Instructional status of Blake Wentworth, currently on leave, remains uncertain

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While browsing for classes on the course-compilation website Berkeleytime on Friday, UC Berkeley junior Adora Svitak noticed something surprising — Blake Wentworth, an assistant professor in the department of South and Southeast Asian studies, or SSEAS, was listed as the instructor of a course for the upcoming semester.

Wentworth is currently on paid leave following allegations last year that he sexually harassed two UC Berkeley graduate students and an alumna. While the campus Title IX office found he had violated UC sexual misconduct policy in one of two complaints against him, the disciplinary process surrounding his case is still pending, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

Last month, Wentworth sued the UC Board of Regents and the students who accused him of sexual harassment, arguing that the allegations against him constituted defamation, false light publicity and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The students are filing a motion to dismiss his complaint.

Wentworth’s name was removed as of press time from any course instruction list for the spring 2017 semester on both CalCentral and the SSEAS website, where his name was formerly displayed as an instructor for an undergraduate course.

A screenshot of CalCentral from the Daily Californian that lists Blake Wentworth as an instructor for SSEAS 120 in Spring 2017.

A screenshot of CalCentral from the Daily Californian that lists Blake Wentworth as an instructor for SSEAS 120 in Spring 2017.

Both the department website and Berkeleytime additionally listed Wentworth as an instructor for a graduate course in Tamil literature, though the department website has since removed his name.

As of press time, Wentworth remains listed as an instructor for both courses on the Berkeleytime website, which was designed by UC Berkeley students.

Svitak, who is minoring in South and Southeast Asian studies, had Wentworth as a professor last semester before he left and was replaced by another SSEAS professor for the remainder of the course. Svitak said she was “surprised to see (Wentworth)” on the course listing because the department seemed supportive of the graduate students who had made the allegations.

“It didn’t seem like he would be coming back,” Svitak said.

Benjamin Hermalin, vice provost for the faculty, said in an email that until the disciplinary process concludes, “(Wentworth) has no assigned teaching duties.”

According to Gilmore, however, during this pending period “there is no way for departments to know with certainty when that process will conclude or what the outcome might be.” Gilmore said in an email that departments may tentatively schedule a faculty member for the upcoming semester while the disciplinary process is decided.

“(The) presumption would be that teaching assignments are up to departments,” said Vern Paxson, an EECS professor and chair of the Committee on Privilege and Tenure. In instances like Wentworth’s case, which involves disciplinary proceedings, the committee can determine an appropriate response, according to Paxson.

Sylvia Tiwon, an associate professor in SSEAS, said no faculty in the department had been notified of Wentworth being reappointed in any way.

“(It’s the) first time it’s ever happened in our department. … (There’s) no sense of the precedent of what’s going to happen in the future,” Tiwon said. “Not knowing anything makes it difficult to even express an opinion.”

Professor Jacob Dalton, the department chair for SSEAS, declined to comment.

Dalton, along with Tiwon, was among the department’s faculty signatories of a letter written earlier this year to condemn the campus for their slow response to the complaints against Wentworth.

Wentworth’s ongoing case comes amid numerous high-profile campus sexual harassment cases, among them that of Sujit Choudhry, who was accused of sexual harassment by his assistant. Though Choudhry is not teaching classes, he returned to campus to work in his office at the beginning of the semester, which led to protests by students and community members.

Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @cbell_DC.