Campus appoints Carla Hesse as interim lead on response to sex harassment complaints

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Carla Hesse will serve as the interim lead on UC Berkeley’s response to sexual harassment and assault claims as the campus begins to address mounting criticism of its mishandling of sexual harassment cases.

Appointed by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, as announced in a Sunday statement, Hesse will coordinate the administration’s improvements on its processes tackling sexual harassment and assault claims. The position’s creation was part of a series of systemwide reforms to campus sexual misconduct policy outlined in a Thursday announcement.

“This is an important responsibility, and I hope to make quick and significant impact in a number of areas,” Hesse said in the statement. “I look forward to working closely with Chancellor Dirks and with the dedicated students, staff and faculty on our campus who work to prevent, report and support those who have suffered from any form of sexual harassment or violence.”

According to the statement, the administration is preparing to release regular reports on campus sexual harassment and assault complaint data, in light of public outcry over a lack of transparency.

Aside from expediting resolutions to pending cases — there are currently 26 total sexual harassment and assault investigations the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, or OPHD, is overseeing — Hesse will also create and train a campus peer review panel in conjunction with current campus offices that investigate claims and recommend disciplinary processes.

In addition, Hesse will establish protocols tracking and analyzing trends in the number and nature of reports and decisions.

According to the statement, Hesse will work closely with student organizations and Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Na’ilah Nasir and ensure that the campus employs the best practices regarding sanctions for violations, survivor support and related academic research, among others areas.

OPHD and the campus’s Confidential CARE Advocacy and Prevention Program will both receive additional resources, as outlined in the Thursday campus announcement, as the campus works to confront questions about its current reporting, investigation and support processes.

In the past month, former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry resigned from his position after his executive assistant sued him and the UC Board of Regents for sexual harassment, and assistant Cal men’s basketball coach Yann Hufnagel was effectively terminated for violating UC sexual harassment policies against a female journalist.

In the Thursday statement, Dirks announced his intent to create review boards ensuring that sanctions are handled in a “firm and consistent manner,” regardless of the complainant’s or respondent’s position, after UC President Janet Napolitano issued systemwide reforms March 11.

Hesse, who has been a campus faculty member since 1989 in the history department, is the dean of social sciences and serves as executive dean of the College of Letters and Science. A specialist in the history of women and modern European history, Hesse has also served as chair of the Committee on Women in the American Historical Association.

“Given Dean Hesse’s background and experience in managing a number of complex issues on campus and her academic work in societal issues of power and women, she rose to the top of the list,” said Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor of communications and public affairs, in an email regarding Hesse’s appointment.

Hesse will keep Dirks informed of the campus’s progress on improving its handling of complaints, Holmes said, and “will have his full support” to ensure that instances of harassment are reduced, cases are resolved quickly and prevention mechanisms are developed.

According to Holmes, Dirks consulted with several individuals on campus for suggestions on who would be most suitable for the role before ultimately deciding on Hesse.

“Tackling sexual harassment and violence on our campus is the most urgent challenge we face today, and Professor Hesse’s deep knowledge of and dedication to Berkeley will be of great assistance to me and the university,” Dirks said in the statement.

Effective immediately, Hesse will serve as the interim lead until the position is permanently filled over the summer, according to the statement. Holmes said Dirks plans on creating a search committee to advise him on the permanent appointment.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.