Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

A dean’s reflection on campus sexual misconduct cases

By Jeffrey Edleson

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.



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!