Melissa Murray selected as interim dean of UC Berkeley School of Law

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Campus law professor Melissa Murray was named interim dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law on Tuesday, after former dean Sujit Choudhry resigned amid sexual harassment allegations.

Murray has been a member of Berkeley Law’s faculty since 2006, teaching family law, constitutional law and criminal law. A graduate of Yale Law School, Murray has clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the U.S. Court of Appeals and co-authored the casebook “Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice.”

“(Murray) is a widely respected scholar and teacher,” said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in a press release. “She will provide excellent leadership at Berkeley Law as we search for a permanent dean.”

In 2014, she was awarded the law school’s Rutter Award for Teaching Distinction. According to Noah Ickowitz, co-president of Boalt Hall Student Association, Berkeley Law students are thrilled about Murray’s selection.

“There just are very few members of the faculty or members of the administration that students rally behind to this extent,” Ickowitz said. “In my memory, I’ve never seen a more respected and well-liked candidate than professor Murray.”

According to a Boalt Hall Student Association survey, 47 percent of 369 respondents selected Murray as their first choice for interim dean. The survey listed reasons given by the students for their choice, which for Murray included trustworthiness, leadership skills and connection to the student body.

Berkeley Law spokesperson Susan Gluss said the three-person selection committee for interim dean included Vice Provost for the Faculty Janet Broughton, Vice Provost for the Faculty-designate Benjamin Hermalin and Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Na’ilah Nasir. Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele recused himself from the selection process March 15, following controversy over his handling of sexual harassment allegations against Choudhry.

The committee submitted its recommendation to Dirks, who made the final decision on the appointment. On March 18, Dirks met with a group of students, including Ickowitz and representatives from the Graduate Assembly and the Coalition for Diversity, to discuss students’ perspectives, Ickowitz said.

“The chancellor seemed receptive regarding the student voice on who should be interim dean,” Ickowitz said.

On March 16, members of Berkeley Law staff addressed a signed letter to the search committee in which they expressed their wish to have their “voices heard in the search for an interim and permanent dean.”

The letter was signed by 75 members of Berkeley Law staff, though more staff members are continuing to add their signatures, Gluss said. The letter as of Tuesday had 85 signatures.

“It may take a profound cultural shift on campus to ensure that the principles of honesty and integrity, civility and respect, and diversity and justice are the norm,” the letter stated. “But we want that, and nothing less, at the law school.”

A confidential campus investigation’s findings in July led the campus to conclude that previous dean Choudhry violated university sexual harassment policies. Choudhry continued as dean until resigning March 10, after his then-executive assistant Tyann Sorrell filed a lawsuit against him and the UC Board of Regents. In the lawsuit, she alleged that Steele told her he decided against terminating Choudhry for sexual harassment so as not to “ruin the dean’s career.”

Ickowitz said he believes that the selection of Murray as interim dean is a positive step for Berkeley Law and that her appointment will allow the law school to move forward.

“Now that such as well-respected candidate has been chosen, the Berkeley Law community can finally start to heal and start to focus on the long-term goals of structural improvements,” Ickowitz said.

Traditionally, students have been involved in the selection of permanent deans, Ickowitz noted, and he said he hopes that such collaboration continues.

According to a campus news release, the search for a permanent dean could take as long as a year.

Contact Patricia Serpa at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @pserpa_dc.