived in the United States for 14 years.
The complainant acknowledged that some of the professor’s conduct could be cultural, rather than sexual.
But the university report determined that his conduct toward the woman was not the same as he routinely directed toward other students in the context of providing support, according to the findings.
The investigation concluded that Baldini’s behavior violated the Faculty Code of Conduct, created a hostile environment and contributed to the woman’s decision to leave UC Davis. He was officially suspended in a Sept. 28 letter from Chancellor Gary S. May.
“I would like to remind you that I consider your misconduct in this matter to be very serious and am likely to pursue your dismissal from your faculty position should you be found to have engaged in similar misconduct in the future,” May wrote.
Earlier this month, former conductor Holoman was stripped of his distinguished professor and emeritus titles after allegations surfaced that he sexually assaulted a college freshman 30 years ago. The alleged victim was Danny Gray, now a 50-year-old UC Davis administrator and lawyer.
The Baldini investigation and suspension predated the “MeToo” movement that exploded this fall and was a major reason that Gray said he went public with his allegations.
May issued a statement earlier this month addressing sexual harassment and sexual violence. “Needless to say, abusive behaviors are unacceptable,” he wrote. “It is morally wrong and violates university policy. I support those in our community who have come forward or who are thinking about doing so.”
May has asked top administrators to review practices and systems involving sexual harassment records and make recommendations by the end of next month, Topousis said. The university also has a website that offers advice and resources to combat harassment.