UC Berkeley’s failure to place real sanctions on prominent astronomer and campus professor Geoffrey Marcy after repeated complaints of sexual harassment indicates where the institution’s priorities concerningly and disconcertingly lie: research over experience, talent over trauma, reputation over action.
The revelation last week from BuzzFeed News that Marcy was officially accused of unwanted physical conduct — including “massages, kisses and groping” — by four women over the course of almost a decade, shocked many members of the UC Berkeley community. What’s more shocking, however, is UC Berkeley’s handling of the complaints, even after an investigation found that the accusations were credible and that Marcy had violated campus sexual harassment policy.
The response — or lack thereof — to allegations of Marcy’s sexual harassment was not a suspension. It was barely a slap on the wrist: a zero-tolerance policy and the loss of procedural protections going forward.
Marcy’s public apology, in which he states that he “(does) not agree with each complaint that was made” but that he still has difficulty expressing how painful it is to realize he has “unintentionally” distressed women, does not sufficiently acknowledge that he takes responsibility for his reprehensible behavior. In fact, it reeks of the sexism behind the action itself — harassment that he couldn’t have just realized was wrong after so many years of complaints against him. But UC Berkeley, which led an investigation that supported these claims, is also failing to properly hold Marcy accountable for his behavior.
The absence of significant repercussions in any case like this makes us lose confidence in the campus’s adjudication process. We are also concerned that victims will now be less likely to report sexual assault and harassment. With all the progress that the campus has made, incidents such as this undermine the campus’ self-professed commitment to addressing sexual assault and harassment problems that prevail here.
Most campus discourse around sexual assault prevention has dealt with the student-on-student level rather than the faculty level. But just because the attention usually focuses on sexual assault as it pertains to the student experience does not mean that sexual violence and harassment can’t be found at every level of an institution and society as a whole, especially in an institution with a fundamentally unbalanced power structure.
In particular, science, technology, engineering and math fields within academia give rise to unequal power dynamics. According to a study by the American Institute of Physics, as referenced in the Atlantic, only 15 percent of full astronomy professors as of 2010 were female.
Additionally, according to BuzzFeed News, Marcy’s sexual harassment was well known within the tight-knit astronomy community, yet no public criticism was leveled against him until last week.
When positions of power are held mostly by males and a prominent male is known for using his position to harass younger women, women are effectively discouraged from entering STEM fields, in which they are already underrepresented. For all the work being done to bring women and minorities into STEM, behavior such as Marcy’s and the faulty adjudication process that followed set the field back significantly.
UC Berkeley should have taken a stand to show that this type of behavior and leveraging of power is intolerable — it should have suspended Marcy upon the conclusion of the investigation. Failure to do so perpetuates exclusion and sexism in the workplace, in academia and throughout society.