Middle East studies in the News
Protest at UC Berkeley After Faculty Sex-Harassment Finding [on Nezar AlSayyad]
by Cynthia Dizikes and Nanette Asimov
Dozens of graduate students held signs and chanted at UC Berkeley on Tuesday to condemn administrators for not notifying students about pending investigations into faculty misconduct.
The protest followed a Chronicle story on Sunday about a renowned architecture professor and Middle East scholar who was found to have sexually harassed a student in violation of University of California rules. Student Eva Hagberg Fisher, 34, filed her complaint at the end of March. An independent investigator hired by UC Berkeley began an investigation in May and concluded in October that the student had been sexually harassed by Professor Nezar AlSayyad, an internationally recognized academic who teaches in the architecture department and the department of city and regional planning.
Campus officials must now decide whether to impose discipline.
Many of the protesters are taking a required class from AlSayyad or have him as an adviser. For about half an hour, they blocked a pathway outside Wurster Hall, which houses both departments, chanting with signs that read, "We Deserve Safe Classrooms" and "Protect Students, Not Tenure."
Graduate student Brenda Zhang said she was angry and disappointed to learn that the department of city and regional planning assigned AlSayyad, 61, as her faculty mentor this summer while the investigation was pending. Zhang, 24, said students are expected to reach out to their assigned advisers and build a relationship with them.
"I feel that I am less valued, that I am less important than the professor and this process," Zhang said. "There has to be a way of protecting the rights of those accused while protecting the safety of those who have just arrived on campus."
Matt Wade, a doctoral student and AlSayyad's teaching assistant, was among the 50 or so protesters. He said he and students in AlSayyad's required course will protest again Thursday instead of going to class.
The expectation that students should continue attending class with AlSayyad and interact with him on academic committees while the situation is still unresolved "puts everyone in a huge bind," Wade said.
The five-month investigation concluded that AlSayyad had spent months ingratiating himself with a student, Hagberg Fisher, before placing his hand on her upper thigh in 2013, proposing they become "close friends" and suggesting they go to Las Vegas. The investigator said the evidence showed that AlSayyad appeared to "'groom' Ms. Fisher for the possibility of becoming a romantic or sexual partner."
The Chronicle also spoke with two former faculty members who said that another student alleged more than 20 years ago that she and AlSayyad had sex and that she felt taken advantage of. Her complaint was never investigated, and the former student declined to comment. Another student accused AlSayyad this spring of nonsexual misconduct, and an investigation is pending.
AlSayyad has vigorously denied wrongdoing in all cases.
Campus officials have declined to comment on AlSayyad, who is the fourth high-profile employee in less than two years found to have sexually harassed a student or colleague.
In her report about Hagberg Fisher's case, the investigator recommended that campus officials begin the process of deciding whether the professor, who was not named in the report but was identified by Hagberg Fisher as AlSayyad, violated the Faculty Code of Conduct, which could lead to tenure revocation. That outcome has happened only twice at UC Berkeley in 25 years.
Campus administrators met Tuesday with leaders of the College of Environmental Design, which houses AlSayyad's departments, "to discuss what might be necessary to protect students' welfare," said Dan Mogulof, a campus spokesman.
But whatever they decided will remain under wraps until the participants speak with the students about it in the next few days, Mogulof said.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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