Retired UC Berkeley professor alleges ‘abuse of discretion’ in sex misconduct suspension

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Retired campus architecture professor Nezar AlSayyad filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the UC Board of Regents and Chancellor Carol Christ to reduce his suspension after allegations of sexual harassment.

Eva Hagberg Fisher, a current campus doctoral candidate in visual and narrative culture, filed a complaint against AlSayyad in early 2016, alleging sexual harassment. AlSayyad was suspended effective Aug. 13 after he was found to have violated the campus code of conduct and Title IX policies. The Committee on Privilege and Tenure — a body of the Academic Senate that reviewed AlSayyad’s case — recommended he be suspended for one year, but Christ extended his suspension to three years, citing a “pattern of sexual harassment.”

According to the lawsuit, Christ violated state law by extending AlSayyad’s suspension, which allegedly constituted an “abuse of discretion.” AlSayyad is suing for a reduced suspension of one year, restored back pay, benefits and privileges of employment he would have received if not for his suspension. AlSayyad is a professor emeritus and will receive these privileges after the duration of his suspension.

“Under UC policy the P&T (Privilege and Tenure) committee makes findings and recommendations and the Chancellor, as the final decision maker regarding faculty discipline, has discretion to affirm, modify, or overturn the P&T findings and recommendations,” campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email. “The Chancellor exercised that discretion in this matter.”

The lawsuit includes a previously confidential report from the Committee on Privilege and Tenure outlining its findings from Nov. 2017 hearings. The report did not find conclusive evidence that AlSayyad used his position of power to “coerce (Hagberg Fisher’s) judgement,” though Christ concluded that AlSayyad had misused his “power for personal gain” in her decision to extend his suspension.

“Respondent Chancellor’s decision was not supported by the Committee’s findings … that he did not engage in concerted sexual harassment, did not seek a romantic or sexual relationship with Ms. Fisher, and did not utilize his power to coerce her judgement,” according to the lawsuit.

AlSayyad sustained various damages as a result of Christ’s decision to extend his suspension, according to the lawsuit. He claims that he was forced to retire because he could not “survive” without three years of pay and that he suffered the loss of income from his date of retirement until his planned retirement as well as the loss of retirement benefits.

There are a series of email correspondences also included in the lawsuit between Hagberg Fisher and AlSayyad dating from 2010 to 2014, which span the time frame during which Hagberg Fisher alleged AlSayyad sexually harassed her. According to the lawsuit, these emails “negate the conclusion that Professor AlSayyad was seeking any sort of romantic or sexual interaction with Ms. Fisher.”

“I haven’t read the lawsuit, so I have no direct knowledge of what’s in it,” Hagberg Fisher said. “I’m very glad that my part in this process is fully finished.”

Amanda Bradford is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.