UC community reacts to release of documents showing 124 cases of sex misconduct

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Lucy Tang/Staff

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The release of documents Tuesday showing more than 100 cases of UC sexual misconduct policy violations systemwide disturbed many, but surprised few.

After filing a California Public Records Act request nearly a year ago, The Daily Californian obtained hundreds of pages of documents revealing that at least 124 cases of sexual misconduct had occurred at the 10 UC campuses from January 2013 to April 2016. The documents, at times heavily redacted, arrived about a year after several high-profile sexual harassment scandals erupted on the UC Berkeley campus.

The documents revealed that at least 26 investigations at UCSF, 25 at UCLA and 13 at both UC Berkeley and UC Davis found respondents to have violated UC sexual misconduct policy in the three-year span. The respondents in the 124 total cases included faculty members and maintenance, lab and dining hall employees.

“It made me very sad — not sad because the number is so high, but because the number is so low compared to the amount of sexual harassment that actually happens at universities,” said Leslie Levy, an attorney representing Tyann Sorrell, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in March 2016 against Sujit Choudhry, former dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law.

Campus spokespeople across the UC system were quick to affirm that their respective campuses consistently adapt their sexual misconduct policies to align with changes proposed by the UC Office of the President. Several spokespeople highlighted ongoing education and prevention efforts, stating that campuses were working toward harassment-free environments.

“Ideally, we want to have zero instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault in our community,” said UC Irvine spokesperson Tom Vasich. “But there’s one thing to consider — we’re a campus with 30,000 students, thousands of faculty. … We function pretty much as a midsize city on any given day. With that, we take all reports of sexual misconduct seriously.”

The accused who stay

In response to the newly released documents, several UC students have expressed astonishment that some faculty members who were found to have violated UC sexual misconduct policy remained on campus, although several resigned after Title IX investigations were completed.

Joseph Lewis, a professor of art and the former dean of UC Irvine’s art school, was accused of sexual harassment by a female staff member in 2014. He was dismissed from his position as dean after the completion of a Title IX investigation, but he remained a professor on the Irvine campus.

Lewis, as well as several other respondents named in the Title IX investigation reports, could not be reached for comment on the details of their investigations as of press time.

Gurinder Singh Mann, a former professor of Sikh studies at UC Santa Barbara, was accused of sexual harassment in 2013 by a female student, who alleged that the professor asked her to lie on his bed and then put his hand under her shirt, according to the Title IX report. Mann was allowed to remain on the Santa Barbara campus as a professor until his retirement in 2015.

“(These allegations) are very distressing to my client … to have this come up again after several years,” said Lauren Udden, Mann’s attorney.

Udden, along with Giles Gunn, former chair of the UCSB global studies department, said no formal hearing was held in response to the Title IX investigation report on Mann.

UC Title IX investigations are not criminal investigations, and their findings are based on a lower standard of proof than in criminal cases.

Kelli Kuhn, a freshman at UC Santa Barbara, said in an email that the number of misconduct cases UC students were unaware of since 2013 is “staggering.” Title IX documents revealed that at least six cases of sexual misconduct involving UC employees had likely occurred on the Santa Barbara campus from 2013-16. Kuhn alleged that the university seems to care more about protecting its reputation than protecting students.

“Considering the emphasis that UCSB and other UC campuses seem to place on education concerning sexual assault/sexual harassment between students, I find it extremely hypocritical of them to not hold sexual misconduct between staff members and students to the same standard,” Kuhn said in an email.

A perturbing pattern

Research on sexual harassment in higher education institutions has illuminated several consistencies about the erratic plight: Most respondents are individuals the complainants knew before the harassment, the majority of sexual harassment goes unreported, and most perpetrators are never held accountable by the university or the law in any way, according to a May 2016 article published in the Yale Law Journal.

The article added that college women ages 18 to 24 are three times more likely than other women to be sexually assaulted or harassed, and that college-age male students are 78 percent more likely than nonstudents to be victims of rape or other forms of sexual assault.

According to Levy, committees created for policy change should ensure more survivor representation.

Sorrell, who formerly served as Choudhry’s executive assistant, filed a lawsuit against her boss, alleging that he had repeatedly touched her in an inappropriate manner. UC President Janet Napolitano then sent a letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks expressing her “unhappiness” over discovering the office’s findings through the media. Choudhry consequently stepped down as dean but returned to campus as a faculty member in the fall, with a one-year 10 percent salary reduction.

“The only reason it got handled the way it did — he stepped down — was because she filed (the) suit and Napolitano got involved,” Levy said.

Shir Alon, a graduate student at UCLA and a member of Bruins Against Sexual Harassment, emphasized the need for more systemwide transparency. Alon added that the university’s release of these documents is an important first step toward changing policy.

“Women are scared to report for many reasons: fear of not being believed, having their privacy taken away, having their careers derailed — all reasons that have a basis in reality,” Levy said. “That’s the reality the UC needs to change.”

Staff writers Shayann Hendricks, Bobby Lee, Azwar Shakeel and Connor Bunnell contributed to this report.

Contact Audrey McNamara and Ashley Wong at [email protected].