By Katy Murphy, The Oakland Tribune (TNS)
BERKELEY, Calif. — As fury grows over reports that astronomer Geoff Marcy sexually harassed female students for years, the University of California, Berkeley, Monday defended how it has handled complaints against the professor.
The claims surfaced late last week when BuzzFeed published a story on a confidential university investigation that concluded in June and resulted in a warning. According to BuzzFeed, four students complained that they had been subject to unwanted advances, including kisses, groping and massages. It reported that the harassment was an open secret among astronomers.
“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 before he can be subject to discipline up to and including termination,” the university said in a statement.
But students are livid that the professor received what they see as a mere warning for his past behavior as part of an agreement reached with the university’s vice provost for the faculty.
“I think it says that the faculty does not truly care about sexual assault and harassment against its students and care more about our academic reputation,” said Meghan Warner, a senior and a student representative to a University of California task force on sexual violence.
Marcy, a professor at Berkeley since 1999, was considered in the running for a Nobel Prize for his discovery and study of large planets outside of our solar system. He did not respond to a request for comment, but posted an open apology letter on his faculty page last week, shortly before BuzzFeed — which obtained the confidential report — broke the story.
“While I do not agree with each complaint that was made, it is clear that my behavior was unwelcomed by some women,” Marcy wrote. “I take full responsibility and hold myself completely accountable for my actions and the impact they had. For that and to the women affected, I sincerely apologize.”
The incidents are believed to have occurred between 2001 and 2010 with students who have since graduated; the university first received the complaints in July 2014, said campus spokeswoman Janet Gilmore.
Faculty have more protections than students who are accused of violating campus policies, and they undergo a sanctioning process that includes a hearing before their peers. The university administration cannot unilaterally fire a professor, for example, while it can expel a student.
The university concluded that setting “clear behavioral standards” for Marcy on his interactions with students, along with the waiving of those protections, “was the most certain and effective option for preventing any inappropriate future conduct,” it said.
But the problem is greater than this one high-profile professor, Warner said. Graduate students who are harassed by faculty, she said, often fear that reporting the problem will end their careers.
“It’s been a real problem for graduate students, and it’s something activists haven’t addressed nearly enough,” she said.
Photo: Dr. Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at UC Berkeley, was identified in a Buzzfeed report as sexually harassing students. Rafael Perrino/Flickr