Multiple sex harassment cases against UC faculty prompt new review process

UC President Janet Napolitano has announced a new review process for sexual harassment violations by senior university leaders.

UC President Janet Napolitano has announced a new review process for sexual harassment violations by senior university leaders.

(Astrid Riecken / Getty Images)

University of California President Janet Napolitano has announced a new sexual harassment review process for administrative leaders, amid furor over Berkeley’s handling of misconduct claims involving its law school dean.

Napolitano also ordered new action against Berkeley law school dean Sujit Choudhry, who resigned this week after his former administrative assistant filed a civil lawsuit against him and the UC regents. In the lawsuit, Tyann Sorrell alleged that UC officials mishandled her complaints that Choudhry subjected her to continuous unwanted kissing and touching over several months until March 2015.

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The Choudhry case represents the latest allegation that UC officials failed to properly handle sexual harassment claims involving faculty. This month, students and faculty members urged UCLA to take stronger action against history professor Gabriel Piterberg over his alleged sexual harassment of two female graduate students. University officials imposed a $3,000 fine and Piterberg was suspended for one quarter without pay.

Last year, Berkeley administrators decided not to fire Geoff Marcy, a renowned astronomer found to have sexually harassed female students for years, prompting his colleagues to mount a successful campaign to force him out.

And Graham Fleming, UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor for research resigned last April after allegations arose that he sexually harassed a former campus employee. But he retained a position as an international ambassador for the school’s planned Global Campus in Richmond – an arrangement Napolitano nixed this week in ordering him immediately removed from that job and all other administrative responsibilities.

In a letter to all 10 chancellors Friday, Napolitano said the rash of cases has underscored the importance of action against sexual violence, assault and harassment.

“This issue is critically important to the University of California, and to me personally,” she wrote. “At a minimum, our employees are entitled to come to work without fear of sexual harassment or sexual violence.”

She said university leaders must make sure that substantiated cases of sexual misconduct were dealt with “firmly, fairly and expeditiously and that appropriate sanctions are imposed that recognize the serious nature of these claims.”


Napolitano announced that a new systemwide committee would review and approve all proposed sanctions against senior leaders who violated UC sexual assault and harassment policies. She also ordered that all leaders -- chancellors, provosts, vice chancellors, vice provosts and deans -- complete sexual assault and harassment training by March 25.

A joint committee of administrators and academics is currently reviewing sexual misconduct policies involving faculty, with its report due next month. But Napolitano said the recent cases made clear that more immediate steps were needed.

In a separate letter, Napolitano directed Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to bar Choudhry from campus for the rest of the term and institute disciplinary proceedings against him through the Academic Senate, which could result in suspension or dismissal. Napolitano also told Dirks that UC does not intend to defend Choudhry against Sorrell’s claims in court.

Berkeley officials, in an internal investigation last year, found that Choudhry had violated the school’s sexual harassment policy. Choudhry acknowledged he hugged, kissed and touched Sorrell but not as frequently as alleged, according to a redacted campus report.

Provost Claude Steele imposed a 10% cut in Choudhry’s annual salary of $415,000, reducing it to $373,500, and ordered him to undergo counseling and apologize to Sorrell. But Steele allowed Choudhry to retain his post at the prestigious law school until Sorrell filed her lawsuit Tuesday. The next day, Choudhry took an indefinite leave of absence, then resigned Thursday.



A previous version of this story said Dean Sujit Choudhry’s salary was $173,000, and that Provost Claude Steele had placed Choudhry on an indefinite leave of absence.


In a statement provided by Berkeley, Choudhry said he disagreed with Sorrell’s allegations but could not comment further.

Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said Dirks welcomed Napolitano’s actions.

“The chancellor and the president are on the same page – there needs to be decisive, rapid and dramatic change,” Mogulof said. “The chancellor knows there have been decisions in the past that are not defensible.”

He said Dirks was consulting with experts on campus and beyond to improve Berkeley’s response to sexual assault and harassment complaints.

More than 100 campuses across the country, including Berkeley and UCLA, are under investigation by the federal government for their handling of sexual misconduct cases.

For more education news, follow me @TeresaWatanabe


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