UC Berkeley professor suspended for sex harassment allegations retires, threatens to file lawsuit against university

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Updated 9/17/18: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from Nezar AlSayyad’s attorney, Dan Siegel.

Updated 9/17/18: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore and campus doctoral candidate Eva Hagberg Fisher.

Professor Nezar AlSayyad of the campus architecture department has decided to retire after being suspended over sexual harassment allegations, according to an email from Jennifer Wolch, dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design, or CED.

AlSayyad was suspended for three years without pay effective Aug. 13, after he was found to have sexually harassed a campus graduate student between 2012 and 2014. AlSayyad retired retroactive to Aug. 1, meaning that he stopped being an active faculty member on that date — his suspension is still in place, according to Wolch, who sent an email to students and faculty in the CED on Sunday.

alsayyad_mug“It is important for those who interact with Professor AlSayyad to understand that his retirement does not change any constraints on teaching, advising, or research stemming from his announced three-year absence from campus,” Wolch said in the email.

Emeritus status is typically automatically given to tenured Senate faculty members, like AlSayyad, upon retirement, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. Under the disciplinary action imposed by Chancellor Carol Christ, however, AlSayyad will not have emeritus privileges for three years — the duration of his suspension.

Gilmore said in an email that disciplinary actions involving a faculty member’s emeritus privileges must be approved by UC President Janet Napolitano, which occurred in this case.

Eva Hagberg Fisher, a former doctoral student in the campus architecture program and current campus doctoral candidate in visual and narrative culture, filed a complaint with the Title IX office in March 2016 against AlSayyad, alleging that he regularly hugged her, invited her for drinks or dinner and gave unsolicited compliments on her appearance while she was studying under him.

Hagberg Fisher said she learned of AlSayyad’s planned retirement from a friend in CED and that she felt “actual closure” upon hearing the news.

“I was concerned that in three years he would come back,” Hagberg Fisher said. “Who knows if he would keep doing this?”

Hagberg Fisher added that she was surprised that no one in the campus’s administration informed her of AlSayyad’s retirement. She said it is another example of the campus withholding information from survivors.

AlSayyad has repeatedly denied these allegations and, according to his lawyer, Dan Siegel, plans to file a lawsuit this week challenging the campus administration’s decision to suspend him.

Late last year, AlSayyad faced a hearing by the Committee on Privilege and Tenure — a body of the Academic Senate — after which the committee recommended a one-year suspension to Christ, according to Siegel.

After reviewing the evidence, however, Christ found that AlSayyad engaged in a “pattern of sexual harassment” and imposed a three-year suspension — a decision that Siegel and AlSayyad believe is illegal.

“We don’t think the chancellor has that kind of authority,” Siegel said. “She didn’t listen to the hearing (and) decided that the committee got it wrong.”

Siegel alleged that the administration is trying to “reverse” years of tolerating faculty abuse and sexual harassment by imposing a harsher sentence on AlSayyad.

AlSayyad could not be reached for comment as of press time.

“AlSayyad is literally a scapegoat,” Siegel said.

Anjali Shrivastava is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.