UC Berkeley computer science professor accused of sexual assault

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James O’Brien, a campus professor of computer science, was accused of sexual assault as reported in a recent article published by the Wall Street Journal.

The article details an encounter between Samantha Ainsley, a software engineer at Google, and O’Brien, who reportedly met during dinner after a computer-graphics conference in Singapore in November 2012.

Ainsley, then 23, was a doctoral candidate at MIT and attempted to discuss a presentation she had given at the conference with O’Brien when he reportedly leaned in and put his hands on her thigh and up her skirt, according to the article.

O’Brien allegedly later invited her to his hotel room and asked for a good-night kiss, both of which Ainsley declined, according to the article. When Ainsley confronted O’Brien about her discomfort the next day, Ainsley said O’Brien dismissed her by rolling his eyes and asking her to a conference in Barbados later that winter, the article states.

O’Brien denied the allegations as “categorically false” in a statement provided by Wendy Tanaka, a spokesperson for O’Brien.

“As other eyewitnesses in the group have confirmed to the professor’s representatives, Professor O’Brien did not, as Ms. Ainsley alleged, grope, put his hand up her skirt or engage in any inappropriate conduct,” the statement alleges.

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that UC Berkeley is committed to respecting the confidentiality concerns of people involved in Title IX processes such as this one. She added that the campus only discloses information about specific cases when it has concluded that a policy violation occurred.

“We are committed to creating a campus climate where sexual violence and sexual harassment are not tolerated, and that goal is reflected in our prevention and response efforts that have been strengthen in recent years,” Gilmore said. “We seek to provide a fair process for the accused while also ensuring support for those who come forward, whenever they choose to come forward.”

O’Brien was not previously named in the 131 cases of sexual misconduct reported by The Daily Californian news staff, as Ainsley had not reported the incident until five years later, according to the article. The database covers cases of sexual misconduct since October 2010 that have involved University of California employees, according to UC Title IX investigation reports.

The article states that Ainsley met with UC Berkeley’s campus Title IX office in late December to discuss a potential investigation, though no formal action has been taken yet.

Attorneys for O’Brien are seeking “corrections and retractions” from the Wall Street Journal, according to the statement.

O’Brien is not scheduled to teach any courses during the spring semester, according to the electrical engineering and computer science class schedules for 2018. Tanaka added that his absence next semester was decided summer 2017 and has “nothing to do with the article.”

Ainsley could not be reached as of press time.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said the campus is working towards disciplinary action for O’Brien’s case. In fact, Gilmore said the campus could not disclose information about specific cases, or whether the campus was currently investigating Ainsley’s allegations.

Ani Vahradyan is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anivahrad.