There has been a growing concern lately regarding both the surprising frequency and the subsequent handling of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and sexual assault cases at university campuses across the state. This wider focus on allegations of sexual misconduct and the disciplinary measures taken by university administrators throughout the 10 campus system in California was sparked following a series of high profile cases of sexual harassment which came to light at UC Berkeley in 2015.
It was these incidents which prompted the Bay Area News Group and other related media to submit a public records request for documents relating to those and any other sexual harassment claims throughout the larger university system, covering a three year range, from January 2013 to April 2016. These records, which consist of hundreds of pages of documents, were released to the Associated Press and additional news outlet in March 2017.
What do these new documents show us?
● Details involving a total of 113 cases of sexual misconduct which were investigated across all ten campuses in the designated three year period, all of which involve employees who were found to have been in violation of the university system’s Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment policy.
● The allegations covered in these documents range from sexually inappropriate comments, text messages, explicitly sexual jokes, extensive patterns of long term harassment, unwanted advances, inappropriate touching, and in 7 percent of the total cases covered, sexual assault.
● The majority of these cases (58 percent) involved allegations made by university staff members, with another 35% involving allegations made by students. The remaining percentage was anonymous. It is also worth noting that these reports include only investigations have been completed and that involved a UC employee - meaning that accusations involving one student to another and investigations that are currently still open are not reflected.
● More than half of the names of employees who were disciplined for sexual misconduct in these documents were redacted before release, although many have questioned the standard by which some information was withheld.
This larger look at the combined records released in March 2017, while redacted, still paint what many feel is a very troubling picture of the frequency with which incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault are taking place at our universities, as well as hinting at what could be a double standard in terms of punishment for the accused based on their position within the university system - with tenured faculty being allowed to keep their positions with minor discipline while university staff members were often forced to resign or were fired, even when the allegations against either were comparable in nature.
An effort to change
Though it is clear that a problem exists across the university system en masse, the nature of the scandals that took place at Berkeley have prompted UC President Janet Napolitano to make improvements to the campus procedures for the prevention of misconduct, investigation of allegations and discipline for sexual misconduct, including mandatory sexual assault training for both students and employees and system-wide peer review committees to handle the disciplinary measures of faculty or upper administrators found guilty of misconduct.