Campus architecture professor continues to deny sex harassment allegations after suspension

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Campus architecture professor Nezar AlSayyad has been suspended for three years without pay effective Aug. 13, after an investigation from two years ago found he sexually harassed a campus graduate student between 2012 and 2014.

Eva Hagberg Fisher, then campus doctoral candidate in architecture and current campus doctoral candidate in visual and narrative culture, filed a complaint with the Title IX office against AlSayyad in March 2016. She alleged that AlSayyad made comments on her appearance, regularly hugged her and touched her leg while she was a graduate student. Hagberg Fisher also alleged that AlSayyad isolated her from other professors, making her more reliant on him for success in the architecture department.

AlSayyad has repeatedly denied these allegations and said in an email that he will “challenge the flawed Title IX process that the administration used to reach its decision.”

Late last year, AlSayyad faced a hearing by the Committee on Privilege and Tenure — a body of the Academic Senate — after which the committee recommended a one-year suspension to Chancellor Carol Christ, according to AlSayyad’s lawyer Dan Siegel. Siegel said accusations of “persistent sexual harassment” had not been proven in the hearing.

After reviewing the evidence, however, Christ found that AlSayyad engaged in a “pattern of sexual harassment” and imposed a three-year suspension, according to a statement provided by campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

“The chancellor decided persistent sexual harassment had been proven, (and) we think that decision goes beyond her authority and was illegal,” Siegel said.

While suspended, AlSayyad is barred from teaching and supervising new graduate students and cannot access campus property except regions available to the general public, according to the statement.

Siegel added that AlSayyad is considering pursuing an appeal of the campus’s decision in court.

Upon hearing the news of AlSayyad’s suspension, Hagberg Fisher said she felt “discombobulated” and that she is still processing the information.

“I had been pushing the university to take action in numerous ways, and when it finally did, I was not sure how to feel about this outcome,” Hagberg Fisher said. “I feel really positive about the fact that Chancellor (Carol) Christ recognized the abuse of power as being so important.”

Students and alumni of the architecture department created a petition in January to remove AlSayyad from all of his held positions on campus.

Campus alumna Marianela D’Aprile assisted in the beginning stages of creating the petition and said she found it “unacceptable” that the campus was not taking action, especially after AlSayyad was found to be in violation of Title IX.

D’Aprile said she was “relieved” when she heard of AlSayyad’s suspension. She added that Hagberg Fisher and other students whom AlSayyad advised were in “limbo” for years before the campus made a decision, and D’Aprile is glad that they now “have some clarity.”

The campus and UC-wide policies regarding sexual misconduct have been reformed since Hagberg Fisher initially filed her complaint, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. Changes have been made to timelines on certain aspects of the process and faculty-led investigations have been eliminated, according to Gilmore.

“We understand the frustration with the time it takes to adjudicate faculty cases,” Gilmore said in an email. “Those changes were not in place when this case entered the system.”

Gilmore added that the campus has been working to expand staffing and strengthen prevention and education efforts, such as the establishment of the PATH to Care Center, which was founded three years ago to provide survivors with campus resources and support.

“I’m hopeful that this might send a message to other would-be harassers that consequences will happen,” Hagberg Fisher said.

Amanda Bradford covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.