UC Berkeley admits professor's conduct was 'contemptible' even though it didn't fire him

The University of California, Berkeley confirmed Wednesday afternoon that a prominent astronomy professor who violated the school’s sexual-harassment policy resigned from the university.

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 reported Friday.

In a statement Wednesday, top administrators at the school called Marcy’s behaviour “contemptible and inexcusable.”

“We also want to express our sympathy to the women who were victimized, and we deeply regret the pain they have suffered,” the statement said.

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.”

A UC Berkeley spokesperson sent Business Insider a statement from Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost Claude Steele on Wednesday, which explained that while the university considered firing Marcy when the investigation originally concluded, they were unable to due to broader University of California policies. Berkeley is one campus of the larger UC system.

In the statement, Dirks and Steele write that Marcy’s resignation is “entirely appropriate” and his conduct was “contemptible and inexcusable.” Read it in full below:

This morning Professor of Astronomy Geoff Marcy resigned from the UC Berkeley faculty. We believe this outcome is entirely appropriate and have immediately accepted his resignation.

UC Berkeley’s reaction to the finding that Professor Geoff Marcy violated the University’s sexual harassment policies has been the subject of understandable criticism and anger.

Before describing the disciplinary options that were available to us, we want to state unequivocally that Professor Marcy’s conduct, as determined by the investigation, was contemptible and inexcusable. We also want to express our sympathy to the women who were victimized, and we deeply regret the pain they have suffered.

It is important to understand that as Berkeley’s leadership considered disciplinary options, we did not have the authority, as per University of California policy, to unilaterally impose any disciplinary sanctions, including termination. Discipline of a faculty member is a lengthy and uncertain process. It would include a full hearing where the standards of evidence that would be used are higher than those that are applied by the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination(OPHD) in the course of its investigations. The process would also be subject to a three-year statute of limitations.

Our objective was to protect our students by immediately preventing any re-occurrence of the behaviour described in the investigative report. We thus chose to establish, in writing, a strict set of behavioural standards that went beyond what is specifically proscribed by the University’s rules and regulations. In addition, the agreement authorised the administration to by-pass the lengthy, uncertain disciplinary process by stripping the professor of a faculty member’s usual due process rights.

We recognise and share the frustration that many have expressed, and we are committed to work with the Office of the President and the Academic Senate to reform the University’s disciplinary processes, criteria and standards so that in the future we have different and better options for discipline of faculty.

We also want our campus community to know that we fully support new efforts now underway in a number of departments and colleges to address cultural issues and standards related to sexual harassment. We must do everything in our power to create the conditions necessary for quick and confidential reporting of suspected violations of our rules and standards of conduct.

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