Editorial | UI response to Muriello not good enough

Former Professor, John Muriello, should have been put on administrative leave in 2020.


DI Editorial Board

The University of Iowa failed in its responsibility to create and maintain a safe environment for students in the case of former UI School of Music professor John Muriello. 

The former professor worked at the university until he was put on leave in May 2021 — more than a year after the UI received notice of alleged illegal behavior. 

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board fully believes in due process, and we recognize Muriello is innocent until proven guilty. However, the board believes that the accusations against Muriello were significant and required a stronger response than simply doing nothing.

According to UI class enrollment records on MyUI, Muriello taught in-person and online vocal performance and opera courses from the fall 2018 semester until the spring 2021 semester at the UI School of Music.

While Muriello was teaching, the UI received an anonymous email on April 10, 2020, according to an Aug. 24 statement from the UI Office of Strategic Communication. 

According to the search warrant filed in Johnson County District Court, an anonymous email claimed to be written by the parent of a UI student alleged that Muriello recorded sex acts with the student, provided the student with methamphetamine, and possessed child pornography.

The UI shared the email with the Iowa City Police Department. 

Several months later, on Nov. 20, 2020, the Iowa City police conducted a trash rip at Muriello’s residence. According to the warrant application, police found syringes, needles, cannabis, and baggies.

More than six months after the trash rip, the UI finally placed Muriello on administrative leave on May 28, 2021. On July 1, 2022, the UI accepted Muriello’s retirement. 

On Aug. 23, 2022, Muriello was arrested on charges of possessing child pornography and distributing methamphetamine. He is currently in the Muscatine County jail.

Following Muriello’s arrest, the UI released a statement noting that the UI “can and does take interim steps to ensure the safety of our campus community.” 

Yet Muriello currently sits in the Muscatine County jail for offences he allegedly made while teaching students. 

The “interim steps” the UI made include allowing someone alleged of an arrestable offense to stay on staff. Clearly, this response was insufficient. 

The UI should have taken swifter action to maintain a safe campus environment by placing Muriello on administrative leave when it received the anonymous email in April 2020 instead of allowing him to remain on campus for another year after the email was received. 

Under the UI’s human resources policy, “In some circumstances, it may be necessary to remove an employee from the workplace … A temporary reassignment or administrative leave/investigatory suspension may be appropriate … for at least two reasons: 1) to allow the investigation to proceed without disruption of evidence, or (2) to preserve a safe, orderly, and professional work environment.”

The UI should afford Muriello due process, recognizing he is innocent until proven guilty. To place a faculty member on leave or investigate allegations is not the same as saying the accused is guilty. 

The UI allowed someone accused of serious misconduct to continue teaching. This is a moral failing that squarely falls on UI administrators paid to maintain a safe learning environment. Muriello should have been put on administrative leave, as in accordance with the UI’s human resources policy, in April 2020.

Muriello should not have been allowed to continue working in his capacity at the UI when these allegations first surfaced. The lack of swift action on this issue is a massive neglect on the part of the university.