Content warning: Sexual violence and sexual harassment
UC Berkeley professor Alan Tansman was suspended a year after a campus Title IX investigation found that he had more likely than not harassed a student. After only a single year of suspension, Tansman will receive one paid year of sabbatical before being able to return to campus — an alarming and outrageous decision. Allowing Tansman this privilege sends a clear message to the student body: A professor’s livelihood is more valuable than that of survivors.
The Daily Californian’s editorial board has time and time again criticized UC Berkeley’s inappropriate handling of Title IX complaints. And each time another investigation into a high-profile campus figure is made public, the circumstances surrounding it are just as egregious. Quite frankly, it’s toxic that reported harassment can go on for years without any disciplinary measures.
The individual who filed the complaint against Tansman worked with him from 2003 to 2007 and again from 2008 to 2009 before she tried to file a complaint in 2009. During the process, she was told she would not only have to find and persuade each witness to come forward but would also have to write a detailed report of all the instances of harassment she endured — essentially forcing her to relive her experiences.
The system in place to bring survivors’ concerns to light eventually made her give up –– the antithesis of what survivors deserve. It shouldn’t take years for a survivor to feel safe enough to come forward, only to have their efforts hindered by unnecessary bureaucracy.
A campus statement on the settlement reached in this case explained how Tansman’s “unwelcomed verbal conduct of a sexual nature” was found to have been “sufficiently severe that it created a hostile environment and interfered with a complainant’s study and work.” According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the investigation found that Tansman more likely than not came on to the student and described a violent sex fantasy about a colleague to her.
The campus, however, didn’t release any of these findings to the public — a decision that’s detrimental to the safety of the campus community. And the only information that the UC Berkeley website includes about Tansman’s status is that he will be “away from campus until 7/1/20.” How can students make informed decisions or have agency over their academics if they don’t have all the relevant information about the professor they may be working with?
And the investigation found that this was no isolated incident — the Title IX officer on the case found a history of misconduct and influence of power, according to the SF Chronicle. Five of 38 witnesses that the officer interviewed in the investigation alleged that Tansman had sexually harassed or repeatedly flirted with them. It’s reprehensible that the campus would allow Tansman the opportunity to return after an investigation found a pattern of this behavior.
Prestige should never be prioritized over students’ safety. The campus must actively work toward removing red tape from these critical processes, and those accused shouldn’t be rewarded with their “earned sabbatical” — on the contrary, their sabbatical should be revoked. Professors work their entire careers to be granted paid sabbatical to further their research. It’s incomprehensible that a professor found to have more likely than not violated Title IX policy would still be allowed to receive this prestigious distinction.
The editorial board has demanded it before, and it will continue to demand it until reforms are made: The administration must actually listen to, support and uplift survivors of violence and harassment. Those found to have violated Title IX policy don’t need protection and shouldn’t receive it.