“Professor Nezar AlSayyad will be away until fall 2021.” This is all the UC Berkeley Research website has to say about a professor who was found by a campus Title IX investigation to have sexually harassed a student.
This month, nearly two years after the investigation into AlSayyad was completed, he was placed on unpaid suspension. During these two years, AlSayyad still had access to campus buildings. He was still allowed to advise students in his office. And during this time, UC Berkeley officials left students in the dark.
The campus sat on its findings for 21 months, doing nothing more than suspending AlSayyad’s classes — while continuing to pay him his annual salary, which, in 2017, was $236,671. Even if this delay can be blamed on a sluggish bureaucratic system, it is symptomatic of a campus that is failing to prioritize cases of sexual misconduct. This is unacceptable.
Eva Hagberg Fisher, the UC Berkeley doctoral candidate who accused AlSayyad of harassment, has a right to feel safe on campus. Students who sought advice from AlSayyad had the right to know about serious allegations made against him. Why do his rights override the rights of those susceptible to abuse?
According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore, AlSayyad had a right to due process even after the investigation found him to be in violation of campus policy. This due process extended until the campus made a final recommendation on how to reprimand him, Gilmore said in an email. The responsibility then falls on UC Berkeley to ensure that “due process” does not span several years.
Frankly, campus officials need to ask themselves who the vulnerable parties really are in this situation. Hint: It isn’t the tenured professor who was found to have sexually harassed his student.
In a recent statement, Chancellor Carol Christ called the harassment of students by faculty “wholly unacceptable,” adding that UC Berkeley administration will “not tolerate such behavior” on campus. While it is encouraging that Christ has issued such a strong statement, actions — or in this case, inaction — will always speak louder than words.
After the investigation against AlSayyad was concluded, both students and alumni protested against his continued presence on campus. UC Berkeley students have shown again and again that they will no longer accept an administration that puts the reputation of its faculty over the safety of its student body.
For far too long, UC Berkeley has promised to streamline cases of sexual violence and sexual harassment on campus and has failed to deliver. Administrators need to fully commit to fixing these flawed processes. It’s time for the campus to stop pointing to bureaucracy in defense of a failing system.