Breaking: Cambridge music director goes over ‘inappropriate conduct’

From Varsity today:

Dr Geoffrey Webber has resigned as Fellow, Precentor, and Director of Studies in Music at Gonville & Caius College following inappropriate behaviour toward a student of the College.

Webber has held the post since 1989. He has been erased from college websites. All sides have taken a vow of silence.

As in medieval times.

His record sleeve biography:
Geoffrey Webber began his musical education as a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral, and after being Music Scholar at The King’s School, Worcester he was elected to an Organ Scholarship at New College, Oxford, in 1977. At Oxford his academic tutors and organ teachers included Edward Higginbottom, John Caldwell, James Dalton, Nicholas Danby and Gillian Weir. After graduating with a First he remained in Oxford to pursue research into German church music of the seventeenth century, combining this with activities as an organist and conductor. He served as Acting Organist at both New College and Magdalen College, and was appointed as Assisting Organist at Magdalen College in 1982 and University Organist and Director of Music at the University Church in 1984. During this time he also became Director of the Edington Festival, a festival of music within the liturgy at Edington, Wiltshire. After completing his doctorate in 1989 he was appointed Precentor and Director of Music at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, and he now also serves as an Affiliated Lecturer in the Faculty of Music, dividing his time between conducting, organ playing, lecturing, teaching, editing and research projects. He is a committee member for the Royal College of Organists and the Church Music Society, and his publications include North German Church Music in the Age of Buxtehude (OUP, 1996), and as co-editor, the Cambridge Companion to the Organ (CUP, 1998), and The Restoration Anthem (CMS/OUP, 2003-).

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    • What a horrible response to personal tragedies on all sides.
      This is no joking matter.
      Shame on you.

    • The comment I posted above in answer to Dennis Friise applies to you as well, Robert:
      What a horrible response to personal tragedies on all sides.
      This is no joking matter.
      Shame on you.

  • Following accusations, surely. The Varsity story is little better than a College press release. It is very hard to think that Gonville and Caius College followed any form of due process. They simply forced Webber out. Curiously, he had no employment rights, though EU law should have made it illegal for the College to require him to re-apply for his post every year. Curious, since the head of the College iis supposedly a lawyer.

    • Hi V4T,
      It’s surely mandatory for colleges to complete, review, and follow strict procedures when such allegations are made. At the very least Dr Webber would have been suspended pending the outcome of such enquiries. Maybe he just admitted the charge.

      I would have thought an employment tribunal or similar appeal would have little difficulty in establishing that Dr Webber is in reality a permanent employee. In any case, it says so on the College Website!!
      It’s a sad piece of news, whatever took place.

  • Geoffrey was an absolutely superb Director of Music and lecturer to a huge number of us students at Caius. He raised the college choir to be consistently within the top handful of the very finest Oxbridge choirs.

    • Assuming Dr Webber has slept with one of his choir, or even, God forbid, a student, providing it was by mutual consent, what is the problem here? The student would be old enough to decide to do so, and sleeping with university lecturers is something that continues in every university worldwide – even Cambridge… Why has he had to resign from such a distinguished post he’s spent his career working for? (typically for an Oxbridge college, we are not told). If the ‘inappropriate behaviour’ was forced rape of a student, then fair enough – this is illegal & unacceptable, but if it was simply a mutually agreeable ‘affair’, then Oxbridge colleges need to get up to speed with the ‘real world’, and the ‘do gooders’ who run them need to stop taking the moral high ground.

      • “sleeping with university lecturers is something that continues in every university worldwide – even Cambridge”

        A cynical colleague of mine at Glasgow University used to say that some students appeared to regard sleeping with the lecturer as a magical way of acquiring the knowledge without having to do all that tiresome reading and thinking stuff.

      • In today’s world, inappropriate behaviour might be no more that putting one’s arm around a student to comfort them, if the student chose to call such behaviour inappropriate. It is all too clear that there has been no due process.

        • The fact that Webber did not contest the accusation and has left quietly shows that the allegations against him must have been quite substantial. His ethically dubious actions including closeness to some of his students have been the stuff of rumours in Cambridge for many years and no action was taken by the college then.

        • Technically “putting your arm around a student to comfort them” is assault, as in any touching. This has nothing to do with it being a student. Of course, it is very unlikely that the courts would convict the culprit.

      • Actually, sleeping with an UG student is pretty much an absolute no-no and firing offence at most UK and US universities these days. (Obviously if the student doesn’t complain then the lecturer/teacher will be fine.)

  • It is indeed true that Cambridge Colleges, especially traditional ones such as Caius, are essentially still in the hands of a generation of people (including the occasional women) who grew up considering harassment as perfectly normal. Cambridge University Student Union Women’s Officer, Claire Sosienski Smith, commenting on a case that is still ongoing for King’s College, quite eloquently summarised how there is “often [an] attempt to hush up instances of sexual harassment for fear of reputational damage, institutional misogyny and prioritising the perpetrator of violence over the survivor”.

    “Colleges are dangerously small communities when it comes to finding justice for survivors.”

    In fact, whoever has ever had the endlessly interesting fortune of being elected Fellow at an older Oxbridge College (as this commentator has) will know first hand how Colleges operate like closed family systems, intent on keeping things under the lid. And Colleges as a collective of highly ambitious academic individuals are hugely concerned about reputation since each individual Fellow’s own reputation is enhanced or decreased by their College’s overall reputation. So, sadly but understandably enough, it is unsurprising that Caius College, King’s and any of the other Oxbridge Colleges would prefer for any negative or difficult truths to remain unseen, unheard and undiscussed, to keep operating within century-old echo chambers. As long as they can.

      • What are they supposed to do if nobody comments? It’s not a unique story — there are a couple of these on SD alone every week, some with decidedly scant information. Even an investigative reporter can’t do much with a run of “X has left a job at G after being accused of Y by Z” where there are unknown charges by unknown people of other unknown people — and neither X nor Z will comment, and neither will anyone from G tell them what Y was.

      • Cover-up or not, the current silence is unfortunate. In my estimation, if a serious newspaper were to dig deeper, hell would break loose with hardly any College spared and resignations obtained by all kinds of “absolutely superb” individuals (to quote a previously posted appreciation of Geoffrey Webber) across all the ranks, from Junior Research Fellows to Lecturer, Professors, Senior Tutors etc.

        One complicating factor is that Colleges are Charities and so their actions such as contract termination or similar may potentially be in breach of the Charities Act, Colleges standing accused of not having taken steps to adhere to the terms of that Act.

        In any case, the Oxbridge version of a Metoo tsunami may simply be a question of time. That said, time has clearly been on the side of Oxbridge side, at least so far.

        • Gonville and Caius College is currently in breach of the regulations of the Charities Act. This has nothing to do with the case being discussed, but everything to do with why several distinguished Cambridge appointments have refused offers of Fellowships at Gonville and Caius.

          • The idea that ‘distinguished Cambridge appointments’ give even half a thought to the Charities Act when deciding which College to join is – well, let’s just call it naïve. I doubt any of these people could list even one of the regulations you seem to think they’re so bothered about.

            And if you’re so bothered about it, why not say here exactly how Caius is breaching regulations? Unless that’s just speculation, too.

    • Research in the Sciences (an increasingly the other subjects) is mostly outside the colleges these days, and has moved to the various subject-specific departments. Outside a few arts subjects (including music), the colleges are really just teaching places these days: there really isn’t much in the way of “academic reputation” amongst those teaching in them anymore. This partly explains the snobby behaviour perpetrated by many of the people in them.

  • I work at Caius, everything is swept under the carpet here. They tried to keep a fellow with indecent child images on a few years back. They are all the same

  • This is hardly that surprising. As @Anon. (no relation) wrote above, there had been rumours for many years.
    To @former student’s comments, the ‘real world’ – on both sides of the Atlantic – is now that faculty-student relationships, consensual or otherwise, are absolute no-go’s, whatever may have been acceptable previously. Whether there is particular tension in music posts which combine two fields, choral music and academia, now both more or less infamous for past inappropriate behaviour is another matter.
    Oxbridge doesn’t just sack (or equiv) as a matter of course; it’s neither the done thing, as @Schumann makes clear above, nor an easy process once the don has the equivalent of tenure (there is at least one college which has been unsuccessfully attempting to work out how to get rid of someone for quite a while now). If Caius sacked him, there was a serious problem, much more than @Valiant-For-Truth implies could be the cause, which they were sure of. Whether they simply did this as the right thing, or in order to avoid other investigations as well is a separate issue.

    • Webber chose to resign, he was under intolerable pressure from the College, not only about this, but to secure prime ratings for his choir. In private, the College acknowledges that the offence was a trivial one, but they need to pretend to be squeaky clean. As the Ron notes the atmosphere at Caius is poisonous, and the hypocrisy stinks to heaven.

      • How do you know the College thinks the offence trivial? Is this based on actual evidence or based on hearsay and assumptions?

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