To hear University of Miami music school dean Shelton Berg tell it, jazz piano professor Doug Bickel was pulling stunts that would make John Coltrane blanch. The 41-year-old jazz pianist, says Berg, smoked pot in his office, tried to barbecue inside a classroom, mooned his students, and sexually harassed them — "I wanna fuck all you girls," Berg quotes him as saying.
The accusations flew after Bickel — who has played with Tito Puente and Arturo Sandoval — was denied tenure at the Frost School of Music in March and given a year to find another job. When Berg, a fellow pianist, informed him last month that a student had filed a complaint alleging the professor sent her sexually inappropriate text messages, Bickel quit, accusing the school of homophobia.
"I had no idea what he was talking about, but I panicked," recalls Bickel, who tends to speak in dramatic terms and sports a goatee that makes him look like a hairy Delta Burke. He scrawled "I quit" on lined notebook paper and posted it on the dean's office door. He denies the sexting accusation, saying he couldn't have sent the message because he's gay.
University of Miami music school
"This was more than I could take," he says. "I was intimidated into resigning. I'm not sure if it was because of my sexuality or because we play the same instrument."
The sexting accusation was only the tip of the iceberg, Berg says. After Bickel's tenure was denied, "an overwhelming number of students came forward with an unbelievable array of evidence of inappropriate behavior." Without suspending Bickel — as school policy would dictate — Berg called him and asked him to resign. "The guy's a lunatic," Berg said in a recent telephone interview. But after his outpouring, the dean called Riptide back, this time insisting we don't write a story.
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"I've been reading a book about violence, and Bickel exhibits all the signs of a violent person," he said. "If you write this story, he will feel more aggrieved, and he'll be compelled to hurt me. I have strong reason to believe that he's going to do something violent."
Berg's suspicions were apparently not sufficient to report to Coral Gables Police, who have only a trespassing warning under Bickel's name. "If there were death threats, they weren't reported to us," says Janette Frevola, a police spokeswoman. We couldn't confirm any of Berg's other allegations because he refused to turn over student testimonies.
Meanwhile, the school couldn't explain the behavior of its jazz faculty. "Dean Berg shouldn't have said anything. He should know better," says Margot Winick, a spokeswoman for the university. "As a matter of policy, we don't comment on personnel matters."