After sex harassment scandal, UC regents tighten rules on regent conduct

Michael Drummond/File
UC Regent Norman Pattiz, right, can be heard asking a colleague if he can hold her breasts in a recently released audio recording.

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SAN FRANCISCO — The UC Board of Regents unanimously approved a policy change Wednesday requiring that board members comply with ethical conduct and sexual harassment policy in private as well as public life.

The change was proposed after the public airing of a recording last month in which UC Regent Norman Pattiz asked a female colleague if he could touch her breasts. Under the new policy, regents are also required to complete sexual harassment prevention training.

Pattiz, who sits on the governance and compensation committee and was present to approve the policy, said he had already begun the mandated sexual harassment training.

“The University of California has taken a strong, unequivocal stance on sexual violence and sexual harassment,” said chair of the board Monica Lozano at the meeting. “We do not tolerate such conduct anywhere in our campus community.”

UC-wide ethical conduct policy prohibits discrimination and harassment. Rules outlining expectations of regents were changed to specifically require that regents’ private behavior align with UC ethics policy.

During the meeting, UC Regent John Pérez proposed postponing a vote until the language could be clarified to be more explicit about the types of actions that would constitute a violation of the ethical misconduct policy, although other regents responded that they should not delay.

“Where do we draw the line?” Perez said at the meeting. “I think there is a more elegant way to do this.”

UC President Janet Napolitano tasked the regents’ governance committee with defining which actions would constitute ethical misconduct besides sexual harassment and violence in a separate committee meeting before the regents meet again in January.

UC Student Association President Ralph Washington Jr. said the board took a necessary step to demonstrate that it does not condone sexual violence, considering sexually vulgar comments previously made by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

“When you’re representing an institution that prides itself on equity, diversity, safety, it’s a direct contradiction of those principles if you allow a representative of those institutions to remain in that capacity despite exhibiting behavior that contradicts those core principles,” Washington Jr. said.

Because most regents are appointed by the state governor and approved by the state Senate, UC General Counsel and Vice President Charlie Robinson said at the meeting that the board is limited in its disciplinary action against members.

“If a regent was found guilty of robbing a bank … what can the board do?” asked UC Regent and Vice Chair Bonnie Reiss during the meeting.

The board has the authority to ask a member to resign and remove regents from board leadership positions, but usually the state attorney general must initiate proceedings to officially remove a regent from the board. The standard for removal is very high, according to Robinson, and would include corruption or felony conviction.

Washington Jr. said requesting resignation of a board member is not meaningless and serves a function similar to firing a regent.

“Sometimes you need something really dramatic to occur at the level of decision-makers for those decision-makers to be motivated to change (policy),” Washington Jr. said.

Contact Suhauna Hussain and Patricia Serpa at [email protected].