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TFT school meets to discuss details of Denove case, UCLA response

UCLA experts and leaders offered information to help contextualize the revelation that Thomas Fairleigh Denove, a UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television professor emeritus, pleaded no contest to charges of sexual abuse of children. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Melissa Morris

May 10, 2019 12:09 a.m.

Theater, Film and Television school members informally addressed child sexual abuse charges against one of the department’s professors at a meeting Thursday.

Thomas Fairleigh Denove, a professor emeritus in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, pleaded no contest to charges of child sexual abuse in November. At the time of the preliminary story’s publication May 2, the registrar indicated Denove taught a course in fall 2018 and would be teaching a class for the summer 2019 A session. He was also still listed in the TFT faculty page and UCLA campus directory.

Since then, his classes have been removed from the registrar and his faculty page was taken down. UCLA spokesperson Tod Tamberg said in an email statement Denove retired in December and that the registrar had erroneously listed Denove as an instructor for the summer.

Tamberg added the university could not disclose details about Denove’s departure before or during fall quarter due to privacy policies regarding emergency leave.

A community member within TFT, who requested to remain anonymous due to concerns of retaliation, said in an email statement he has not received any formal information from the department since the news about the charges broke.

“The news spread pretty quickly amongst the TFT community, and at this stage most if not all of the graduate students (both current and long-graduated alumni) have heard,” they said. “But it’s just informal discussions, with no new information surfacing.”

Denove was charged with three counts of repeated sexual assault of children under 14 years old.

Sandy Hall-Robertson, the TFT assistant dean of communications, said there was no meeting scheduled for Thursday in response to a request from the Daily Bruin to send a reporter to the meeting.

The community member said the meeting did occur, but that the department did not provide specific information about ongoing investigations at the meeting and did not formally address the charges.

They said students expressed shock and condemnation about the charges against Denove, while faculty members expressed disgust and disappointment.

“A lot of us interacted heavily with Denove as part of our work and while he had a reputation for encouraging certain students to bend the rules, he was largely respected,” they said.

Sherod Thaxton, a criminal law professor, said in an email statement Denove’s no contest plea means he will receive the same punishment as a guilty plea, even though he has not accepted or denied responsibility for the charges.

They said a no contest plea implies there would be enough evidence to convict if the case were to go to trial. Denove faces up to 40 years in prison.

A defendant may choose to plead no contest to avoid the publicity of a trial and prevent certain facts about the case from being revealed to the public or improve the odds of a more lenient sentence, Thaxton added.

Until 2015, California law stated registered sex offenders were not allowed to reside within 2,000 feet of schools, parks or other places where children congregate. Following a 2015 California Supreme Court case, court officers must decide on how close offenders are allowed to be to such locations on a case-by-case basis.

The UCLA Lab School, which enrolls roughly 450 children under the age of 12, is located on campus roughly 2,000 feet from TFT’s offices in MacGowan Hall. Denove’s mandatory distance from locations where children congregate is unknown at this time.

The Lab School did not respond to a request for comment.

Jerry Kang, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, said in an email statement UCLA conducts background checks on most staff members but not faculty hires. Kang added there is also no systematic way to gather information on students or faculty because they are not required to undergo background checks with fingerprinting.

In contrast, UC Davis and UC Riverside run background checks on some faculty hires in addition to all staff. Kang said UCLA is looking to institute a similar policy.

“UCLA is in the process of considering the wisdom of requiring background checks for faculty,” Kang said.

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Melissa Morris | Editor in chief
Morris is the 2020-2021 Editor in chief. She was previously the 2019-2020 assistant Enterprise editor as well as the 2018-2019 assistant News editor for the campus politics beat. She is also a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
Morris is the 2020-2021 Editor in chief. She was previously the 2019-2020 assistant Enterprise editor as well as the 2018-2019 assistant News editor for the campus politics beat. She is also a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
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