UC Santa Cruz graduate accuses professor of sexual assault in lawsuit
A UC Santa Cruz alumnae has sued a university professor, saying he sexually assaulted her in 2013 and engaged in a pattern of predatory behavior that included plying students with alcohol and cocaine at parties.
Gopal Balakrishnan, a humanities professor at UC Santa Cruz, was first accused of sexual misconduct in 2017. Graffiti in campus bathrooms called him a “sexual predator.” A letter circulated among students and alumni offered seven nameless accounts accusing Balakrishnan of sexual harassment, unwanted advances and disparaging behavior toward women.
Some of Balakrishnan’s colleagues defended him and condemned the accusations as “vigilante tactics,” BuzzFeed News reported.
Anneliese Harlander, who graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2013, told the university and Title IX investigators that Balakrishnan sexually assaulted her after a graduation party in 2013. A Title IX investigation supported her account, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.
In a lawsuit filed this week in Santa Cruz Superior Court, Harlander, now 28, said Balakrishnan brought alcohol to a graduation party hosted in June 2013 by Harlander’s neighbor. Harlander had been drinking at the party, and at one point “lapsed into unconsciousness,” according to the complaint.
After the party, the professor walked with her to her apartment and let himself in without her permission, Harlander alleged. She said he took off her clothes without her consent, along with his own, before sexually assaulting her. Harlander did not consent to sex and, because of her “extreme intoxication,” would have been unable to consent regardless, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit says that Harlander has since suffered “extreme physical and emotional distress.” She is seeking damages to recoup what she said were expenses for medical and psychological care, along with wages she said she lost after struggling to maintain regular employment.
Balakrishnan’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. The professor has been on paid leave since fall 2017, earning $110,300 a year, a university spokesman said.
The university has not decided what discipline Balakrishnan will face, said spokesman Marc DesJardins.
Because Balakrishnan is a tenured professor, his case is wending through different internal committees. University Chancellor George Blumenthal will probably make a final determination on discipline. Harlander said in an interview that she will speak at a closed-door university hearing in May.
DesJardins said protecting students from sexual violence and harassment is “of utmost importance” to the university.
“We are working diligently to create a campus that’s free from sexual misconduct,” he said. “We appreciate all the brave people who come forward to report their experiences.”
Harlander said it was not until early 2018, when she read the nameless accounts being circulated by alumni, that she realized she wasn’t the only one with a story about Balakrishnan and sexual misconduct.
Harlander, who now works as a youth coordinator for a Vallejo nonprofit, said filing a lawsuit elevates the reckoning over Balakrishnan’s conduct “to the next level.”
“The university system and Title IX are pursuing disciplinary action — and I’m glad they’re doing that — but this issue goes beyond the university,” she said.
Harlander said she is frustrated that Balakrishnan still collects a six-figure salary while his case works its way toward a resolution.
“He’s basically been on a paid vacation,” she said. “It’s way past time for him to be taken off paid leave.”
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