Carla Hesse — dean of social sciences, executive dean of the College of Letters and Science and interim lead of the campus’s sexual harassment response — spoke with The Daily Californian on Wednesday about the changes made in response to multiple high-level cases of sexual misconduct at UC Berkeley. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Daily Californian: What new resources exist for those who have been the victim of sexual misconduct or sexual assault?
Carla Hesse: The Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination now has more staff to expedite investigation of complaints, and we’ve been able to deal with the backlog of complaints. In April of this year when I came into this role as campus lead (of the sexual harassment task force), we had 86 cases pending in the backlog, and that’s now down to 62. You have to realize that doesn’t mean we’ve only resolved 24 cases; there have been a steady stream of new complaints that have come forward — many of them will not result in a finding of a violation — but we are making progress on getting control over the backlog. You can’t hire good people overnight obviously, or implement changes overnight, but I think there has been significant improvement since April in our ability to respond to complaints, to expedite their adjudication and to offer counsel and support to those who have suffered from these forms of aggression and abuse.
DC: What are you and what is the university doing to instill confidence in the (sexual misconduct complaint) process?
CH: Look, I don’t think anyone would deny that there were problems with the way that we were addressing and handling these cases. … We will be making some important changes in the way in which we handle cases, particularly with cases that have to do with faculty or staff, as either complainants or respondents. One of the changes that we will be making, as mandated by the Office of the President, will be the introduction of a campus peer review panel that will review all cases having to do with faculty or staff complainants or respondents in allegations of sexual violence and sexual harassment.
DC: What’s the timeline for the implementation of that panel?
CH: Very tight. It is under final administrative review and will be reviewed by the (Academic) Senate in the next month, and then we will make a formal announcement of the way in which that peer review panel will be constituted. But it will have representation from all constituencies of the campus including students, faculty and staff. They will help to advise the chancellor on the recommendations that might be made for sanctions, where sanctions are deemed to be appropriate, relating to violations of Title IX by faculty, staff and, in exceptional cases, by students. These would be very serious cases or cases that present some particular challenge. I don’t want to come out ahead of the (Academic) Senate or the chancellor on this, but we are working on a proposal and it will be coming out very soon.
DC: As of now, there’s a high degree of interim staff: the chancellor, the provost, a number of other vice chancellors are either leaving or under interim status. Does that have any impact on the implementation of these policies?
CH: No, I don’t think it will. In fact, in some ways it’s expedited the implementation in the following sense: When I was asked to step up to this role, I invited Carol Christ to partner as a co-chair of this high-level chancellor’s committee, and that was before she became I-provost. She’s very committed to this and is a very strong partner in making sure this has very high priority. The other reason that I have complete confidence that we will issue some pretty concrete changes that I hope — I fully expect — will improve things is that one problematic issue, with respect to this last year, was the campus chief ethics, risk and compliance officer, Linda Williams, stepped down and that position was left vacant for many months. Happily, the position was filled late last spring. Khira Griscavage rejoined Berkeley in that capacity early in the summer, and so we now have very strong leadership in that office. And that is a permanent, not an interim, appointment. So, in fact, with respect to this particular portfolio, we’re in good shape.