Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Berkeley's handling of sexual harassment is a disgrace

By Michael Eisen

What more is there to say?

Another case where a senior member of the Berkeley faculty, this time Berkeley Law Dean Sujit Choudhry, was found to have violated the campus's sexual harassment policy, and was given a slap on the wrists by the administration. Astronomer Geoff Marcy's punishment for years of harassment of students was a talking to and a warning never to do it again, and now Choudhry was put on some kind of secret probation for a year, sent for additional training, and docked 10% of his meager $470,000 a year salary.

Despite a constant refrain from senior administrators that it takes cases of sexual harassment seriously, the administrations actions demonstrate that it does not. What is the point of having a sexual harassment policy if violations of it have essentially no sanctions? Through its responses to Marcy and Choudhry, it is now clear that the university views sexual harassment by its senior male faculty not as what it is - an inexcusable abuse of power that undermines the university's entire mission and has a severe negative effect on our students and staff - but rather as a mistake that some faculty make because they don't know better.

If the university wants to show that it is serious about ending sexual harassment on campus, then it has to take cases of sexual harassment seriously. This means being unambiguous about what is and is not acceptable behavior, and real consequences when people violate the rules. Faculty and administrators who engage in harassing behavior don't do it by accident. They make a choice to engage in behavior they either know is wrong, or have no excuse for not knowing is wrong. And, at Berkeley at least, they do so knowing that if they get caught, the university will respond by saying "Bad boy. Don't do that again. We're watching you now." Does anything think this is an actual deterrent?

Through its handling of the Marcy,  Choudhry and other cases, the Berkeley administration has shown utter contempt for the welfare of its students and staff. It has shown that it views its job not to create an optimal environment for education by ensuring that faculty behavior is consistent with the university's mission, but rather to protect faculty, especially famous ones, from the consequences of their actions.

It is now clear that excuse making and wrist slapping in response to sexual harassment is so endemic in the Berkeley administration that it might as well be official policy. And just like there is no excuse for sexual harassing students and staff, there is no excuse for sanctioning this kind of the behavior. It's time for the administrators - all of them - who have repeatedly failed the campus community on this issue to go. It's the only way forward.