Napolitano announces formation of joint committee to inspect handling of sexual misconduct cases

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After the resignation of Geoffrey Marcy, a famed astronomer and campus professor accused of sexually harassing students for years, UC President Janet Napolitano announced Thursday the formation of a joint committee that will specifically evaluate how the University of California approaches harassment cases between faculty and students.

The committee — which will be composed of students and members of the UC faculty and the Academic Senate — will develop recommendations on handling cases of sexual violence, assault and harassment under the established UC president’s task force on sexual assault.

Marcy’s resignation was accepted soon after the conclusion of a six-month UC investigation, which found that he had “more likely than not” acted inappropriately toward students. A letter from campus astronomy department faculty last week stated their beliefs that Marcy “cannot perform the functions of a faculty member” and that there had been “a lack of communication” in UC Berkeley’s handling of Marcy’s case.

“The first thing that has to be done is perhaps educate everyone as to what procedures are available and what the limitations might be,” said Daniel Hare, professor of entomology at UC Riverside and chair of the systemwide Academic Senate.

Hare will be co-chair of the committee with Sheryl Vacca, task force lead and UC senior vice president and chief compliance and audit officer.

The committee will aim to promote the clarity of procedures for reporting cases of sexual assault, violence or harassment. Its recommendations on handling cases will be reported to Napolitano by the end of February.

“One of the things that needs to be appreciated is that the Academic Senate is just advisory to the chancellor,” Hare said.

The university currently has an interim policy — which has been reviewed throughout the year — for approaching sexual harassment and violence applicable to all UC employees and students. This policy was issued in June and is effective until the end of this year. According to Hare, the interim policy will undergo one last revision in November and be reissued at the beginning of 2016.

According to UCOP spokesperson Rebecca Trounson, the task force has always intended to purview sexual harassment cases involving faculty members, and the recent case with Marcy has “highlighted the need to move forward.”

ASUC Student Advocate Leah Romm, who said she appreciated the promptness of the committee’s formation, explained that it is difficult for students who are involved in sexual harassment cases with faculty members. Students, she said, feel “pressure not to ‘ruin’ staff members’ reputations or their own education.”

Romm said that, among the other issues the committee will be reviewing, she looks forward to the inclusion of student representatives — which she described as “crucial” — a possible revision of the statute of limitations and the committee’s investigation of internal measures.

Contact Ericka Shin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ericka_shin