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UConn Professor Guilty of Sexual Misconduct Collects State Benefits

This investigation contains strong language and sexual topics that may not be appropriate for all readers.

A collection of documents obtained via Freedom of Information request shows that the University of Connecticut had continued to employ Fine Arts professor Frank Noelker after he was found to have violated the University’s Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence in 2018, allowing him to be eligible for state retirement benefits.

According to a report dated Dec. 20th, 2018 by UConn’s Office of Institutional Equality (OIE), which included interviews of 17 students, identified only by letters to protect their privacy, OIE Director of Investigations, Sarah Chipman, found that Noelker purchased a female student a book containing a collection of erotic short stories, engaged in a sexually explicit conversation, and invited the student into his house to give her a gift and attempted to give her a massage.

According to the report, Student B would sometimes talk with Noelker after class, which led to him inviting her to run errands with him. On a trip to an off-campus bookstore, Noelker, unsolicited, picked out several books and purchased them for Student B. Among the titles was a collection of erotic short stories. He later asked if she liked the books, she commented that they were a “good read”, but never explicitly addressed the book of erotic stories.

On another trip, Noelker was driving Student B in his car and asked her how vocal she was while having sex. “I imagine you being so quiet during sex that I would have to lean in to hear you,” Noelker said. After Student B replied that she wasn’t especially quiet in bed, Noelker said, “Oh, that’s not how I pictured you.” He then asked her if she liked the taste of semen. As the conversation went on Noelker remarked, “Talking to you is the most fun I’ve had in years without taking my clothes off.”

These interactions demonstrated, “a pattern of escalating behavior that led to an attempt at unwelcome physical conduct with the student in an isolated location” and that Noelker’s conduct toward Student B, “was sufficiently persistent and adversely impacted [REDACTED] educational experience,” according to the report.

Although that was the only finding that violated the University’s Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence, the report contained several more findings and accusations that OIE noted, “reflect conduct that raises questions regarding professional judgment and appropriate boundaries.” Those findings were referred to management and Human Resources for further review under policies outside of OIE’s scope, such as Code of Conduct, according to the report.

The report states that Noelker took mostly female students on trips to New York City where they would go to art galleries and restaurants. On at least one occasion, Noelker purchased alcohol for underage students during those trips. Noelker also engaged in acts of unwanted touching with students.

According to the report, several students told OIE investigator Sarah Chipman that Noelker would often put his hands on students’ backs or shoulders or play with their hair during class. Student D reported that on one occasion, Noelker touched the back of her shirt which had a crossing pattern and allegedly said that he could not help himself from touching it. Chipman was unable to confirm that he made that comment and concluded that the touching was not sexual.

Additionally, Student R reported that after she completed Noelker’s class, Noelker hugged her and kissed her forehead while she was in the hallway with another student. Student R said the contact was “really fast” and “really weird.” Chipman found sufficient evidence to credit the allegation but did not conclude whether the contact was sexual or not.

Noelker was also known to make sexual comments about artwork and students’ assignments, according to the report. Several students alleged that while discussing a student’s image that contained a nude female, Noelker commented that he thought it was “crazy” that women shave their pubic hair and opined that it made them look “infantile.” A witness noted that the image was not sexual, but Noelker sexualized it and did not contribute to the academic analysis of the image.

Student O reported that Noelker commented that a woman in an image being shown during a lecture looked like she was having an orgasm. The student said the comment did not contribute to the analysis of the image. In addition to the sexual comments on classroom images, some students reported that they felt pressure from Noelker to produce nude work.

Student A reported that Noelker told her that he wanted to see characters in her work nude or having sex. Specifically, he commented that he wanted to see the characters either “fighting or fucking.” According to Student A, the work did not contain any sexual themes. The investigation found that “there is sufficient corroboration to credit this allegation.”

Student B said that Noelker commented on one of her images that she should have shown full pelvis. Chipman was able to find sufficient evidence to credit these allegations but was unable to find that Noelker pressured students into producing nude work, or that it adversely affected students’ grades if they didn’t.

The findings that Noelker violated the University’s Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence, and the additional findings that he may have violated University Code of Conduct policy were referred to management and Human Resources to determine what action would be taken, according to the report.

However, disciplinary records obtained via FOI request show that the only disciplinary action UConn and the School of Fine Arts took on this matter, was making an agreement that took Noelker off of paid administrative leave, and kept him employed as a full-time professor.

According to a separation agreement, the parties agreed that Noelker, who had been on paid administrative leave since Sept. 21st, 2018, would be reinstated on Feb. 4th, 2019. He would teach one graduate class during each semester of the 2019–2020 school year, and continue to perform his responsibilities in research, scholarship and departmental service.

Additionally, instead of teaching a second course, Noelker was assigned additional administrative responsibilities with the agreement that he will resign on July 31, 2020, and retire the next day. The agreement was signed off on by the Dean of the School of Fine Arts, Anne D’Alleva, and the Vice Provost of Student Affairs, John Volin.

According to UConn’s website on faculty retirement benefits, employees are eligible to retire under the State Employee Retirement System (SERS) with Tier II benefits at 60 years old with at least 25 years of service or 62 years old with at least 10 but less than 25 years of service.

Noelker had been with UConn’s School of Fine Arts since 1995. However, he opted for the Alternative Retirement Plan, similar to a 401(k), meaning he is not receiving a pension but is eligible for state medical retirement benefits.

Noelker was already eligible for state medical retirement benefits and could take his ARP benefits, so it is unclear why the professor and the university agreed to have him stay employed until he reached his full 25 years of service.

If Noelker was dismissed by the University after the OIE report was released, it would have been a clear admonishment by the university, drawing a line on acceptable behavior, according to one of the complainants.

“The idea that he can retire in a couple of days and decide to [be a] visiting or adjunct faculty at another institution nearby,” one of the complainants in the OIE report, who asked to remain anonymous, said before Noelker’s retirement. “I feel like if UConn would have fired him, they would have been saying loud and clear that ‘We find the actions of this man unacceptable’, but now instead he has a higher chance of perpetuating this kind of abuse at Wesleyan [University], or at Central [Connecticut State University], or at Southern [Connecticut State University], or anywhere.”

**This article was corrected to indicate that Noelker’s date of hire would have made him eligible for Tier II benefits and that he was enrolled in the Alternative Retirement Plan**

Resources:

Connecticut Sexual Assault Hotline
You can be immediately connected with services in your area by calling the toll free sexual assault hotline:
Statewide 24 Hour Toll Free Hotline 1.888.999.5545 English 1.888.568.8332 Spanish

Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence: All sexual assault advocacy services are free and confidential. https://endsexualviolencect.org/

RAINN: https://www.rainn.org/

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Tom Hopkins

A national, award-winning journalist from Bristol, Tom has a passion for writing. Prior to joining CII, he worked in print, television, and as a freelance journalist. He has taken deep dives into sexual assault allegations by Connecticut professors, uncovered issues at state-run prisons, and covered evictions in the New Britain Herald. He chose to focus on issues based in Connecticut because this is his home, and this is where he wants his work to make the greatest impact.

2 Comments

  1. James Briggs
    October 24, 2022 @ 6:41 am

    Do not mix males and females in education. The teaches always have sex with the students. The students and the teachers always have sex with each other. Mixing genders always ruins educations and causes complains about rape and blackmail. Nothing good comes of it.

    Reply

  2. Michael
    October 25, 2022 @ 1:09 am

    The idiocy of that comment is frightening and exactly why we need to ensure all people are safe where they learn work or live. Don’t mix females and males???!!! I am usually not one to use a pejorative term but you are indeed a moron. I hope you have not bred.

    Reply

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