UC Berkeley

Berkeley Law dean resigns after sexual harassment suit

Berkeley Law. Photo: Berkeley Law
Berkeley Law School dean Sujit Choudhry has resigned in the wake of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Photo: Berkeley Law

Sujit Choudhry resigned his position as dean of Berkeley Law on Thursday, following Tuesday’s filing of a lawsuit seeking damages from both Choudhry and the Regents of the University of California for sexual harassment.

Tyann Sorrell, who had worked as executive assistant to the law school’s dean since June 2012, sued Choudhry and UC for what the suit describes as “near daily” harassment, including hugging and kissing from September 2014 until March 2015, when Sorrell used her own sick and vacation time to go on leave (read the full suit). Choudhry moved from New York University law school to become dean in July 2014, succeeding Christopher Edley.

Sujit Choudhry. Photo: University of California
Sujit Choudhry, who resigned as Berkeley Law dean on Thursday. Photo: University of California

UC Berkeley Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD) had investigated Sorrell’s complaints in 2015. It found that Choudhry had violated the university’s policies. According to Sorrell’s complaint, Choudhry admitted in the OPHD investigation to “hugging, kissing, messaging [sic], and/or caressing Plaintiff at least multiple times per week.”

OPHD passed its findings to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele for a disciplinary decision. On Aug. 14, 2015, Sorrell was informed that Choudhry’s discipline would consist of a one-year 10% reduction in salary and writing a letter of apology to Sorrell (in 2014, Choudhry’s total compensation was $472,917). Sorrell only received the letter when she met Steele on Oct. 27. According to the complaint, Steele told Sorrell “he had seriously considered terminating the Dean but that the reason he had decided not to was because it would ruin the Dean’s career, that is, destroy his future chances for higher appointment.” 


Chancellor Nicholas Dirks: Choudhry resignation "in the best interests of Berkeley Law and the university as a whole." Photo: UC Berkeley
Chancellor Nicholas Dirks: Choudhry resignation “in the best interests of Berkeley Law and the university as a whole.” Photo: UC Berkeley

Choudhry stayed on as dean and Sorrell remained on leave until Tuesday’s lawsuit. On Wednesday, Choudhry announced an indefinite leave of absence, and Thursday he announced his resignation. He remains a member of the law school faculty.

An official statement from Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Steele accepting the dean’s resignation said, “Under the University of California’s tenure policy, Choudhry remains a member of the school’s faculty at present.” Choudhry is faculty director of the Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law

Dirks and Steele’s statement continued:

“We believe the dean’s resignation is an outcome in the best interests of Berkeley Law and the university as a whole. At the same time we are under no illusion that a resignation could or even should bring this matter and broader, related issues to a close. It is clear, as we heard during our meeting with law school faculty this morning, that the initial decision not to remove the dean from his position is the subject of legitimate criticism.

“We can and must do better as a campus administration. We must move in the direction of stronger sanctions, and in doing this we want and need the broad input of the campus community.


“We are sharply focused on this issue and committed to ensuring a supportive and safe environment for every single person on this campus. We will act quickly to generate action that will produce lasting change in our culture and practices.

“Tomorrow we will be reaching out to faculty leaders for their help in quickly putting all of these commitments into motion.”

Friday morning, the Associate Deans and Senior Administrators of Berkeley Law released a statement in which they said they were “looking forward, as a community, to confronting and addressing the concerns raised by this conduct—including how it was addressed administratively—and the broader issue of ensuring a safe and supportive environment for all faculty, staff, and students.” Read the full statement.

Law school students and alumni have issued strong statements condemning the university’s actions prior to the resignation.

Kyneshawau Hurd, co-chair, Coalition For Diversity, and Sloan Patrice Whiteside, Boalt Hall Student Association, 3L Class Co-President, issued a “Student Indictment & Demand for Institutional Accountability” Thursday, writing: “We are outraged and disgusted by the University’s deliberate withholding of information concerning the safety of students, staff, and faculty.”


A signature effort from some law school alumni states: “As long as Choudhry remains at Boalt or the University of California in any capacity, we cannot in good conscience contribute financially to Berkeley Law or to the University. Nor are we comfortable encouraging prospective students to attend Boalt. Let us be clear: we cherished our time at Boalt and consider its faculty members and students to be mentors and friends to this day, and we thus make these demands with heavy hearts. But we cannot recommend our alma mater when it apparently allows a confessed repeat harasser to hold its highest position of power and the University appears to aid him in covering up such blatant misconduct.”

According to Business Insider, the alumni campaign had gathered over 450 signatures by Thursday afternoon.

Choudhry’s resignation as dean comes less than five months after Geoff Marcy, an acclaimed member of UC Berkeley’s astronomy department, left the university following a campus investigation that found him guilty of sexually harassing students. Buzzfeed broke news of the investigation on Oct. 9 and Marcy resigned on Oct. 14 (Marcy has since insisted he retired and did not resign). Nature and other publications obtained the university’s 120-page investigation report on Marcy in December.

This story was updated after publication with a link to the statement released by the Associate Deans and Senior Administrators of Berkeley Law.

Related:
Berkeley school board gets annual bullying report (12.09.15)
BHS Stop Harassing takes campaign to Berkeley council (09.18.15)
Berkeley High anti-harassment student group wins award (06.12.15)
BHS students allege BUSD refused access to federal investigators over sexual harassment (05.15.15)

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