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A dean’s reflection on campus sexual misconduct cases

Jeffrey Edleson, dean and professor, social welfare | March 13, 2016

Co-Chair, UCB Coordinated Community Review Team on Sexual Misconduct

At this year’s Academy Awards Vice President Biden asked all of us to no longer be silent bystanders to sexual assault on campus. So here we find ourselves at Berkeley watching from the sidelines, in a silence that speaks volumes to those around us.

Fleming,

Marcy,

and now Choudhry.

In each of these high-level sexual harassment cases at UC Berkeley over the past year there was also high-level of misjudgment at the top of our campus administration. In the most recent case, former Dean Choudhry admitted to sexually harassing his Executive Assistant. While he claimed no bad intent, the impact of his behavior severely disrupted the career of a capable woman. As my students tell me, a driver may not have intended to hurt anyone but his or her reckless behavior creates accidents that have terrible impacts on others. Berkeley has experienced a string of reckless faculty this year whose behavior has directly and indirectly affected the careers of many women on this campus.

Let’s look at former Dean Choudhry’s case. The investigation by the campus Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD) was completed in July 2015 and found that Dean Choudhry had committed sexual harassment against his Executive Assistant. The highly redacted investigation report may have made a recommendation for administrative action in response – it is part of their charge – but we may never know. The Chancellor and Provost did make decisions and the outcome was that the assistant’s career was interrupted and she left her job on administrative leave. Former Dean Choudhry, however, was permitted to remain in his powerful position with a small temporary pay cut of 10%, an apology, an expectation that he would seek counseling for his problem, and the ability to continue to hire and supervise staff and students under his watch.

Ironically, Choudhry was recently featured as a keynote speaker at the February 2016 meeting of the UC Berkeley Foundation Board of Trustees’ meeting held in Los Angeles, where he spoke about his rise to becoming a Dean at Berkeley. How could our University administration choose him as a featured speaker nearly eight months after his admission of sexual harassment and while he was still under sanction?

Adding insult to injury was the highly scripted March 9th Leadership Roundtable, sponsored by the Berkeley Staff Assembly and the Chancellor’s Staff Advisory Committee. This presented an opportunity for the campus leadership to take a strong position on the breaking story about Choudhry. It was only after 25 minutes into the Roundtable that an audience member, who is both a staff member and a student on campus, bravely spoke up and asked the leaders on stage about safety for women staff and students on campus. The staff moderator, in behavior reminiscent of a Trump rally, silenced her and the assembled leaders on stage remained silent. You can watch it here starting at minute 25:00 and continuing for about two minutes.

Now we find that Graham Fleming, after having been dismissed as the Vice Chancellor for Research following a sexual harassment finding against him, was appointed an ambassador for the Chancellor’s initiative to create a Global Campus in Richmond. Fleming’s female assistant, who also committed sexual assault, had been appropriately fired but long after her finding of guilt. It took intervention from the UC President in Oakland to put a stop to Fleming’s current work.

Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle quotes a Berkeley spokesperson saying that the Chancellor has been “thinking deeply” about the situation in which he finds himself. The deep thinking is a year too late and has created a sense of outrage and fear among many staff, students, and faculty on campus. All of this happens at a time of great fragility on campus as we confront major budget issues and need all hands on deck to move us forward with strong leadership at the helm.

Can any woman or man now feel safe on this campus after the decisions made by our leaders regarding these three sexual harassment cases? Are there other cases being still hidden within our community, waiting to be uncovered? Sadly many may rightfully question whether their own supervisors have committed hidden sexual misconduct.

As a dean and professor, I expect my professional behavior to be held to the highest standards worthy of a campus that is ranked the No. 1 public university in the world. We can no longer be silent bystanders to sexual misconduct and we should do no less than hold all others in our community and ourselves to the highest standards possible!

Comments to “A dean’s reflection on campus sexual misconduct cases

  1. Jeff, thank you for your courage in speaking about such matters and breaking the silence. No longer bystanders.

  2. Thank you Dean Edleson for this important post. It is vital in times like these – when an institution’s ability and willingness to protect and standby its employees is called into question – that leaders in the community speak up and speak out. As a woman on campus it is heartening to see this response and know that the actions of a few in this administration does not reflect the community as a whole.

  3. JC, thanks for your comments. I do believe someone substantiated for sexual harassment should be removed from campus on unpaid leave for a year or more. During that time they should get significant help to change their behavior. That said, after working with men who batter their intimate partners for 35 years, I know that people can and do change their behavior. If the person is to reenter our community after this suspension, they would need to be accountable for the change they hopefully will have made and somehow be so on an ongoing basis.

    This was my feeling about the recent NFL domestic violence cases in my previous blog post here. I’m not Donald Trump and just say “Fire Them!” I think we have to believe in rehabilitation and the possibility that someone could rejoin our community after successfully changing their behavior. That is the social worker in me.

  4. Thank you for the thoughtful post, Dean Edelson. I agree with most of what you say.

    One thing that I as a staff member on campus don’t see reported much is the fact that these harassers continue to be employed as tenured professors at the university — at quite substantial salaries–even after resigning their leadership positions. I don’t understand why, especially in cases like Mr. Choudry’s where the harassment was admitted to, they are allowed to remain part of the university community at all. Why haven’t they been summarily fired from all of their positions at the university? Why are the privileges of tenure used to protect such behavior?

    I know that some of the issues regarding tenure — and the revocation thereof — are under the control of the Academic Senate, not the Chancellor. I am dismayed that we haven’t heard anything about the Academic Senate’s leadership stepping up and taking action against these people who are smearing the good name of the university, and of the 99+% of professors that treat the people they work with with decency and respect.

    I hope I don’t sound too strident here — I’m genuinely wondering about this. I know many faculty members feel much the way I do, so the lack of action against the harassers really puzzles me.

  5. Thank you Dean Edleson for this brave post.

    Should not be there someone responsible for all these? I mean the chancellor & provost, should not they just resign over all of these disgraceful things to our beloved berkeley campus?

  6. Thanks for the comments. I was trying to think through a policy stance the University should be taking. It seems to me that when sexual harassment is substantiated, that the victim of that harassment should not be made to leave her/his job. The University should, instead, remove the offending person, put that person on an unpaid leave for a lengthy period of time, and ask him/her to show progress on reforming before he/she is permitted to return to the University. In the case of an administrator or supervisor, on return, that person should not be placed back in a position of power. There would then need to be some type of on-going accountability by the offending person on return to the University.

  7. Leadership requires making hard choices, upholding moral principles, ensuring transparency in decision-making, and speaking out on difficult issues. The campus requires and deserves this type of leadership on this issue. Sadly, as Dean Edelson has revealed, this is not the case.

  8. I want to thank you so much for having the courage to write and post this Dean Edleson. Thank you for using your voice to say what so many within our community cannot or will not articulate for fear of retribution. Thank you.

  9. Dean Edelson has forcefully articulated what many of us have been saying to one another — or to ourselves. Any woman who has spent time on the Berkeley campus knows that sexual abuse is pervasive, as on most campuses in the country. The only way to change this is by responding aggressively when there is a confirmation of harassment. Anything less sends the message that we do not care about the well being of the victims. We owe it to ourselves to hold every single member of our community to the highest standards of professional behavior, no matter what their position.

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