At UC Berkeley, harassment claims increase
Posted May 21, 2018 8:13 p.m. EDT
BERKELEY, Calif. -- If the UC Berkeley doctoral student expected the university to investigate her claim that a professor sexually harassed her for years -- coming on to her, telling her his sexual preferences, describing a violent sex fantasy about a colleague -- she would have to write a detailed report on all that happened and persuade each witness to come forward herself.
That was in 2009. The student got therapy instead.
``I was devastated,'' recalled the woman, who is now a tenured professor at another university and spoke on condition of anonymity. Having the university investigate her claim ``would require a Herculean effort on my part, and the risks'' -- exposure and retaliation within her field -- ``would almost singularly fall on me.''
Now, she and other women who say they were sexually harassed by UC Berkeley professors years ago are demanding belated justice. Inspired by the #MeToo movement and an earlier wave of campus activism that forced the university to make it easier for victims to report predator professors, alumnae and others are coming forward to file complaints with the university.
The students may be long gone, or may never have attended UC Berkeley. But they want the university to investigate professors who are still teaching and advising.
And the campus is complying. It recently concluded the investigation into the former doctoral student's case and is looking into at least two others.
``There is no time limit'' for coming forward, said Janet Gilmore, a UC Berkeley spokeswoman.
More than 1,000 people have complained about sexual violence or harassment at UC Berkeley since 2014. Gilmore said the campus doesn't track whether the complaints come from alumnae.
Anecdotally, however, ``it does seem that the campus has been receiving more accounts from former students regarding incidents that occurred years ago,'' Gilmore said.
Last spring, the former doctoral student filed a complaint against the professor who had been her adviser and co-chair of her dissertation committee, who is still at UC Berkeley.
In February, a UC investigator found that he had sexually harassed his student over several years. She had been a doctoral student from 2003 to 2007, and a postdoctoral fellow from 2008 to 2009.
The Chronicle obtained a copy of the investigative report, which identifies no one by name. But the former student confirmed that the professor is Alan Tansman in the department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. Messages for Tansman were returned by his lawyer, who confirmed that he was the subject of the report.
In her 99-page report, investigator Suzanne Taylor called the professor ``well-known and highly respected in his field.'' She said his behavior was ``sufficiently severe and pervasive that it created a hostile environment and interfered with (the student's) work.''
Taylor interviewed 38 witnesses, including five women -- former or current students and a former research assistant -- who said the professor also sexually harassed them or flirted repeatedly.
Taylor found that he had ``made sexual overtures'' to the student, calling her sexy and propositioning her. In some of the professor's more ``ominous comments,'' Taylor wrote, he told the student he fantasized about having violent sex with a colleague he didn't like, and said he regretted not having sex with a previous student who was emotionally disturbed.
Students found it hard to object to the professor's behavior, Taylor wrote, because he ``was in a position of influence.''
Taylor concluded that the professor had a ``history of projecting feelings of attraction to his graduate students'' and ``acting on that attraction.''
Tansman's lawyer, Andre Miltenberg, told The Chronicle: ``It is unfortunate that this confidential report -- which is not yet in final form and is based on 15-year-old allegations -- was leaked.''
``Like all Americans, Professor Tansman is entitled to due process,'' Miltenberg said.
The University of California considers such reports confidential until the disciplinary process has concluded, said Claire Doan, a spokeswoman for the UC president's office.
Miltenberg added: ``As this matter is not concluded, we trust that this improper leak will not deprive Professor Tansman of his rights, including those in accordance with UC Berkeley's policies and procedures.''
Ultimately, tenured faculty have the right to a confidential hearing before their peers on the Privilege and Tenure committee of the Faculty Senate. The process is an appeals court of sorts, and the panel can recommend a range of consequences, including recommending that the UC regents fire their colleague.
Although people filing complaints have seen a transformation in the UC system for reporting misconduct and in how investigations are conducted, there has been little apparent change in what happens after tenured faculty are found to break the rules.
In June, the California State Auditor will issue a detailed study of how UC handles sexual harassment cases involving faculty and staff.
At UC Berkeley, campus officials would not discuss the Tansman case. But Sharon Inkelas, the chancellor's faculty adviser on sexual misconduct, described the options for tenured professors who sexually harass others in a recent op-ed in the Daily Californian student newspaper.
In such cases, she wrote, campus officials decide between a legal settlement with the professor or disciplinary charges. These might include a warning letter, salary reduction, suspension, demotion, changes to emeritus status or, in extremely rare cases, dismissal. In the 150-year history of the UC system, the regents have fired just eight tenured professors.
If there is no settlement, the professor can have a hearing before the faculty Committee on Privilege and Tenure.
Deliberation time ``can take many months from start to finish,'' Inkelas wrote.
In 2016, UC began requiring nearly every employee to report all harassment cases to the campus Title IX office, named for the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination at schools that get federal funding. Changes in reporting sexual harassment also included better communication about the status of the investigation and its outcome, said Gilmore, the campus spokeswoman. She said UC Berkeley also has hired more counselors, improved staff training, and added a website, survivorsupport.berkeley.edu to explain how things work.
Denise Oldham, director of UC Berkeley's Title IX office, declined to be interviewed.