Eleven employees at the University of California at Berkeley have been fired or resigned after facing accusations of sexual harassment, according to new records that provide disturbing details on numerous misconduct allegations and dramatically expand a scandal plaguing the prestigious institution.
The hundreds of pages of records – which include extensive documentation of harassment cases involving 19 employees and were released on the heels of multiple high-profile controversies – show that men in powerful positions avoided discipline after the school substantiated harassment complaints from students and employees.
The new documents, provided to the Guardian and other media outlets, offer redacted versions of the public university’s investigation reports and disciplinary actions for every case in the past seven years in which the office for the prevention of harassment and discrimination (OPHD) substantiated allegations of misconduct.
Three faculty members included in the reports remain at the university, said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof.
The revelations come months after Geoffrey Marcy, a well-known UC Berkeley astronomer, resigned in the wake of reports that the school had found that he had repeatedly sexually harassed students over the course of a decade yet did not face serious discipline.
Last month, Sujit Choudhry, the dean of the law school, resigned from his position after the university faced significant backlash for allowing him to keep his job following a campus investigation that substantiated his executive assistant’s sexual harassment allegations.
Choudhry remains a faculty member.
The new documents revealed that Howard D’Abrera, an adjunct faculty member who eventually resigned, repeatedly sent sexually harassing emails to an undergraduate student. In one, he invited the student on a “dirt smoke filled weekend of unadulterated guilty pleasure and sins” and offered to “whisper sweet nothings in your ear”. The email said: “I should get to know you … and explore the daring [redacted] dark side of you. Bring me a shirt from your wardrobe.”
In a short phone interview on Wednesday evening, D’Abrera said he never made sexual advances toward the student and that his comments were taken out of context. He now claims that he did not send the email in question, though during the investigation, as the report shows, he confessed to writing the message.
Blake Wentworth, a faculty member in the department of south and south-east Asian studies, whose case is still pending, allegedly told a graduate student: “I could lose my job over this … but I’m so attracted to you.” At one point, he allegedly came up behind the female student and cupped his hand over her ear.
Jeffrey Topacio, a general manager of Cal Dining who was found guilty of “gross misconduct” and eventually was terminated, repeatedly made comments about his penis size, even after meeting with a complaint resolution officer, according to the records. He also allegedly used a homophobic slur to describe a male employee who was crying.
The reports further revealed that Alan Wong, a fired university massage therapist, sexually assaulted a female undergraduate student, repeatedly touching her underwear and genitals during a massage, including after she said: “Can you focus on my shoulder?”
Nori Castillo, a staffer in Berkeley’s startup accelerator SkyDeck, was terminated after the university determined that he repeatedly harassed a male student intern, subjecting him to unwanted sexual advances, making statements such as “I want you so badly” and “I’ll blow your mind”.
Scott Anderson, a disability specialist who worked with students with psychological disabilities, repeatedly sent sexually inappropriate emails to a female student, according to the documents. In one he joked about spanking her, and in another he referenced punishing her for not finishing an assignment and said he would bring handcuffs.
In 17 total reports – involving accusations against 19 employees – 11 cases resulted in termination or resignation. Six cases resulted in other forms of discipline, and two of the disciplinary proceedings are still pending. In seven cases students had filed the complaints, and in six of the investigations faculty were accused of misconduct.
On Wednesday, Michael Burawoy, professor of sociology and co-chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, said the new reports raised concerns that there are disparities in the way the university responds to complaints depending on the status of the accused. “The most significant part of this revelation is the difference in the punishment,” he said. “Tenured faculty are basically not dismissed … That theme runs through all of this.”
There are troubling power dynamics in all of the cases, Burawoy added. “Men are often in more powerful positions than women. It encourages that sort of behavior if it’s not … sanctioned or if it’s somehow kept secret.”
Leslie Salzinger, a professor of gender and women’s studies at Berkeley, said the cases have shed light on the kind of harassment that is common in universities and workplaces across the country. “The issue with Berkeley is not that there’s more harassment, but one would expect an institution like this to do a better job responding. I hope that we will.”
Mogulof, the university spokesman, noted that the school has recently formed a committee on sexual violence, harassment and assault to review policies and make recommendations for changes.
“There needs to be improvement in our policies and our practices and our culture on this campus,” he said.
Mogulof also noted that other universities have not released this kind of data, meaning there’s no evidence that the problem is worse here. But, he added: “We have been explicit in our acknowledgement that one is too many.”
Naomi Rustomjee, Choudhry’s lawyer, said in an email Wednesday that the former dean “is confident that he will be vindicated in court”, adding: “He should be judged on the basis of his conduct, not on that of others accused of sexual harassment.”
Choudhry has apologized to his former assistant “for his mistakes”, Rustomjee added.
The other faculty and staff named in the reports did not respond to requests for comment or could not immediately be reached.