UC Berkeley chancellor announces new committee on sexual misconduct

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Update 4/6/16: This article has been updated to reflect new information from campus spokespeople and faculty.

On Tuesday, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced the new Chancellor’s Committee on Sexual Violence, Harassment and Assault, which will recommend improvements to all campus services and polices related to sexual assault and violence.

In addition, the committee — consisting of faculty and staff — is tasked with reviewing campus adjudication and sanctioning practices regarding sexual misconduct against campus students, staff and faculty. Recommendations from the committee will be reported within the next six months, according to the announcement.

“They’re looking at the totality of how we’ve handled these cases … about (campus) policies, about the procedures, about the practices, the culture,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “Everything is on the table.”

To be overseen by the interim lead on UC Berkeley’s response to sexual harassment and assault claims, Carla Hesse, the committee will begin its work next week. Carol Christ, director of the campus’s Center for Studies in Higher Education, will serve as committee co-chair.

Serving as campus executive dean and vice provost from 1994 to 2000 — the highest-ranking female administrator at UC Berkeley at the time — Christ was also the first Title IX officer on campus, according to an email from Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor for public affairs.

“(A) committee alone doesn’t change campus culture. But Berkeley did not always tolerate sexual harassment and used to have effective investigative and disciplinary procedures,” Christ said in an email. “It’s the committee’s job to figure out what has gone wrong of late and make recommendations to fix it.”

The campus has yet to release the names of individuals who will serve on the committee, but Holmes said in an email that the full committee will be announced early next week.

“Our goal is to have a diverse set of people and representation from across the campus,” Holmes said in an email, adding that the staff and faculty will be knowledgeable about sexual misconduct issues and “a wide range of perspectives.”

Several external advisers will assist the campus’s efforts, including former University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, former Brown University president Ruth Simmons and Yale Law School Dean Robert Post.

Post and Coleman were not available for comment, and Simmons could not be reached as of press time.

A student advisory committee with eight representatives from organizations such as the Graduate Assembly, the ASUC and other relevant student groups will share input gathered from students with the sexual misconduct committee, Holmes said in an email. While the student committee will provide ideas and advice for the larger committee to consider, Holmes noted, the students will have no decision-making power regarding what appears on the final recommendations.

The formation of the committee is part of a series of recently announced campus initiatives, including strengthening sexual misconduct prevention and education efforts, expanding staffing and resources for survivor support programs, and creating more efficient and consistent investigation and disciplinary processes.

“The hope and expectation is (that the committee) will look at how we’ve handled cases in the past in order to help provide recommendations about how we can do a better job in the future,” Mogulof said. On Tuesday, The Daily Californian obtained 11 Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination investigations that previously were not published.

In March, feminist UC Berkeley faculty members released a letter calling on the administration to address the systemic problems surrounding sexual harassment. Campus gender and women’s studies associate professor Leslie Salzinger, a signatory of the letter, said that while the chancellor’s new committee is a great initiative, the administration needs to empower the committee to effect real change in campus climate, sanctions and procedures.

“If somebody — student, faculty or staff — came to me with a problem about sexual harassment … I wouldn’t even know who to send them to, and I teach in gender studies,” Salzinger said. “My hope is that the committee would recommend substantive things.”

Salzinger also commended the administration’s efforts to incorporate on-campus expertise, considering many faculty members’ substantial research on topics such as gender, sexual harassment and microaggression.

But Charis Thompson, chair of the gender and women’s studies department, said in an email that the administration must take other urgent steps to grapple with sexual misconduct on campus, such as analyzing and apologizing for past mistakes, “addressing the lighter sentences given to high profile faculty” and publicizing campus research on intersectional gender, sexuality, power and violence.

“Berkeley has the opportunity to be a leader through learning from past mistakes,” Thompson said in the email. “We hope to see announcements from the administration on these issues shortly.”

According to the announcement, the committee will report its recommendations to Dirks and UC President Janet Napolitano by Oct. 15.

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks and Andrea Platten at [email protected].