Berkeley Criticized for Response to Harassment

October 14, 2015

When news of the Geoff Marcy sexual harassment case at the University of California at Berkeley broke last week, a number of astronomers across academe asked why the university hadn’t been tougher on him. An investigation under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 determined that Marcy, a professor of astronomy, had violated Berkeley’s sexual harassment policy over a decade, and that he’d allegedly groped, kissed and inappropriately touched a number of students, critics said, so why had the university only given him a firm warning not to repeat the behavior? Now the majority of astronomers at Berkeley are joining those critics. In an open letter to the Berkeley administration, 23 members of the department -- all but a few -- including the chair, asked the university to “reevaluate” its response to Marcy.

“We believe that Geoff Marcy cannot perform the functions of a faculty member,” the letter says. The professors also appear to address some claims that Marcy’s behavior was a kind of open secret among his colleagues. “We regret the harm caused by our faculty, and reject any suggestion that our sympathies should be with the perpetrators of sexual harassment,” they wrote, adding that Berkeley policies led to a lack of communication with the department about the case. “We are committed to developing and maintaining a supportive, open climate in which all members of the department can thrive, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or religious faith.”

Marcy did not respond to a request for comment. A Berkeley spokeswoman referred questions to an earlier statement outlining Berkeley’s response to Marcy’s case. "Professor Marcy and the vice provost [for the faculty] entered into an agreement that states he will abide by clear expectations concerning his future interactions with students," reads that statement. "Were he to fail to meet those expectations, the terms of the agreement provide that he would be immediately subject to sanctions that could include suspension or dismissal; such sanctions would be imposed summarily by the vice provost." The university said it took the matter very seriously, and that its consequences for Marcy amounted to "strong action."

The New York Times reported that Berkeley placed Marcy on probation over the summer, but eventually opted to put him on a tight leash instead of pursuing dismissal proceedings -- the outcome of which would be "uncertain." Marcy reportedly has waived his due process rights, should he be found in violation of the university's sexual harassment policy in the future.

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