A prominent astronomy professor at the University of California, Berkeley who violated the school’s sexual harassment policy had a “playbook” he used to pick up female students, another professor in his field told The Chronicle of Higher Education.
After an investigation earlier this year, UC Berkeley found astronomy professor Geoff Marcy violated the university’s sexual harassment policy on multiple occasions between 2001 and 2010, BuzzFeed reported last Friday. The school reprimanded but did not fire Marcy.
“Four women alleged that Marcy repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behaviour with students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping,” BuzzFeed reporter Azeen Ghorayshi writes.
However, University of Memphis physics professor Joan T. Schmelz told The Chronicle of Higher Education that these four women are “just the tip of the iceberg.” Schmelz chairs the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and worked with women who believed Marcy had harassed them.
“I heard this so many times,” she told The Chronicle, “that I realised it was standard practice for him.”
Schmelz eventually realised that Marcy had a “playbook” for picking up female students, according to The Chronicle:
Mr. Marcy, she says, would isolate a female student in his lab or find a way to talk to her privately on the campus, away from others. During the talk, he would make a slightly inappropriate comment, touch or kiss the student, and then apologise, according to what women told her. Depending on the reaction he got, she says, he would either back off or take another step forward. Students, she says, complained that he had given them rides home, taken them out to coffee, and told them he and his wife had an open relationship.
UC Berkeley has been criticised for its perceived leniency in reprimanding a star professor who violated the school’s sexual harassment policy. The latest hit against the university came from a group of 22 UC Berkeley astronomy professors, who wrote an open letter Monday calling for Marcy’s dismissal.
“We urge the UC Berkeley administration to re-evaluate its response to Marcy, who has been found in violation of UC sexual harassment policy,” the astronomy faculty members write. “We believe that Geoff Marcy cannot perform the functions of a faculty member.”
In a letter posted on his UC Berkeley faculty page last week, Marcy apologised for what he called “mistakes I’ve made.”
“While I do not agree with each complaint that was made, it is clear that my behaviour was unwelcomed by some women,” Marcy writes. “I take full responsibility and hold myself completely accountable for my actions and the impact they had. For that and to the women affected, I sincerely apologise.”
Marcy is well-known for his discoveries of exoplanets, which are outside our solar system. He has been considered a contender for a Nobel Prize in physics.
UC Berkeley sent Business Insider in response to our request for comment on the “playbook” accusation:
The university has imposed real consequences on Professor Geoff Marcy by establishing a zero tolerance policy regarding future behaviour and by stripping him of the procedural protections that all other faculty members enjoy before he can be subject to discipline up to and including termination.
Under existing university policy, the campus administration does not have unilateral authority to impose discipline on members of the faculty. Sanctions can be imposed only after a lengthy process, including a hearing before a faculty committee, in which outcomes are uncertain.
The university concluded that establishing clear behavioural standards governing his interactions with students inside and outside the classroom, and requiring him to waive his procedural rights in the event he violates the agreement, was the most certain and effective option for preventing any inappropriate future conduct.
The UC system has, for some time, been evaluating and revising its procedures for addressing sexual harassment, and we are committed to working with the appropriate university officials to evaluate improvements to the faculty disciplinary process as it relates to sexual harassment.
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