PETALING JAYA - Many Malaysian university staff members and local theatre practitioners expressed surprise over revelations that an American performing arts lecturer, who worked in several institutions in the country, has been accused of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.
Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) corporate strategy and communications office director Prof Dr Nor Kamarian Nordin said the lecturer, Rey Buono, taught theatre studies in the university from 1999 to 2002.
Buono, worked at the prestigious Milton Academy in Boston, United States from 1973 to 1987 and was found to have engaged in sexual misconduct with students during his time there.
The sexual misconduct, involving minors, was exposed in a report by the academy following a recently concluded investigation it commissioned.
"I spoke to our staff members in the department and the then head of department. According to them, we never received any complaints from the students about him," said Dr Nor Kamarian.
"Of course, we did not know details of his background, only his academic particulars," she added.
Buono was part of pioneering theatre training and arts curriculum development in various Malaysian institutions.
His LinkedIn profile cites he was employed by UPM (1997-2002), Sunway University College (2002-2006) and Taylor's University (2011-2012).
Taylor's University, in a statement, said that Buono worked with the varsity from 2011 to 2012 under contract.
"According to his colleagues, he was a good co-worker.
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"We were not aware of the reported misconduct and are shocked to learn about it," the varsity said.
The university said no report of misconduct was reported during his employment with it.
Sunway Education Group and Sunway University senior executive director Elizabeth Lee said: "We need to be sure that this is the same Rey Buono who was with Sunway University from 2003 to 2006".
She said Buono came highly recommended by then UPM vice-chancellor Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Syed Jalaludin Syed Salim and the Singapore Education Ministry.
"Our Rey Buono was very high profile. How do we know if the same one mentioned in the US reports?" she said.
Lee said the university conducts background checks on everyone it employed.
"We even go to the extent of carrying out police checks if needed.
"We take all of our student complaints about staff seriously and investigate them," she said.
"I checked with the staff who worked with him then and those with us now and found no student complaints were ever received about him.
"It seems like two different persons, the Rey who worked in Boston and the Rey who worked at Sunway," she said.
"I'm surprised for sure!" said actor Ghafir Akbar, who was directed by Buono in The Baltimore Waltz and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials Of Oscar Wilde.
"I can only speak about him as a teacher. He was an important teacher to me and pivotal to my starting a formal education in the theatre," he said.
Writer, poet and educator Bernice Chauly, who has known Buono for more than two decades, was shocked to hear the news.
"I'm still completely flabbergasted and trying to process it, because we're very good friends and these are very serious allegations.
"The way I know him, he's always been a very kind and thoughtful person. I don't know how to react to this," said Chauly.
Academician and writer Prof Malachi Edwin Vethamani, who worked with Buono in various capacities in Universiti Putra Malaysia, Taylor's University and University Of Nottingham Malaysia, described the American as conscientious and hardworking.
"I know him as an academic and an expert in theatre," he said.
Local actor and theatre practitioner Chacko Vadaketh, who has worked with Buono in theatre, said: "I've known him since he directed me in the play Gross Indecency: The Three Trials Of Oscar Wilde about 15 years ago. He is a very skilled director with a great record in terms of the work he's done here. This information is quite shocking, and it's surprising that it's coming out now after so long."
Marvin Wong, who worked with Buono in the production A Light In KL City in 2009, said: "My experience working with Rey has been educational, enriching, and completely professional. He has been nothing but avuncular to me and I consider him one of the best teachers I have ever worked with."