UC Berkeley dismisses parts of formal grievance filed by graduate student

Almost three months after a UC Berkeley graduate student filed a formal grievance over issues surrounding his campus student conduct proceedings, an initial response was issued this week, dismissing certain aspects of the grievance and calling for changes before further action can be taken.

In June, graduate student Aakash Desai filed a grievance alleging discrimination on the basis of political belief and unfair applications of campus policies over the course of his student conduct proceedings, which stemmed from the November 2009 occupation of Wheeler Hall.

In the grievance, Desai alleged that over the course of his conduct proceedings, the campus Code of Student Conduct was inappropriately applied.   He also alleged that “fraudulent evidence” was presented at his hearing that adversely impacted his status as a student and that the “ordeal caused enormous stress for over a year.”

In a letter responding to the grievance, Sheila O’Rourke, the appointed complaint resolution officer, found that the issue of discrimination on the basis of political beliefs falls outside the jurisdiction of the campus Student Grievance Procedure. She also determined that the grievance was incomplete, stating in the letter that specific policies that were alleged to have been unfairly applied were not specified.

“Political belief is not a protected category under the University’s non-discrimination policy or the Student Grievance Procedure,” the letter reads. “With regard to your allegation of ‘unfair’ application of University policies … I find your grievance incomplete.”

Desai has until Sept. 28 to complete the grievance, or it will be dismissed.

According to Desai’s adviser, Thomas Frampton, a UC Berkeley School of Law student and member of the Campus Rights Project, the implications of the decision are “truly frightening for all students on this campus.”

“If you’re a student who can prove you’ve been targeted because of your political beliefs, this decision means you have zero recourse to vindicate your rights,” he said. “This determination means the only remedy you have is a lawsuit against the university.”

O’Rourke could not be reached for comment as of press time.

According to Christopher Patti, chief campus counsel, he cannot comment on individual cases, but in general, in complaints alleging inappropriate applications of campus policies to students, students are required to set forth specific violated policies, if known.

“It is correct that the non-discrimination policy does not prohibit discrimination based on political belief, so a grievance alleging such a violation might well be returned to a student during the 20-day initial review period,” Patti said in the email. “If that occurred, the student would still have 10 days in which to identify a covered law or policy that was violated by the alleged conduct.”

According to Frampton, the amendments to the grievance will be made as requested. He added that he and the Campus Rights Project will work with Desai to “investigate and vigorously pursue all legal channels available.”

“We’ll continue to follow the procedure, do everything that’s asked of us in perhaps the naive hope that the university will take this process seriously,” Frampton said. “While I was hopeful that we were nearing the end of this process … what we’re seeing now strongly indicates that the unwillingness to provide students their basic rights continues, and the problems remain as bad as ever.”