Violin professor who once taught in NC accused of sexually exploiting a minor, feds say

Hayley Fowler
·4 min read

A long-time violinist and professor of music programs across the globe — including North Carolina’s School of the Arts — was arrested Thursday on sexual exploitation charges involving a minor girl, according to federal prosecutors.

Stephen Shipps, who taught at the University of Michigan for 30 years, is accused of transporting a 16-year-old girl across state lines in 2002 to engage in sexual conduct, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan said in a news release.

“Thanks to the bravery of Shipps’ alleged victims and painstaking investigative work by HSI, this disgraced professor is being held accountable for coercing vulnerable young women into sex, in some cases in the distant past,” Special Agent Vance Callender with Homeland Security Investigations said in the release.

Shipps, 67, is accused of transporting a girl under the age of 18 to engage in sexual activity with him on two separate occasions in March 2002 and July 2002, according to court filings. The girl was born in December 1985, making her 16 years old at the time.

He was charged Thursday with two counts of coercion or enticement of a minor female and issued a $10,000 bond, court filings show. Under the conditions of his release from jail, Shipps is barred from speaking with victims or having contact with someone under age 18.

He’s also been ordered to receive psychiatric treatment and his phone will be monitored, according to the judge’s order.

Shipps was a violin teacher from 1989 to 2019 at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, where he also directed the Strings Preparatory Program and instructed “young musicians ranging from elementary school through high school age,” prosecutors said.

He previously taught at Indiana University, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and the Banff Centre in Canada, according to Thursday’s news release. Shipps also led summer music programs in the Czech Republic, Germany and the United Kingdom.

He was placed on leave from the University of Michigan in December 2017 after allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct surfaced in The Michigan Daily, the university’s student newspaper, Violinist.com reported.

Prosecutors said Shipps retired in 2019.

The article in The Michigan Daily was the result of a months-long investigation by then 19-year-old sophomore Sammy Sussman, who was studying in the School of Music, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

Sussman’s article detailed interviews with Shipps’ alleged victims, including a former student of his at the UNC School of the Arts — where Shipps taught from 1980 to 1988. UNCSA is a performing arts school in Winston-Salem that’s comprised of high school and college-aged students.

According to an account by an anonymous student at UNCSA, Shipps locked her in his studio during a private lesson one night and tried to kiss her.

“I was really uncomfortable and shocked and horrified. I didn’t find him attractive. It was unwelcome contact,” she said, The Michigan Daily reported.

The student reportedly told a dean, but The Michigan Daily reported Shipps’ alleged misconduct continued with more students at other institutions over the years.

In a statement sent to McClatchy News on Friday, UNC School of the Arts said it “condemns the alleged actions of violin professor Stephen Shipps” but “has no record of similar incidents while he was employed at the school.”

“UNCSA is committed to providing a learning, teaching, and working environment that is safe for all members of the campus community. The school’s Division of Institutional Integrity encompasses a Title IX office that provides a clear process for students, faculty and staff to file a complaint and strives to create a culture of reporting and trust,” the statement reads. “UNCSA continues to educate students and employees to provide a deeper understanding of sexual misconduct and their rights under the law and urges anyone who feels threatened to come forward immediately.”

Prosecutors said the investigation is ongoing.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said Shipps had “close interactions with many young girls who were gifted musicians” for more than 20 years.

“Our determination and commitment to seeking justice for victims has no time limit,” he said.

Anyone with information about Shipps is asked to call a Department of Homeland Security tip line at 866-DHS-TIPS (866-347-2423) or email HSI-Shipps-Investigation@ice.dhs.gov.