Berkeley Law community, campus administration hold town hall

Simon Greenhill/Staff

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The Boalt Hall Student Association organized a town hall with campus administration Thursday amid controversy over former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry’s return to campus and his open letter to the Berkeley Law community — both of which students protested Wednesday.

About 100 Berkeley Law students, faculty members and staff gathered at Boalt Hall for a question-and-answer session with law school interim Dean Melissa Murray and other members of campus leadership. Some attendees, however, expressed frustration with the productiveness of the town hall.

First-year law student Mukund Rathi called Murray’s comments regarding Choudhry “condescending,” adding that Murray emphasized respecting due process and asked students to withhold judgment.

“If students or other people concerned want to see justice done, they’re going to have to organize,” Rathi said. “Working through the official bodies is not working.”

Cory Hernandez, the Graduate Assembly representative on the Chancellor’s Committee on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, also referred to Murray’s comments as slightly condescending, and called the event “a lot of empty rhetoric.”

At the town hall — during which BHSA organizers excluded press as part of an effort to offer a safe space — Murray and other members of the campus administration discussed UC policies regarding tenure, including the conditions of how tenure could be stripped from a faculty member.

Choudhry remains a tenured member of the Berkeley Law faculty, despite having resigned in March after a campus Title IX office found he violated UC sexual misconduct policies with his behavior toward his executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell.

Some faculty members and staff were concerned about the nature of the ban that UC President Janet Napolitano issued in spring against Choudhry. Additionally, some were frustrated by the lack of clarity surrounding Choudhry’s absence and return, according to BHSA class representative Danica Rodarmel. She added that the administration also discussed resources on campus, such as the campus Division of Equity and Inclusion, during the town hall.

“We were hoping to try to inform students a little bit more on this situation,” said BHSA co-president Alfredo Diaz.

The meeting was a “positive step,” said law school staff member Nancy Donovan, adding that she appreciated the administration directly addressing the concerns of the Berkeley Law community.

“(Murray) is in a difficult position, and she’s listened, and we’re very lucky to have her at the helm through this difficult time,” Donovan said.

“I hope that we will continue to engage (with students),” said Carla Hesse, interim lead on the campus’s response to sexual misconduct claims.

Rodarmel said, however, that campus administrators needs to be more proactive in order to address the concerns raised by students, adding that improvements to the community rely too frequently on student organization and protests. After Choudhry’s resignation, Berkeley Law students gathered in solidarity with Sorrell during an admitted students’ welcome weekend.

“Central administration needs to be more responsive to all forms of community,” Rodarmel said.

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