At the time of professor Nezar AlSayyad’s last scheduled City Planning 200 section this semester, his classroom was empty.
After the San Francisco Chronicle reported this week that a campus investigation found AlSayyad to have sexually harassed a graduate student, students walked out of his section Thursday. Chanting “Protect students, not tenure,” approximately 50 protesters marched across campus, stopping in front of the UC Berkeley School of Law as well as the campus astronomy and South and Southeast Asian studies departments — all buildings where campus professors found to have violated university sexual misconduct policy once taught.
In lieu of attending the class — which would have been the first since the findings were publicized — AlSayyad uploaded a lecture video to the class’s bCourses website. AlSayyad’s lawyer Larry Kamer stressed that his client has not been formally charged with any wrongdoing.
“The leaked Title IX report is exactly that — a leaked document — and should be viewed skeptically,” Kamer said in an email.
Brooke Staton, a city and regional planning graduate student enrolled in the required city planning course, stressed that the students were not just demonstrating in response to the most recent reports of sexual harassment but were protesting the campus’s approach to sexual violence allegations as a whole. AlSayyad is the 20th campus employee since 2011 who has been publicly found to have violated university sexual misconduct policy.
“It was upsetting to find out that this was going on,” Staton said. “More so, I was very disappointed that somebody who was under investigation for such a serious transgression was able to continue interacting with students … I really feel like that put students in harm’s way.”
Staton added that she wants the campus to develop a new system for addressing sexual harassment allegations that minimizes safety risks to students, such as placing professors who are being investigated for sexual misconduct on administrative leave.
On Wednesday, the Department of City and Regional Planning announced in an email to students in AlSayyad’s course that they would be given the option to move into a new section of the course taught by a different instructor. AlSayyad is also not scheduled to teach any courses next semester.
Matt Wade, the graduate student instructor for City Planning 200, said he felt betrayed upon reading about the allegations against AlSayyad. AlSayyad sat on his qualifying exam committee and worked closely with him while he was writing his dissertation.
“I trusted him,” Wade said, who, since learning of the allegations, has decided to boycott an international conference that AlSayyad will chair. “There were rumors (of sexual harassment), but because of this system, which requires 100 percent confidentiality, nobody knows anything.”
After the protest, the students took to the Wurster Hall Courtyard, where they broke into groups to discuss several readings, including feminist poetry and design theory. A healing circle was concurrently held in the Cal Design Lab.
“We’re prepared to see this through as long as we need to and continue building with our allies in other departments to make sure we see these changes in this campus that we love being students at,” Staton said.