UC Berkeley Provost Resigns Amid Allegations of Mishandling Sexual Harassment Case


Kevin Santos

UC Berkeley and UCLA administrators are facing criticism for their handling of recent sexual misconduct cases involving staff. Most recently, a UC Berkeley executive vacated his position amid uproar for his allegedly soft sentencing of a faculty member on April 15. Students and faculty across the UC system contend that the disciplinary measures taken against the alleged offenders were too light and insufficient.

At UC Berkeley, Tyann Sorrell, the executive assistant to UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Sujit Choudhry, submitted allegations last month against him for inappropriate sexual behavior. As a result, UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele docked Choudhry’s pay by 10 percent and required him to attend counseling, which is being criticized as insufficient punishment.

Following the public outrage, Steele resigned from his position for reasons he claims are unrelated to the sexual harassment case.

Although administrators deemed Choudhry’s punishment appropriate, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks acknowledged the objections against their treatment of the case.

“The initial decision not to remove the dean from his position is the subject of legitimate criticism,” Chancellor Dirks said.

As a result of the backlash from the UC Berkeley community, Choudhry resigned from his position at the university.

Choudhry’s case was mentioned in a report released last week by the UC Berkeley Office for Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination regarding sexual harassment investigations. It was revealed that 19 staff members were involved in sexual harassment disputes over the last seven years. None of the offenders were sanctioned with anything more severe than a suspension.

At UCLA, graduate students Kristen Glasgow and Nefertiti Takla in June 2013 accused history professor Gabriel Piterberg of sexual harassment between 2008 and 2013. According to the settlement made between Piterberg and UCLA in March 2014, Piterberg was charged with paying a $3,000 fine, suspended without pay for one quarter and required to attend sexual harassment training. He was still given the option to return and teach at UCLA.

Glasgow and Takla, dissatisfied with Piterberg’s sanctions, took legal action in June against the UC Board of Regents for allowing Piterberg to return and teach at UCLA. Michael Porcello, the attorney representing the students, told the Los Angeles Times that allowing Piterberg to continue teaching at UCLA would spark outrage and place the campus community in danger.

“Piterberg’s continued presence on campus poses an ongoing threat to those students and faculty given past complaints of harassment against him by members of the UCLA community,” Porcello said.

Students gathered together at UCLA in March to protest against the administration’s decision. In addition, the UCLA history staff wrote a letter speaking against the settlement that allows for Piterberg’s return.

“His actions were not only deeply injurious to the specific parties involved, but have poisoned the academic community,” stated the letter. “[Permitting Piterberg’s return] will signal that an effective climate of tolerance for harassment persists at UCLA.”

UCLA Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang responded to complaints and indicated that further means of handling Piterberg’s case are still being considered.

“My fundamental commitment is to [building] an equal and working environment for all, and the letters I have received demonstrate how Professor Piterberg’s return threatens to undermine that environment,” Kang said. “We are thinking intensely and creatively about solutions.”