UC Berkeley peer review panel to review sex misconduct cases

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UC Berkeley’s latest attempt to address the campus’s convoluted sexual misconduct adjudication process is a new campus peer review panel a solution that arrives one month after the panel’s previously announced deadline.

The Campus Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Peer Review Panel, which was mandated by UC President Napolitano in April, will review and provide nonbinding guidance to the chancellor about all staff and faculty cases in violation of sexual misconduct policy, according to interim lead of the campus’s response to sexual harassment and violence Carla Hesse. Campus officials announced the finalization of the plan to implement their ongoing efforts in an interview with The Daily Californian on Thursday.

Cases of sexual misconduct on campus are currently resolved through an often secretive and serpentine disciplinary process overseen by campus administrators. The process has been criticized by students and faculty in recent months for its perceived lack of fairness and transparency.

Hesse, who also chairs the existing Chancellor’s Senate/Administration Committee on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, said administrators hope to assuage such concerns with the creation of the new peer review panel.

Since 2011, 19 UC Berkeley employees have been found by the campus Title IX office to have violated the campus’s sexual misconduct policy. The new panel will assess cases in which sexual misconduct policy has been violated by faculty and staff, not including cases that involve graduate student instructors and senior campus leaders.

But at UC Berkeley, the most prominent sexual misconduct scandals have often involved senior campus leaders — coaches, athletic directors and campus deans and administrators. Their cases will instead be reviewed by a separate systemwide committee, announced in March by the UC Office of the President, that is composed of representatives of all UC campuses.

The new peer review panel will comprise 15 members representing undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and campus administrators. Members will serve a minimum of two years on the panel after they are trained by a Title IX specialist.

After a campus Title IX investigation is complete, each case brought before the peer review panel will be evaluated by a five-member subset of the overall group. The subset will have 10 working days to review evidence and determine a set of confidential recommendations on proposed sanctions.

The five-member subset will then hold an “informal” verbal consultation with the chancellor, Hesse said, so the subset’s members can better express a variety of potentially conflicting views. UC Berkeley’s chancellor will ultimately be responsible for the final disciplinary decision, despite other steps in the disciplinary or settlement processes.

This is all designed to be rapid, transparent and inclusive,” said Hesse, who noted that in order to speed up an already lengthy adjudication process, the recommendations will not be documented formally.

Though the review process will introduce new oversight of both formal sanctions brought against individuals who violated the campus’s faculty code of conduct and cases adjudicated through the more commonly used early resolution settlement process, some UC Berkeley community members remain concerned.

Cory Hernandez, the Graduate Assembly representative on the Chancellor’s Senate/Administration Committee on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, said because of the chancellor’s final discretion, Cory was especially alarmed that the panel’s recommendations are nonbinding.

“It might just be yet another committee formed without actually real oversight and accountability,” he said. “How do we know that the chancellor is actually listening?”

Others on campus expressed alarm not with the proposed implementation of the new peer review panel but with its composition.

While UC Berkeley’s Academic Senate, Staff Assembly, Graduate Assembly, ASUC, Chancellor’s Cabinet and Council of Deans will each get to nominate members from their respective groups to the panel, postdoctoral scholars were left out.

Carly Ebben, a trustee for the campus’s postdoctoral union, UAW 5810, said her group’s efforts for inclusion in the process to reform campus sexual misconduct policy, including a letter to Hesse in April, have gone unaddressed.

Our concerns seem to be falling on deaf ears,” she said. “We’re being ignored at all levels.”

The review panel, which Hesse previously said would be announced in early October, will begin to solicit nominations in January and will start taking new cases by the start of the spring semester.

“We’re not going to walk away from this and say we fixed it,” Hesse said. “We’re going to walk away from it saying, ‘We have a much deeper understanding of where we are.’ ”

Adam Iscoe covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @iscoe_dc.