UC Berkeley astronomy professors call for famous colleague to leave faculty after violating sexual harassment policy

University California Berkeley Geoff Marcy Astronomy ProfessorStuart C. Wilson/Getty ImagesProfessor of Astronomy, University of California Geoff Marcy speaks at a press conference on the Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives, hosted by Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking, at The Royal Society on July 20, 2015 in London, England.

A group of 22 University of California, Berkeley astronomy professors said in a letter Monday that a prominent colleague “cannot perform the functions of a faculty member” after he reportedly violated the school’s sexual harassment policy.

After an investigation earlier this year, UC Berkeley found astronomy professor Geoff Marcy violated the university’s sexual harassment policy on multiple occasions, according to a BuzzFeed investigation published last Friday. The alleged incidents in question reportedly took place from 2001 to 2010.

“Four women alleged that Marcy repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behaviour with students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping,” BuzzFeed reporter Azeen Ghorayshi writes. “As a result of the findings, the women were informed, Marcy has been given ‘clear expectations concerning his future interactions with students,’ which he must follow or risk sanctions that could include suspension or dismissal.'”

The astronomy faculty letter, posted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, is the latest attack on UC Berkeley for the university’s perceived leniency with a star professor.

The letter states:

We, the undersigned UC Berkeley Astronomy faculty, write to make clear that sexual harassment has no place in our Department, and that we fully support the survivors of harassment. We regret the harm caused by our faculty, and reject any suggestion that our sympathies should be with the perpetrators of sexual harassment. 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. This goal has been compromised by policies that led to a lack of communication in UC Berkeley’s handling of Geoff Marcy’s sexual harassment case. We urge the UC Berkeley administration to re-evaluate its response to Marcy, who has been found in violation of UC sexual harassment policy. We believe that Geoff Marcy cannot perform the functions of a faculty member.

It appears that Marcy’s potentially inappropriate behaviour was known in the astronomy community for years.

“A tipping point seems to have occurred at a meeting in Washington of the American Astronomical Society in 2010, when several astronomers reportedly observed Dr. Marcy behaving in an overly intimate manner,” The New York Times reports.

In a letter posted on his UC Berkeley faculty page last week, Marcy apologised for what he termed “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.

Although not addressing the recent letter from the astronomy faculty, UC Berkeley sent Business Insider the following statement Tuesday:

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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