Longtime UC Berkeley architecture professor and former chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies Nezar AlSayyad was found to have sexually harassed a graduate student in a recent campus investigation.
AlSayyad is the latest faculty member in the past year found to have violated UC sexual misconduct policy. As first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, AlSayyad, who has taught architecture on campus for three decades, allegedly harassed at least three students, although only one investigation has been completed in response to a student’s complaint so far, according to the Chronicle.
The Chronicle reported that AlSayyad is also under investigation for a complaint filed against him by a student in the spring for a nonsexual misconduct violation.
The investigation was conducted by an independent investigator hired by the campus. Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof declined to comment on specific cases, saying that the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination engages independent investigators when the caseload exceeds capacity of full-time staff, but that OPHD oversees and remains involved with these cases.
Eva Hagberg Fisher, a campus doctoral candidate, filed a complaint in March with the Title IX office against AlSayyad, alleging that he continually hugged her, invited her out socially for drinks or dinner and gave her unsolicited compliments on her appearance while she was studying under him.
In October 2013, she agreed to get drinks with him, she alleged, and while he drove her home he put his hand on her upper thigh and asked if the two of them could become “close friends.”
When Hagberg Fisher began to pursue doctoral programs on campus, she alleged, AlSayyad falsely told her that he was the only architecture professor who would want to work with her. Because of his feedback, she invited him to serve on her doctoral exam committee, where he told her that some of the other professors on the committee had criticized her and that he was the only one who fought for her to pass her exams, Hagberg Fisher alleged.
“Graduate students are very beholden to a small amount of people to advance our careers,” said Hagberg Fisher. “It was an abuse of the power built into how we receive our education, and women are disadvantaged.”
AlSayyad did not respond to requests for comment. He denied all allegations of misconduct in an email sent to a faculty budget forum list, and in a nearly identical message sent to students through bCourses and obtained by The Daily Californian, he called the allegations “retaliation by a disgruntled student.”
“I believe the campus’ current hyper climate has encouraged the filing of exaggerated complaints of which I am now a victim, as time will ultimately tell,” he said in the email.
A current student in one of AlSayyad’s classes, who has requested to remain anonymous, said students in the graduate city planning program have warned each other and incoming students of AlSayyad’s past behavior for years.
“There have been rumors about his behavior ever since I’ve been here,” said the student, who is in their second year on campus. “I’m surprised they’re only just coming to light.”
AlSayyad, who taught at least one class this semester, is not scheduled to teach any courses next semester. Mogulof said that this decision does not indicate disciplinary action but that the campus can choose to “avoid the possibility of class disruption” in deciding when to schedule professors to teach.
AlSayyad, who earned more than $210,000 as a professor last year, chaired the Center for Middle Eastern Studies from 1996 to 2014 and is a recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award.
Graduate students in the department of city and regional planning released a statement Monday demanding that the department provide counseling resources and alternatives for students enrolled in City Planning 200, a required class for graduate students that is currently taught by AlSayyad.
The students also requested that AlSayyad be suspended from all campus positions while the investigation into his conduct proceeds, and that his tenure be removed immediately if he is found in violation of the Faculty Code of Conduct.
There are some people in Hagberg Fisher’s department, she said, who are not happy she came forward. She said fewer complaints are vocalized as a result of a “put your head down and do your work” culture in academia.
“I don’t think that’s an acceptable environment for women,” Hagberg Fisher said. “Women’s civil rights are not appearing to be upheld at the university.”