Sexual harassment does not always take place in traditional business office settings. This fact has been highlighted recently involving widespread allegations that the University of California – Berkeley was slow to take action against faculty who were the alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct.
The sexual misconduct cases involved UC-Berkeley Law School Dean Sujit Choudhry, Vice Chancellor of Research Graham Fleming, and noted astronomer Geoff Marcy. These three faculty members were found to have violated the university’s sexual harassment guidelines, and subsequently resigned their positions.
These resignations did not come immediately after such violations were found. Choudhry was initially allowed to remain in his position with a 10% pay cut and a requirement that he apologize to his victim, his executive assistant, who accused him of nearly daily unwanted kisses, hugs, and touching over the course of six months last year. Fleming was given the job of “global ambassador” after resigning.
University of California President Janet Napolitano Steps In
UC President Janet Napolitano – the former United States Attorney General – stepped in amid widespread and ongoing protests at Berkeley over the handling of these matters. Napolitano ordered Berkeley Dean Dirks to keep Choudhry off campus, and to remove Fleming from his global ambassador position. Napolitano also relocated the University of California’s director for systemwide sexual misconduct issues to Berkeley through the end of the school year to look into the school’s procedures for handling sexual misconduct cases.
What Needs to Be Done
When it comes to sexual harassment, it appears that big university systems are not all that different than big businesses. Those higher up in the system – and more important to a business or university – may be accorded special treatment because of their power (or, more specifically, their ability to directly or indirectly generate income or prestige). In the case of Berkeley, the conduct of the law school dean – which he admitted to (although apparently on a less frequent basis than was alleged) – would clearly not be tolerated in any other situation.
We must seek to hold accountable ALL those who allow sexual misconduct (or worse) to occur, including prestigious universities. In the case of Berkeley, it apparently took weeks of protests to raise the level of awareness to the system-wide President. We believe that President Napolitano – and other university systemwide presidents, should be made aware of ALL sexual misconduct allegations as soon as practical, the findings of the disciplinary panel, and the action, if any, that is taken. Sexual predators must be held to account, not only professionally, but also in our civil courts, and, if criminal laws are violated, in criminal court.