Graduate student’s formal grievance sparks investigation into various injury allegations

Aakash Desai (right), a graduate student who was involved in the November 2009 Wheeler Hall occupation, sits beside his adviser, Thomas Frampton (left), at a student conduct hearing in April. Desai filed a grievance alleging unfair application of campus policies.
Edwin Cho/File
Aakash Desai (right), a graduate student who was involved in the November 2009 Wheeler Hall occupation, sits beside his adviser, Thomas Frampton (left), at a student conduct hearing in April. Desai filed a grievance alleging unfair application of campus policies.

After a determination last week, the campus will begin an investigation into allegations stemming from a formal grievance filed by a UC Berkeley graduate student who alleged unfair application of campus policies over the course of his student conduct proceedings.

In June, graduate student Aakash Desai — who faced charges of, but was later found not responsible for, campus conduct violations for his involvement in the November 2009 occupation of Wheeler Hall — filed the formal grievance, alleging that unfair application of campus policy resulted in injury in the form of a decline in his grades, loss of potential income and stress.

In a letter to Desai dated Sept. 23, Sheila O’Rourke, the appointed complaint resolution officer for the grievance, found that Desai’s grievance was timely, complete and within the jurisdiction of the campus Student Grievance Procedure — a little over a week after she had determined his grievance to be incomplete.

“After careful review … I find that you have alleged facts, which, if true, would violate the UC Policy on Speech and Advocacy, which protects the free speech rights of students,” the letter states. “I also find that your allegation of ‘stress’ is a grievable injury if there is evidence that it was caused by violation of this policy.”

In a previous determination on Sept. 14, O’Rourke dismissed the issue of discrimination on the basis of political beliefs, finding that it fell outside the jurisdiction of the campus grievance procedure.

She also found that the grievance was incomplete, stating in the letter that specific policies that were alleged to have been unfairly applied were not specified.

After Desai’s adviser, Thomas Frampton, a UC Berkeley School of Law student and member of the Campus Rights Project, submitted amendments alleging that the specific policy that was misapplied was the campus Code of Student Conduct, the grievance was found to be complete.

However, O’Rourke’s response has no mention of the policy, something that Frampton said he finds “deeply troubling.”

“That’s the heart of his grievance, and it’s one the University is evidently trying to dodge,” he said in an email.

O’Rourke will begin an investigation into the matter by sending a copy of Desai’s grievance to the unit in which the violation of policy allegedly occurred, asking for a written response, according to the letter.

According to the letter, O’Rourke will make a final determination about the grievance by Nov. 1.

The next steps of the grievance process for Desai will be to wait for responses, according to Frampton.

“Now we wait to hear (the Office of Student Conduct’s) response,” he said in an email. “We hope they’re forthcoming about what they know, and we hope Ms. O’Rourke pursues her investigation as thoroughly as possible.”

Frampton added that how the allegations and the grievance are dealt with will prove to be a test of sincerity.

“I think the University has all but admitted … that they’ve badly mishandled the student disciplinary process for the past several years,” Frampton said in the email. “If those concessions are to have any meaning, though, the University needs to prove itself willing to make whole those students harmed by University officials’ wrongdoing. I think that will be the real test of whether the University is sincere.”