Berkeley Astronomer Geoff Marcy Resigns in Wake of Sex Harassment Case

Geoff Marcy, UC Berkeley astronomy professor found to have violated the university's policy on sexual harassment in incidents involving several female students. (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

Update, 1:20 p.m. Wednesday: UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks has confirmed media reports that Professor Geoff Marcy has resigned in the wake of findings that he violated the school's policy prohibiting sexual harassment.

In a statement, Dirks called Marcy's behavior "contemptible and inexcusable" and said his resignation was accepted immediately.

Dirks also responded to criticism that the university had essentially let Marcy off with a warning after an investigation found he had groped, kissed and had other uninvited contact with at least four female students since 2001.

Reiterating UC Berkeley's earlier defense of its handling of the case, he said a formal termination proceeding would have been "lengthy and uncertain" and would have required a higher standard of evidence than the sexual harassment inquiry used.

"Our objective was to protect our students by immediately preventing any re-occurrence of the behavior described in the investigative report," Dirks wrote. "We thus chose to establish, in writing, a strict set of behavioral standards that went beyond what is specifically proscribed by the University’s rules and regulations."

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Here's the complete statement, followed by our more detailed original post on the Marcy case:

This morning Professor Geoff Marcy resigned from the Berkeley faculty. We believe this outcome is entirely appropriate and have immediately accepted his resignation.

UC Berkeley’s reaction to the finding that Professor Geoff Marcy violated the University’s sexual harassment policies has been the subject of understandable criticism and anger.

Before describing the disciplinary options that were available to us, we want to state unequivocally that Professor Marcy’s conduct, as determined by the investigation, was contemptible and inexcusable. We also want to express our sympathy to the women who were victimized, and we deeply regret the pain they have suffered.

It is important to understand that as Berkeley’s leadership considered disciplinary options, we did not have the authority, as per University of California policy, to unilaterally impose any disciplinary sanctions, including termination. Discipline of a faculty member is a lengthy and uncertain process. It would include a full hearing where the standards of evidence that would be used are higher than those that are applied by the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD) in the course of its investigations. The process would also be subject to a three-year statute of limitations.

Our objective was to protect our students by immediately preventing any re-occurrence of the behavior described in the investigative report. We thus chose to establish, in writing, a strict set of behavioral standards that went beyond what is specifically proscribed by the University’s rules and regulations. In addition, the agreement authorized the administration to by-pass the lengthy, uncertain disciplinary process by stripping the professor of a faculty member’s usual due process rights.

We recognize and share the frustration that many have expressed, and we are committed to work with the Office of the President and the Academic Senate to reform the University’s disciplinary processes, criteria and standards so that in the future we have different and better options for discipline of faculty.

We also want our campus community to know that we fully support new efforts now underway in a number of departments and colleges to address cultural issues and standards related to sexual harassment. We must do everything in our power to create the conditions necessary for quick and confidential reporting of suspected violations of our rules and standards of conduct.

Original post: Numerous media outlets are reporting that Professor Geoff Marcy, the UC Berkeley astonomer at the center of a sexual harassment scandal, has told the university he will resign.

BuzzFeed News, which broke the story on the results of Cal's investigation into sexual harassment accusations against Marcy, said it had obtained an email from UC Berkeley's Astronomy Department chair stating the professor "has announced his intention to step down as a faculty member."

Vice's Motherboard site quoted Basri's message as saying in part, "This is to inform our community that Geoff has initiated the process that will lead to his no longer being a faculty member at UC Berkeley."

Marcy is the world's foremost authority in the field of exoplanetary science, the study of the rapidly expanding number of planets being discovered around distant stars.

A message to members of UC Berkeley's Astronomy Department regarding the resignation of Geoff Marcy.
A message to members of UC Berkeley's Astronomy Department regarding the resignation of Geoff Marcy. (Twitter)

Marcy was the subject of at least four formal complaints regarding his contact with female students. A six-month campus investigation found that his behavior, which reportedly included uninvited groping, kissing or massaging four women who filed complaints, violated UC Berkeley's sexual harassment policy.

The university's own handling of the case drew widespread criticism, with some faculty members, students and many in the astronomy community expressing dismay that Marcy had been allowed to continue in his position with what some said amounted to a slap on the wrist.

Tuesday, 22 members of Berkeley's astronomy faculty released a letter calling for Marcy's resignation or dismissal.

After Wednesday's announcement, one of the women involved in the sexual harassment case against the professor told BuzzFeed she was relieved at the outcome:

“It’s a relief to know that Geoff Marcy will no longer have access to UC Berkeley students,” Jessica Kirkpatrick, one of the complainants in the sexual harassment investigation, told BuzzFeed News. “I hope the university is using this opportunity to re-evaluate it’s process and policies so that vulnerable students have better protections in place to guard against sexual harassment from faculty moving forward.”

A story on the case in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Thursday describes Marcy as "a charismatic professor who presented himself as sympathetic to the difficulties female students face." The story notes that from the late 1980s through mid-'90s, the professor served on the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy.

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But the story also reports that Marcy has had a long-standing reputation among many in his field for inappropriate behavior. Joan Schmeltz, a University of Memphis scientist who currently heads the society's Committee on the Status of Women, says she has heard many complaints over the years:

As she talked to more and more women, Ms. Schmelz says, she realized that Mr. Marcy had a "play book."

"I heard this so many times," she says, "that I realized it was standard practice for him."

Mr. Marcy, she says, would isolate a female student in his lab or find a way to talk to her privately on the campus, away from others. During the talk, he would make a slightly inappropriate comment, touch or kiss the student, and then apologize, according to what women told her. Depending on the reaction he got, she says, he would either back off or take another step forward. Students, she says, complained that he had given them rides home, taken them out to coffee, and told them he and his wife had an open relationship. The four women who complained, she says, are "just the tip of the iceberg."

"This has been an open secret in the field for a long time," she says. "The reason he’s been able to get away with it is that people don’t trust the system to protect them."

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