UC Merced

UC sexual misconduct files show faculty resigned, retired; Merced professor was demoted

The main entrance to the University of California, Merced in Merced, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016.
The main entrance to the University of California, Merced in Merced, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

An associate UCLA professor who pursued a student until she was afraid to attend classes paid the university $7,500 in lieu of suspension. At UC Irvine, a dean accused of sexually harassing a co-worker agreed to take a demotion and stayed on as a teacher.

And at UC Santa Cruz, a professor accused of sexually assaulting a female student after a wine-tasting trip resigned before he could be fired. The University of California later agreed to pay his accuser $1.15 million.

Then there’s the UC Merced professor who, along with his female partner, was accused of sexual harassment and bullying and agreed to temporarily forgo merit pay increases.

The cases, among a trove of confidential files released last week by UC officials, show that the same lack of transparency and lax discipline that critics complained about during a UC Berkeley sexual harassment scandal involving faculty members last year also occurred at UC’s nine other campuses.

In a rare look at the handling of sexual misconduct allegations in one of the nation’s largest university systems, the cases show discipline was meted out inconsistently. The files cover 112 cases from January 2013 to April at nine campuses, excluding Berkeley, which separately released documents last year.

The Associated Press scoured hundreds of pages, many of which UC officials redacted in whole or in part, citing privacy reasons. While the employees who were investigated included cafeteria workers and administrative employees, the AP examined cases involving the most prominent figures on campuses: the faculty members.

The UC President’s Office said faculty members accounted for 25 percent of the 112 employees found to have violated sexual misconduct policies over the nearly three-year period but declined to specify those cases in particular. The AP was able to verify at least 20 of the cases involving faculty members, and found:

▪  In several instances, rumors about the accused swirled for years before anything was done.

▪  One instructor’s contract was not renewed and another was fired.

▪  Another professor agreed to temporarily forgo a merit pay increases and took a 10 percent pay cut.

▪  Six faculty members resigned or retired from their universities before investigations were complete, punishment decided, or as part of a settlement.

Experts on sexual violence have long called on universities to be more transparent about cases involving sexual misconduct. Universities should make the disclosures about allegations, even if names and details are redacted, said Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates.

“At some point, the institution has to choose between protecting its reputation and protecting its students. Schools can’t have (their) cake and eat it too,” she said. “They have to figure out a way to show that zero tolerance policies are not all talk.”

In one case, administrators at UC Santa Cruz were criticized for their handling of the case of a student who accused Latin Studies professor Hector Perla of raping her during a wine-tasting outing in June 2015. Perla has not commented publicly, but he told investigators that the sex was consensual and the student was not impaired.

A letter in his file, however, stated that Perla’s “conduct constituted sexual assault” and that he should be dismissed, according to his 60-page file, which is so heavily redacted that many pages reveal only the page number. Perla resigned before disciplinary action was taken.

Last month, the UC governing board agreed to pay the student $1.15 million after she accused it of failing to address previous claims against Perla.

At UC Santa Barbara, the school said, a professor accused of sexual harassment left before the formal disciplinary process was completed in August 2013. A 2013 university investigation substantiated sexual harassment claims against Gurinder Singh Mann brought by a female student who accused him of inviting her to his home to discuss research, then urging her to lie beside him in bed and putting a hand up her shirt.

According to the investigation, other students stepped forward to say the Sikh Studies scholar had tried to kiss them, slapped their buttocks, invited them to his home and couched his behavior in cultural terms as an enlightened guru caring for his disciples.

Mann told investigators the sexual harassment allegations were an “utter falsehood” that stemmed from cultural misunderstandings. He said he was simply showing affection toward promising students.

“I have made peace with myself that we live in complicated times, and I am a simple person who tried to help whoever came my way,” Mann told the AP. The school website lists him as retired.

Officials said about two-thirds of the people accused of misconduct no longer work for the UC system. UC spokeswoman Claire Doan said details on how many were fired was not available and also declined to answer if that meant one-third of the employees who engaged in sexual misconduct still work on UC campuses.

Merced Sun-Star reporter Thaddeus Miller contributed to this report.