Melissa Murray, a widely respected member of the UC Berkeley Law School faculty, has agreed to serve as interim dean as the university deals with the aftermath of a sexual harassment scandal involving the former dean.
Sujit Choudhry stepped down March 10 after his former executive assistant filed a lawsuit accusing him of repeatedly kissing, hugging and touching her against her will. Choudhry was disciplined in July, but the matter had not been made public until the lawsuit was filed.
The revelation has roiled the law school, and many have complained that Choudhry’s punishment – a 10% cut in his $415,000 annual salary and orders to attend counseling and apologize to the assistant, Tyann Sorrell – amounted to a slap on the wrist.
That penalty was decided by UC Berkeley Provost Claude Steele, whom Choudhry had recently endorsed for an appointment to the law school faculty. UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks has denied any connection between the two actions.
In announcing Murray’s appointment Tuesday, Dirks praised her award-winning scholarship and teaching.
“She will provide excellent leadership at Berkeley Law as we search for a permanent dean, and we will provide her with every form of support," Dirks said in a statement.
Murray, 40, joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2006. A graduate of Yale Law School, she has taught courses in family, criminal and constitutional law. Her research focuses on legal issues related to intimate aspects of life, such as marriage, reproductive rights, sexual orientation and gender. She is also faculty director of Berkeley Law’s Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice, a multidisciplinary research center.
Before coming to Berkeley, she clerked for then-U.S. Appellate Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
The law school’s six associate deans voiced their support for Murray’s appointment in a joint statement: “We are grateful to Professor Murray for her willingness to serve in this important role at a challenging time.”
Sloan Patrice Whiteside, one of the leaders of the Boalt Hall Student Assn., called Murray a "phenomenal" educator much beloved by students who spent time with them inside and outside the classroom.
"She really brings people into conversations," she said. "The law school needs someone who can bring people together and we think she can do that."
She added that Murray was the overwhelming choice of law school students in a recent online survey. Many listed her as their first, second and third choice: she received 310 of 369 votes cast, Whiteside said.
The search for a permanent Berkeley Law dean could take at least a year, UC officials said.