After Latest Berkeley Scandals, UC Chief Orders Tougher Action on Sexual Harassment

UC President Janet Napolitano. (Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

Update, 6 p.m. Monday:

In an interview this afternoon, KQED talked with UC President Janet Napolitano about the university's new process for reviewing sexual harassment claims, and about the alleged sexual harassment violations on the part of UC Berkeley's now-resigned law school dean and its men's basketball assistant coach.

Napolitano emphasized the necessity of matching consequences with the seriousness of substantiated sexual harassment claims.

"With respect to high-level administrators, I took action last week in part because it was just time to say,  look, the sanctions need to match the seriousness of the behavior that's substantiated. We just don't tolerate this kind of activity at the University of California, be it at Berkeley or at any other campus," Napolitano said.

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Earlier today, Napolitano announced that a new systemwide committee will review and approve all proposed penalties for high-level administrators who violate sexual assault and harassment policies

Was the committee created in part due to criticism that UC Berkeley hasn't responded very strongly against high-level faculty who have violated the sexual harassment policy?

"In part. I've spoken with (UC Berkeley) Chancellor Dirks, and he's in complete agreement with the actions taken, and understands and is very forthright that at Berkeley they need to take more serious action, more meaningful action when there are claims that have been proven to be accurate."

As to whether there is a culture of permissiveness at UC Berkeley in regard to sexual harassment, Napolitano said, "One would like to say it's not a culture. But if it's even a perceived culture, that's a problem, and we've got to fix that problem. I think people should be able to come to work. ... And not be fearful that they will be the object of sexual harassment or sexual violence."

Update, 10:27 a.m.: UC Berkeley is firing men's basketball assistant coach Yann Hufnagel for allegedly violating the university's sexual harassment policy. Read more.

Original post:
University of California President Janet Napolitano ordered a new process for reviewing sexual harassment claims against administrators after UC Berkeley faced a backlash over how it handled allegations against the dean of its law school.

Sujit Choudhry resigned as dean last Thursday after his former executive assistant alleged in a lawsuit filed last week that her boss received only a temporary pay cut and orders to undergo counseling as punishment following a campus investigation that substantiated her claims that he repeatedly kissed and touched her.

University leaders must make sure that substantiated cases of sexual misconduct be dealt with "firmly, fairly and expeditiously and that appropriate sanctions are imposed that recognize the serious nature of these claims," Napolitano said Friday in a letter to the system's 10 chancellors.

She announced that a new systemwide committee would review and approve all proposed penalties for high-level administrators who violate sexual assault and harassment policies. She also ordered all chancellors, provosts, vice chancellors, vice provosts and deans to complete sexual assault and harassment training by March 25.

"This issue is critically important to the University of California, and to me personally," the former Homeland Security secretary and Arizona governor wrote in the letter. "At a minimum, our employees are entitled to come to work without fear of sexual harassment or sexual violence."

In a separate letter, Napolitano told Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to take further action against Choudhry, who remains a member of the Berkeley Law faculty despite having resigned as dean.

Napolitano directed Dirks to ban Choudhry from campus and start disciplinary proceedings against him through the Academic Senate, which could result in suspension or dismissal. Under the terms of the university's tenure rules, professors can be fired only by that panel.

Napolitano also told Dirks that the university system does not intend to defend Choudhry in court against his former assistant's claims.

Dirks met with angry law school faculty members Thursday, along with Provost Claude Steele, who had said a day earlier that the disciplinary measures he had imposed on the dean in July were appropriate.

After the meeting, the two said in a letter to law school professors, alumni and students that they welcomed the dean's resignation as being in the university's best interests.

In a statement provided by Berkeley, Choudhry said he disagreed with the allegations but could not comment further.

The Los Angeles Time first reported on Napolitano's actions Saturday.

The disclosures involving Choudhry came nearly five months after a prominent astronomer at Berkeley, Geoffrey Marcy, resigned amid a national outcry over revelations that the school had substantiated sexual harassment complaints from former female students without demoting or suspending him from his job.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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