UC Berkeley head resigns after criticism over response to sexual harassment

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Chancellor Nicholas Dirks is the latest high-profile administrator to step down at the elite college, which has been at the center of several scandals

Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley announced his resignation on Tuesday, the latest high-profile administrator to step down at the elite college that has been plagued by repeated sexual harassment scandals.

Dirks has faced backlash for his administrations handling of harassment cases involving powerful faculty at the states most prestigious public university. He wrote in a campus-wide letter that it was a personal decision that the time is right for me to step aside and allow someone else to take up the financial and institutional challenges ahead of us.

Dirks briefly addressed the ongoing sexual misconduct controversies in his note, saying that during his time as chancellor, we have begun to address growing concerns around sexual assault, violence, and harassment on campus.

In a short statement, UC president Janet Napolitano said she accepted the resignation with deep appreciation for Chancellor Dirkss efforts on behalf of this great institution. She said the university would immediately form a committee to search for his successor and that Dirks would remain on the job until his replacement takes over.

Dirks departure comes four months after administrator Claude Steele resigned as executive vice chancellor and provost of UC Berkeley after widespread criticisms of his role in addressing sexual harassment claims against the dean of the renowned law school.

Dirks had repeatedly defended Steele, who was accused of a major conflict of interest in his disciplining of former UC Berkeley law dean Sujit Choudhry.

After the university concluded that Choudhry had harassed his executive assistant, Steele chose not terminate the dean and instead temporarily cut the deans salary by 10% a punishment that victims advocates said was insufficient.

It was later revealed that Choudhry had nominated Steele to the Berkeley law faculty at the same time that the sexual harassment investigation was in process. In an interview with the Guardian after he resigned, Steele said he had regrets about the sanctions he chose for Choudhry.

The Choudhry case was just one of numerous sexual harassment stories that received national attention and plagued Dirks administration.

Geoffrey Marcy, a prominent UC Berkeley astronomer, resigned in the wake of reports that he did not face serious discipline after the school determined that he had repeatedly sexually harassed students.

Numerous graduate students have also come forward with complaints about the universitys handling of their claims of harassment by an assistant professor in the in the department of south and south-east Asian studies.

Napolitano had publicly raised concerns about Dirks handling of another harassment case involving Graham Fleming, former vice chancellor of research. After Fleming lost that position amid a sexual harassment scandal, Dirks appointed him to another administrative post, and Fleming was paid a $20,000 stipend and reimbursed for travel in Europe and Asia.

In a letter to Dirks, Napolitano wrote: I expect you to immediately remove Professor Fleming from any administrative positions that he holds. She also said she would be establishing a peer review committee to approve these types of sanctions moving forward.

Dirks, who has been Berkeleys chancellor since 2013, also recently faced a probe over allegations that he improperly used a campus gym and personal trainer. Opponents have further slammed Dirks for his handling of the universitys budget and for his $700,000 expenditure on a security fence around his official residence.

Most recently, critics lamented that Dirks had constructed a so-called escape hatch to flee student protests near his office, though the university said students had mischaracterized a door.

Dirks resignation comes one week after the chancellor of UC Davis stepped down following an ethics violation probe and reports that she had tried to scrub negative stories about her from the internet.

In his Tuesday letter, Dirks said he had invested significant resources in the universitys Title IX office, which handles sexual harassment and assault cases. He also claimed he had invested in better organized structures, procedures, and standards for prevention, care and advocacy, investigation and adjudication, sanctions, and community awareness and resolve.

Dirks letter further read that he has worked to increase the diversity of the colleges senior administration.

UC Berkeley praised Dirks in a statement to reporters on Tuesday, saying: During his tenure, major initiatives were launched to strengthen undergraduate education [and] improve policies and practices related to preventing and penalizing sexual violence and sexual harassment.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/16/uc-berkeley-chancellor-resigns-nicholas-dirks