Provost Claude Steele recuses himself from Berkeley Law interim dean selection

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Update 03/16/2016: This article has been updated to reflect a statement from the Boalt Hall Student Association, along with Berkeley Law’s Coalition for Diversity.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele recused himself from the selection process for an interim dean of UC Berkeley School of Law on Tuesday amid mounting pressure from campus student groups.

The move comes in the wake of former Berkeley Law dean Sujit Choudhry resigning from his post Thursday after his executive assistant Tyann Sorrell filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Choudhry and the UC Board of Regents for sexual harassment.

While traditionally, the provost would make a recommendation to the chancellor, who has final say over the choice, Steele opted to delegate his duties to other members of the administration. The recommendation process for the interim dean will now be at the discretion of Vice Provost for the Faculty Janet Broughton, Vice Provost for the Faculty-Designate Ben Hermalin and Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Na’ilah Nasir.

In the email through which Steele recused himself from the appointment decision, he also reiterated his refusal of a faculty appointment to the law school.

The decision to recuse himself reverses Steele’s previous statement earlier Tuesday that he would remain in his provostial role in the selection of the interim dean. The original response came after the Boalt Hall Student Association, or BHSA, released a survey Tuesday revealing that 75 percent of nearly 400 law students surveyed thought Steele should have no role in the selection process.

“I believe staying in this role is a more stabilizing choice for the school than any of the alternatives that are realistically available to me,” Steele said in his initial statement. “The school … needs a good and stabilizing leader as soon as possible.”

By 5 p.m., Steele had changed his decision, electing to recuse himself from the process.

“I think it’s fair to say that he completely bungled the whole issue,” said Tam Ma, a 2011 law school graduate who supported Steele’s recusal. “(Steele) allowed Choudhry to go back to work, even though … Choudhry had violated the sexual harassment policy.”

Kyneshawau Hurd, co-chair for Berkeley Law’s Coalition for Diversity, said that representatives from the coalition and the BHSA demanded Steele’s recusal in a meeting with UC President Janet Napolitano and Chancellor Nicholas Dirks a few hours before Steele’s announcement to recuse himself.

On March 10, a statement from the two groups alleged that Steele, among others, had “failed to keep the survivor, faculty, students, and staff safe, and continue to fail to do so.”

The two groups also issued an amendment to the March 10 statement the next day, calling for Steele to remove himself from deciding the next Berkeley Law interim dean.

Authored by Sloan Patrice Whiteside, third-year law student class co-president, and Hurd, the amendment alleged that Steele “grossly mishandled his disciplinary power” in response to the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination’s finding that Choudhry had violated university sexual harassment policy.

Of the students surveyed by BHSA, 30 percent said Steele should resign from both his post as executive vice chancellor and provost and his position in Berkeley Law. In addition, 11 percent said he should resign only from his position in the law school.

The survey also found that 47 percent of surveyed students selected law professor Melissa Murray as their first-choice candidate for interim dean. Murray declined to comment on Steele’s recusal.

According to Steele’s initial statement, he intended to find an interim dean by the end of the week. Officials now in charge of selecting an interim dean could not be immediately reached for comment.

Austin Weinstein covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @aweinstein5.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that Vice Provost for the Faculty Janet Broughton, Vice Provost for the Faculty-Designate Ben Hermalin and Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Na’ilah Nasir have final say over the appointment of the new UC Berkeley School of Law dean. In fact, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks has final say over the appointment, but Broughton, Hermalin and Nasir will make the recommendation to Dirks.

Correction(s):
Because of misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article referenced a statement from the Boalt Hall Student Association and Berkeley Law’s Coalition for Diversity, calling for Claude Steele’s resignation from the post of executive vice chancellor and provost. In fact, these groups are not calling for Steele’s resignation — rather, they are calling for him to have no role in the selection of the interim dean.