UC Berkeley must continue to reform its faculty disciplinary process

letter to the editor
Willow Yang/File

Our campus community deserves an environment free of sexual violence and sexual harassment, or SVSH. As a former member of the Committee on Privilege and Tenure, or P&T, which hears SVSH cases involving faculty members, I encourage my fellow faculty to join me in taking a fresh look at our faculty disciplinary process.

Our campus relies on the discipline process to hold faculty accountable and depends on the willingness of survivors to participate. We must offer survivors a prompt, humane and transparent process for the adjudication of SVSH. This has too often not been the case.

The faculty discipline process has raised a number of frustrations: The process takes too long; P&T hearings are difficult for witnesses, particularly survivors; privacy considerations limit communication about cases, even as the community wants — and deserves — to know what has happened.

Faculty discipline, governed by UC-wide rules, begins once a Title IX investigation by the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, or OPHD, has found that a policy violation occurred. The discipline process has multiple stages.

First, the vice provost for the faculty decides what sanctions to seek, either through negotiated settlement or by filing charges with P&T. Negotiation, being faster and more flexible, is attempted first; if negotiations fail, the P&T process ensues. P&T holds a multiday hearing with witness testimony. P&T reviews all the evidence and recommends sanctions if it determines that policy was violated. Another negotiation period may follow. For cases that don’t settle, the chancellor, with approval if needed from the UC President or Board of Regents, makes the final decision. This process has tended to take a very long time.

Our campus cannot readily change systemwide structures, but we are moving to limit the negotiation time frame — a local procedural change that can shorten cases considerably. I also encourage my Academic Senate colleagues to give serious thought to the resourcing of P&T so that the hearing and deliberation process can be completed sooner.

A second concern is the experience of participants in P&T hearings. It is vital that the process is fair and minimizes retraumatization of witnesses during testimony and cross-examination. Our campus has undertaken to improve the adjudication experience for all by training campus adjudicators in trauma-informed perspectives (as UC policy requires).

The third concern is transparency. While systemwide procedures require communication with complainants and respondents throughout an SVSH case, privacy considerations prevent the community from being informed. This frustrates community members, who deserve to know whether they are safe and whether perpetrators are held accountable. While continuing to respect privacy rules, we are working to make the SVSH investigation and adjudication processes engage more systematically with department leadership around community needs, including interim safety measures. As a campus we are also working to be more open about final outcomes, to the extent permitted by law.

Our campus processes have improved in past years because of brave survivors who have come forward; we are immensely grateful to them. Having met with many survivors and those who work with them, I understand how difficult it can be for survivors to disclose the harm they suffered. Every survivor has the right to choose, without pressure, whether or when to come forward. There is no statute of limitations on reporting misconduct to OPHD. Confidential campus resources (such as the PATH to Care Center) are always available.

I encourage the campus community to share ideas beyond those advanced here so that we can work together to make our campus processes as fair, prompt and humane as our policies require and our community deserves.

Sharon Inkelas is a special faculty adviser to the chancellor on sexual violence and sexual harassment and a campus professor in the Department of Linguistics.