UC Berkeley chancellor unveils new plan to fight sexual misconduct on campus

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, widely criticized for his handling of recent sexual harassment cases, unveiled a plan Thursday aimed at providing quicker investigations, more consistent sanctions and more interactive training and education about sexual misconduct.  

"We have heard the salient message: There is much work to be done," he said in a message to the campus community. "We have an obligation to promote a campus culture in which sexual harassment, sexual violence, stalking and any abuse of power are neither tolerated nor ignored, but proactively prevented."

The issue has exploded at Berkeley after a lawsuit filed this month revealed that Dirks and Provost Claude Steele had allowed the dean of the law school to remain in his job after being found to have harassed his executive assistant with unwanted hugs, kisses and touching last year. The dean, Sujit Choudhry, received a 10% cut in his $415,000 annual salary and was ordered to attend counseling and apologize to the assistant, Tyann Sorrell.

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The administrators were also accused of imposing inadequate sanctions in two other sexual harassment cases involving famed astronomer Geoff Marcy and vice chancellor of research Graham Fleming.

Some faculty members are calling for a vote of no confidence in the administrators. 

But Dirks said in his statement that he has learned from the outcry.

"The painful stories and helpful recommendations we have heard over the last two weeks will inform the necessary steps our community needs to take in order to heal, learn, and move forward," he said. "We are committed to ensuring that Berkeley is a welcoming, safe, respectful, and inclusive community for every one of our students, staff, faculty, and visitors.'

Berkeley plans to spend "several million dollars" over the next few years on the new plan, according to campus spokeswoman Janet Gilmore.

 Jeffrey Edleson, dean of the social welfare school who is a co-chair of a campuswide committee on sexual misconduct, praised the new plan. He has pushed for harsher sanctions against perpetrators, including immediate removal from campus for counseling until they can prove they've reformed, and more public disclosure of verified cases of misconduct. 

"The Berkeley administration has heard the concerns of the campus and community and is responding with a comprehensive plan to shows great promise to improve the climate on campus for women students, staff and faculty," he said.

Advocates said they welcomed more spending on counseling and other services for survivors of sexual misconduct. But they were skeptical that administrators were serious about making lasting change -- especially since Berkeley has formed task forces and committees for years.

"Everyone keeps saying they take this issue seriously, but they do nothing about it," said Meghan Warner, a Berkeley fourth-year undergraduate who sits on both Berkeley and  systemwide committees on sexual misconduct. "So it hurts to see...the same thing years later. It's about reputation, not student and employee safety."

The new initiatives include:

-- Expanded education and training on sexual misconduct. Officials plan to organize a half-day campus-wide event in the fall and will develop more engaging and interactive learning activities. Advocates have complained that current training sessions are so dull that students sleep through them or sign in and leave.

-- Increased support to the Office for Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment to reduce the time it takes to resolve cases. Officials will also increase spending on campus centers that help connect those suffering from sexual misconduct with counseling and other services.

-- A new campus review board to make sure sanctions in cases of proven sexual misconduct are imposed in a "firm and consistent manner, regardless of the rank or position of either the complainant or respondent." Dirks and Steele have been criticized for imposing lenient sanctions of prominent faculty at the expense of the victims. 

-- A task force of faculty, staff, students, alumni and outside experts to conduct an independent assessment of the campus' culture, process and sanctions regarding sexual misconduct. A draft summary report is due by July. 

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6:10 p.m. This article was updated with reaction to the sexual misconduct plan.

This article was first published at 10:43 a.m. 

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