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By Larry Gordon and Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

A well-known University of California, Berkeley, astronomer facing sexual harassment allegations from multiple students has stepped down after a furor about whether the university had treated him too leniently.

The university has faced growing criticism in recent days over its handling of an investigation of professor Geoffrey Marcy. The investigation, sparked by a series of complaints, found that he had sexually harassed women students over a nine-year period.

In a statement Wednesday, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks and Provost Claude Steele confirmed Marcy’s resignation and said: “We believe this outcome is entirely appropriate and have immediately accepted his resignation.”

They described Marcy’s conduct, as determined by the investigation, as “contemptible and inexcusable.”

However the two top campus leaders said they did not have the authority to fire Marcy without a lengthy and uncertain process. They noted that the standards of evidence in such cases are very high and they would be subject to a three-year statute of limitations, which could have excluded some of the older allegations against Marcy.

After the results of an initial probe, the school had imposed strict guidelines on Marcy’s behavior and warned him of suspension or dismissal if he violated them.

“Our objective was to protect our students by immediately preventing any reoccurrence of the behavior described in the investigative report. We thus chose to establish, in writing, a strict set of behavioral standards that went beyond what is specifically proscribed by the University’s rules and regulations,” Dirks and Steele wrote.

They said they would work “to reform the University’s disciplinary processes, criteria and standards so that in the future we have different and better options for discipline of faculty.”

In a statement released earlier this week, the university said that, following the investigation, Marcy had agreed to meet certain expectations in his interactions with students and that a failure to do so could result in his suspension or dismissal.

“The university has imposed real consequences on Professor Geoff Marcy by establishing a zero tolerance policy regarding future behavior and by stripping him of the procedural protections that all other faculty members enjoy,” the statement said.

Marcy issued an online apology for his behavior in an open letter last week. Efforts to reach him Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Details about the investigation and complaints were first reported by BuzzFeed on Friday.

The university faced sharp criticism for what many say was an unsatisfactory decision considering the findings. In a letter, Marcy’s colleagues in the astronomy department called on the university to remove him from his position.

“We urge the UC Berkeley administration to re-evaluate its response to Marcy, who has been found in violation of UC sexual harassment policy,” the letter reads. “We believe that Geoff Marcy cannot perform the functions of a faculty member.”

Photo: Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at UC Berkeley, stepped down after students protested that the university let him off too easily on charges of sexual harassment. Rafael Perrino/Flickr

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