Stopping sexual harassment

UNIVERSITY ISSUES: UC Regent Norman Pattiz's sexually predatory nature shows the terrible ongoing standards throughout the UC system.

UC Regent Norman Pattiz watched as case after high-profile sexual harassment case came to light throughout the University of California. Then Pattiz, a trustee at the system’s highest level, perpetuated the crisis in his own depraved way.

In May, he asked his colleague if he could touch her breasts. Apparently, not even months of public scrutiny and bad press could make him consider the implications of his offensive and disgusting comments.

This kind of chilling, unpunished ignorance sits on the UC Board of Regents, the body charged with overseeing an overhaul of systemwide sexual harassment policy, demonstrating how pervasive and deep-rooted sexism is in the UC system.

The first lesson here is that the regents urgently need a system that holds them accountable for actions that fall outside the purview of regent business. Pattiz’s lackluster apology, in which he called the whole situation “a valuable learning experience,” doesn’t go far enough.

It also serves as a reminder that UC regents, appointed by the governor for 12-year terms, are often completely out of touch with the needs and morality of most students and faculty who make up the system. The regents board deserves members appointed for reasons besides their relationship with the governor.

Even on this campus, where some of the system’s highest-profile sexual harassment cases have occurred, the journey toward effective solutions has been fraught with unnecessary bureaucracy and false promises.

For example, last week, the campus celebrated the formation of a panel that will consider sexual harassment cases involving faculty, staff and students, and will advise the chancellor on effective and fitting punishments.

And while the variety of campus communities represented in the panel — including staff, students and faculty — is heartening, the fact is that UC President Janet Napolitano recommended the formation of this panel in April. When a clear vision exists, there’s little excuse to take half a year to realize it.

Moreover, the already-existing chancellor’s committee — chaired by the interim lead on the campus’s response to sexual harassment allegations, Carla Hesse — promised to introduce recommendations and reforms by October.

Improving sanctions and enforcements against sexual perpetrators isn’t easy. But a committee of people in the field of education should know better than to blow through deadlines, particularly when they’re self-imposed.

The convoluted nature of these committees and panels also poses problems. Sifting through the jurisdiction and authority of each committee takes long, focused effort. When adjudicating sexual harassment cases, figuring out how to navigate various authoritative bodies shouldn’t be a project in and of itself.  

If the UC system can’t yet hold its most influential and senior members accountable for the sexual harassment they commit, why should anybody lower in rank expect anything different?

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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