UC Berkeley statistics professor allegedly sexually harassed postdoctoral researcher

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UC Berkeley mathematics professor and California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, computational biology professor Lior Pachter filed a Title IX complaint in 2016 against UC Berkeley statistics professor Terry Speed for allegedly sexually harassing a postdoctoral statistics researcher for multiple years, according to Pachter.

While the report was conclusive, Pachter said it is unclear if the campus will act on these findings, which led him to produce a public podcast with Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Hagar Cohen detailing the report. The harassment took place from 2000 to 2002 but was not filed with the Title IX office until April 11, 2016, according to Pachter.

“I’m still hopeful that Berkeley will do the right thing here, but it has been two years, and this is a story in itself,” Pachter said. “I think this is totally unacceptable.”

Pachter, who worked with Speed during his time as a campus assistant professor of mathematics, was a confidante of both Speed and the researcher as the events of the report unfolded. He eventually decided to file the Title IX complaint, which alleged that Speed’s behavior created a “hostile environment” for both Pachter and the researcher.

The 47-page report compiled by the Title IX office found that Speed violated UC Berkeley’s 1992 policy on sexual harassment by frequently sending the postdoctoral researcher explicit emails, including declarations of love, as well as sending Pachter inappropriate emails about his infatuation with the researcher, according to sections of the report that Pachter uploaded to his blog. Speed later refused to write a letter of recommendation for the researcher, negatively impacting her career, according to the podcast.

The investigation took 14 months, Pachter said, after which he was told that the case would be forwarded to Vice Provost for the Faculty Benjamin Hermalin. He emailed Hermalin, who responded that he could not give any information, and Pachter said he continued to email Hermalin every month for the next nine months.

“I’m a huge Bears fan, but not hearing back from the university is highly stressful,” Pachter said. “Not telling victims where things stand and being obtuse about the processes is very frustrating.”

He added that, as difficult as the reporting process has been for him, he “can’t imagine” what it would be like to file such a report as an undergraduate or graduate student. He said that, as a tenured professor, the complaint does not put his career in danger, but that it is “not fair” to put students through the process he has gone through.

“The university should be held accountable to the students,” Pachter said. “The undergrad and grad students in the Berkeley statistics department need to have transparency and clarity and know that they’re safe, that this was taken seriously.”

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the campus cannot comment on “any case,” including on whether or not a case even exists, until a case is filed, a violation has been identified and a disciplinary action is determined.

Speed said in an email that he will not make any statements beyond what was published on his website until the campus case is closed. On the home page of his website, he said he is aware of the investigation and has “co-operated fully with the relevant university authorities.”

He also wrote that the recent social media posts about him “do not reflect the full facts of the situation” and that he “will be working to provide an accurate representation of the events of that time.”

Contact Rachael Cornejo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RachaelCornejo.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the campus cannot comment on any case. In fact, the campus can comment on cases after one has been filed, a violation has been identified and a disciplinary action is determined.