Campus response to Geoff Marcy sexual harassment allegations inadequate

“After all of this effort and trying to go through the proper channels, Berkeley has ultimately come up with no response. I’ve seen sexual harassers get slaps on the wrist before. This isn’t even a slap on the wrist.” —Joan Schmelz, former chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy.

As students and alumni of this institution, we are deeply troubled by the recent and egregious example of UC Berkeley administrators sacrificing the safety of the students to protect the institution’s reputation. Astronomy professor Geoff Marcy was found to have violated the school’s sexual harassment policy for more than a decade. Despite complaints against him from 2001-10, the university took no significant action against him, and he resigned only after the investigation’s findings and dismal disciplinary process became public. Why? We suspect it has something to do with his fame and status in his field. But although another “Nobel laureate” parking spot may attract more students, a professor implicated in a breach of campus sexual harassment policies is hardly something to advertise.

According to the Faculty Code of Conduct, a professor found in violation of UC Berkeley policy can be sanctioned with a written censure, reduction in salary, demotion, suspension or dismissal from the campus. The only one of these measures taken was a simple written censure, and he was allowed to resign voluntarily as opposed to being dismissed. Vice Provost for Faculty Janet Broughton is ultimately responsible for assessing violation of the faculty code of conduct, and she and the members of the academic senate involved in this process failed to respond appropriately to the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination’s finding of responsibility. Recent emails from Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele highlighted the complicated aspects of disciplining faculty, suggesting that inappropriate behavior from professors will be tolerated because of their powerful positions on campus.

All faculty, even Nobel Prize contenders, must be held accountable for their actions. The law does not exempt scientists, famous people, nice guys or smart guys from facing disciplinary action if found responsible for sexual harassment or assault. That even famed professors can, and do, commit these atrocities should not be surprising; sexual harassment and violence are about power, control and entitlement — not sex.

We are extraordinarily disappointed in our institution for protecting an alleged serial predator who allegedly harassed both undergraduate and graduate students. But what is worse than UC Berkeley’s dismal response is that UC Berkeley’s deliberate indifference to sexual violence is so typical that we have come to expect it. And because this case involves a faculty member, as opposed to the common “student-on-student” case, high-level administrators are to blame for it. We are calling on Broughton, Dirks and the Academic Senate to improve their disciplinary practices and hold faculty accountable.

In addition to failing to punish a man accused of serially sexually harassing women, UC Berkeley’s soon-to-be-former Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion and chair of the astronomy department, Gibor Basri, said in an email to astronomy faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers last week that the declaration of the revelations was “hardest for Geoff” and that we should offer him “support and understanding.” There was no mention whatsoever in his email of the women he had harassed.

To be blunt: We are outraged. We are disappointed. But the one thing we are not is surprised.



Sofie Karasek, UC Berkeley ’15, director of education, End Rape on Campus

Haley Broder, ASUC senator 2014-15

Meghan Warner, student representative, UC Task Force on Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault

Thanh Bercher, Cal Consent Campaign director, It’s On Us participant

Marandah Field-Elliot, QTips president*  

Holly Wertman, Miriam the IV director

Annie Seymour, UC Berkeley ’16

Olivia McGovern, UC Berkeley ’17

Sheena Paul, ASUC senator

Zoe Brouns, ASUC senator

Melissa Hsu, ASUC academic affairs vice president

Marium Navid, ASUC external affairs vice president

Lavanya Jawaharlal, ASUC executive vice president

Yordanos Dejen, ASUC president

Kevin Gorman, former Wikipedian in Residence, UC Berkeley ’13

Shannon Thomas, UC Berkeley ’14

Caitlin Quinn, ASUC external affairs vice president 2014-15

Sahar Priano, UConsent campaign manager, Gender Equity intern

Shivani Narang, ASUC Sexual Assault Commission director

Amber Akemi Piatt, MPH, Graduate Assembly’s Women of Color Initiative director 2013-15, It’s On Us participant

Aron Egelko, UC Berkeley ’15

Linda Blum, UC Berkeley ’87

Cal Berkeley Democrats’ Executive Board

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  • nofrillsjustbills

    Note to the signatories: 1. just because you ‘suspect’ something (in this case, that Vice Provost Broughton was covering for Marcy because of his ‘fame and status’), doesn’t make it so — though it is helpful in revealing your own prejudices. 2. Napolitano’s announcement of the formation of a task force to revise UC policies in light of the Marcy situation is a pretty good indication of the fact that the Berkeley administration’s hands were in fact tied by system-level rules.

    This being a university, maybe we can frame this as a teachable moment for you: assuming the worst of people not only is generally unbecoming, it also more often than not leads you toward untruth.

    • Kevin Gorman

      Almost every signatory has had multiple negative interactions with senior administrators about sexual harrassment/sexual assault/rape. When there is a pattern this big, it’s not an accident. When I was an undergrad, in a meeting with the then current dean of students about a serial rapist, the man stood while I (as an undergrad) was sitting, and screamed with at least some cursing thrown in. The vast majority of signatories have had very similar, or worse experiences.

      Please note that other schools – like UCSD – aren’t on the DOE list, and don’t have problems going back through multiple iterations of their administrators. Broughton is outright lying in saying her hands were tied. Basri and Broughton could’ve removed him from teaching duties. He was teaching seventeen year olds. From his RMP ratings, he was creeping on seventeen year olds. I have sent in a public records request for his end of semester evals, and if his end of semester evals have similar problems to his RMP ones, it’s a sign of something seriously rotten.

      I guess since I’ve been both a student and instructor here, while we’re trying to teach each other things, I can point out that op-eds inherently contain opinion?

      • nofrillsjustbills

        It sucks that some now-departed administrator was rude to you. But that doesn’t provide any evidence that a different administrator, years later, is engaged in a cover up. The activists on this issue are full of passionate intensity, but as this example shows, tend to have a poor grasp of rules of evidence and procedure, and then when things don’t work out as they think just, assume malign motives on the part of those merely charged with implementing policies set from on high.

        • Kevin Gorman

          So, you don’t think that the fact that our previous Dean of Students decided to scream at a student in his office meeting with him about a serial rapist and refused to meet with survivors of said-rapist who were willing to speak with him isn’t relevant to the current situation? Keeping in mind that the Dean of Students bears primary responsibility for ug sexual assault issues? Or that many of the signatories here have similar experiences with many of our senior administrators over multiple iterations isn’t relevant?

          Or that the current Vice-Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion – who was aware of the details of the findings regarding Marcy – sent out an email strongly supporting Marcy with no mention of the women he attacked is relevant? Or the fact that most of the signatories of this letter can account similar experiences with other senior administrators over multiple iterations is relevant?

          Geoff Marcy was teaching 17 year olds. Broughton and Basri have the ability, within policy, to have removed him from all of his teaching duties. There is no question about that. Why did they let Geoff continue to teach anyone – let alone seventeen year olds – after his behavior was revealed?

          I’m posting under my real name, and have comprehensively read most UCB policies related to instruction and discipline. I did – if you missed it in my previous post – serve in an instructional role at UCB. All of the other signatories are also posting under their real names. Given that you certainly seem to have a vested interest in this, I’d invite you to reveal your real name and affiliation.

        • Kevin Gorman

          Okay, with no response in a day, I’m calling you out.

          You aren’t a normal daily cal troll, you clearly have a vested interest in this issue, and you very clearly are familiar with the rough outlines of UCB disciplinary proceedings while either ignorantly or intentionally ignoring the precise details. Reveal your real name and affiliation, and explain why you think it was appropriate (and Basri and Broughton could have 100% done this within policy) to allow Geoff to continue his teaching duties (which include classes regularly taken by seventeen year olds.)

          By the way – Basri and Broughton by keeping these findings secret for an extended period of time (I records act requested the whole investigation in to Marcy, so this should come out soon enough) almost certainly violated their duties as Mandated Reporters under California State law (even reporting to UCPD would have been inadequate, because UCPD is a police department controlled by a school.)

          • nofrillsjustbills

            Maybe I *am* Basri or Broughton….mwahahaha! Actually, Kevin, pseudonymity is working for me, for some of the reasons Geek Feminism explains very well: But hey, maybe you’re ready to dismiss them too as authoritarian, sexist shills?

            What I can tell you is this: I am a Cal alum from a couple years ago, and so you’re right, I do have some “interested” reasons for caring about this topic. More to the point, if working for a large bureaucracy (federal, as it happens) has taught me one thing, it’s that what from the outside looks like evil behavior is, much more often than not, the result of mere (though often deep) incompetence.

            I mean, sure, maybe Broughton and Basri are friends with Marcy and were looking to cover for him. Obviously I know nothing of their personal relationships. But, I find that assumption to be pretty unlikely based on what I’ve experienced about how large bureaucracies work. (So far no one has offered any direct evidence of a cover-up, so you’re just assuming it. Maybe the coming avalanche of FOIA requests will turn something up, in which case I’ll admit I was wrong; but until then I remain skeptical, as should be any fair person.) To repeat: the fact that the higher-ups in the UC system chose to own this mess, when it would have been easy for them to throw the Berkeley bureaucrats under the bus, is a pretty good sign of where the real problem lies. (Check this out:

            Here’s what I bet the real story is: given that the social norms about what’s considered intolerable behavior in this arena (sexual harassment, etc) are changing rapidly (for the better!), the bureaucrats and their rules just aren’t keeping up. Simple as that. However, it’s a huge and unjustified leap to assume that this failure to adjust to a changing social reality means that they’re all evil, or that they’re engaged in a vast conspiracy, or that the administration as a whole doesn’t care about this issue. Self-righteousness may be a mighty pleasing feeling, Kevin, but it shouldn’t be confused with a method for uncovering the truth.

          • Kevin Gorman

            I know and respect many of the founders of GeekFem, and agree that there are good reasons to remain pseudonymous. There are also good reasons (and they would agree with me here,) to challenge the pseudonymity of people in certain cases where their behavior appears to be directed at defending an entrenched group of people who have in the past repeatedly shown their willingness to collaborate so as to avoid reputational harm (from issues of sexual harrassment, assault, and rape of UCB students,) as, again, most of the signatories can directly testify to, in both present and past administrations.

            Basri and Broughton had the ability to unilaterally strip Marcy of his ability to teach 17-18 year olds among other students. They chose not to. There are plenty of adequate provisions without going before the faculty senate that would have allowed them to do so, that they intentionally chose not to pursue. Basri, as both departmethead and VCEI both would’ve been aware of the findings as soon as they were completed (and the investigation as soon as it started,) and still chose not to act. Even the astro fac letter was delivered to our administrators by Eugene Chiang, not Basri – certainly you’d expect the departmenthead and VCEI to take a leading role in such a thing, instead of internally defending Geoff with no mention of the effected women (as he did?)

            I’d put way more details in this post, but I’d rather revisit the issue once the administration satisfies the public records requests of both myself and multiple journalists. It’ll clear up an awful lot. (Though it’d be unfortunate if they make us go to court to get them, since the California Public Records Act awards attorney’s fees to the prevailing party, and with the requests that have been made and standing precedent, UC will very clearly lose. I want UCB to succeed, and would hate to have them to decide to waste their money paying to argue against black letter law.)

    • Nunya Beeswax

      Emotional certainty trumps everything. Who gives a damn about facts when you have a narrative?

      • Kevin Gorman

        It’s funny how most of the signatories (I can’t speak for all, as I don’t know all of them,) have both a substantial pattern of facts and a narrative, and the only people arguing against us are pseudonymous people using logical fallacies. (Actually, before someone corrects me – that’s not a formal logical fallacy, it could be politely described as an example of Ignoratio elenchi, and more accurately described by words I’m not sure the DailyCal would like in a comment.)

        • Nunya Beeswax

          Get off the pseudonym complaints, Kevin. That’s not going to change, so you’ll just have to deal with it.

          He’s no longer teaching at Berkeley. I’m not sure what the difference might have been if he’d been dismissed (if indeed the VC for Equity & Inclusion has the unilateral power to bypass the UCOP and Academic Senate)–except that then the university might be fighting a wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

          What more would further sanctions have accomplished? No institution with even minimal sensitivity about sexual harassment is going to hire him anyway. His career may not be over, but everyone in his field, and most people in higher education, know what he is now. Is it the symbolic effect of punishment and shaming you want?

          • Kevin Gorman

            UCOP doesn’t handle campus level discipline, and facsen is not involved in department level issues like the stripping of teaching duties. And you can disagree with my point that one side is speaking out under all of our real names whereas those criticizing us and claiming (falsely) that admin did all they could do are all speaking under pseudonyms is relevant, but it’s absolutely fair to point out that pseudonymous users that look like they have clear vested interests in the matter are only participating pseudonymously (and to be clear, I generally strongly support pseudonymity.)

            Someone who is both VCEI and departmenthead in conjunction with the EVP (and probably by himself given the actions the EVP’s office took,) could absolutely have stripped Geoff of his teaching duties and ensured his grad student interactions were monitored. He would have been well within his authority to unilaterally do so.

            I’m concerned that we have a (soon to be ex-VCEI) and current departmenthead who, while aware of the results of the investigation, was comfortable with allowing Geoff to continue to teach undergrads, including 17 year olds. That’s not really okay behavior.

  • zack

    Outstanding letter. Wish I could have signed it too. It boggles the mind that the primary concern of the Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion would be to offer support and understanding to the perpetrator. As a physics professor at UCSC, I deeply appreciate the important work done by the signers of this letter.

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