by Cassia Roth
[KK: please take action by contacting the people below. Stand up for the victims of this serial sexual harasser who is being protected and enabled by his institution. Letter texts below]
As readers of the TPII Blog know, I recently wrote about how faculty, alumni, and graduate students from the UCLA Department of History have publically voiced their indignation for how the University handled the sexual harassment case of Professor Gabriel Piterberg. Since that post, many women (often wanting to remain anonymous) have stood in solidarity with the victims, some even declaring they also had been sexually harassed by Piterberg. This chorus of voices—both old and new—have made clear that Piterberg’s repulsive behavior has been going on for a long time and harmed a lot of people.
In two nearly identical letters dated from March 4 and March 11, the Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang responded to faculty and graduate student concerns, respectively. His letters were addressed “on behalf” of himself, Chancellor Gene Block, and Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh.
Kang believed that three questions lay at the heart of recent concerns: “Did the punishment fit the “crime”? Did confidentiality trump public accountability? How can the community be restored?” I find it interesting that Kang used “scare quotes” around the word “crime.” Really, are we still debating whether Piterberg’s actions were harassment? From the get-go, Kang trivializes the experiences of the victims, delegitimizes their claims, and erases their existence. It’s like they’re silenced over and over again.
In terms of the “severity of the sanction,” Kang reminds us that Piterberg didn’t simply pay a $3,000 fine. Rather, he lost 1/3 of his pay during the 2014-2015 and was forced to resign as Director of UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES). Kang cites different amounts for Piterberg’s salary reduction in his two responses ($57,700 in the faculty letter and nearly $64,000 in the graduate student letter). This seems like a big slip-up on Kang’s part, as we don’t actually know how much Piterberg suffered financially. In fact, in his letter to graduate students, Kang mentions that UCLA is “in the process of conducting an internal audit to make sure that Prof. Piterberg experienced the full financial loss.” In other words, the administration also doesn’t know how much Piterberg lost.
Kang continues by pointing out that in the coming years, Piterberg will no longer receive the salary bump from his former directorship (figured at $39,700 in the faculty letter and $40,800 in the graduate student letter). Here, Kang tells the faculty that “he [Piterberg] was required to resign directorship of an institute,” while he informs graduate students that Piterberg was “deemed ineligible for renewal as director of the center.” Kang continues by writing to graduate students that “it’s of course impossible to know counterfactually whether Prof. Piterberg would have been renewed and for how long without this settlement.” It appears that Kang is telling the faculty that Piterberg resigned because of the harassment case, while notifying graduate students that perhaps Piterberg’s position wouldn’t have been renewed at all.
And if we look at the California State Salary Website, we can see that Piterberg will still be making nearly $150,000 annually. Compare that to the $20,000 the graduate students he harassed make, if that. Remember, one victim said she didn’t want to come forward because Piterberg sat on the History Department’s funding committee.
Additionally, in neither letter does Kang account for the fact that Piterberg received a Fernand Braudel Senior fellowship at the European University Institute (EUI) from March to May 2015. The EUI Department of History and Civilization that hosted Piterberg has a September 30 fellowship application deadline for the following academic year (September to June). This means that Piterberg applied for the fellowship in September 2013 (after the initiation of the UCLA Early Resolution process). Essentially, UCLA allowed Piterberg to delay the settlement for nine months, so he could take a fellowship that coincided with the quarter he took off in spring 2015.
More important than the individual figures, however, is the issue of prestige. Reputation and prestige are everything in academia. By covering up the sexual harassment case and allowing Piterberg to get the Braudel fellowship, UCLA protected Piterberg’s reputation. Piterberg’s “quarter off” may have cost him financially, but it actually boosted his real academic capital, his research status. And it also enhanced UCLA’s own academic standing. The International Institute said as much when they posted a news article in March 2015 entitled “Professor Gabriel Piterberg granted prestigious fellowship.”
On the second point, the “opacity or secrecy” of the proceedings and decision, Kang really let the excuses fly. In both letters he argued that “those with concerns today must understand that this matter all took place before the new Title IX Office was created, before the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion was created, and before new policies and procedures on sexual harassment and violence were adopted.” (Emphasis mine). This response is laughable if not infuriating. Oh, I wasn’t there, so don’t blame me? Ummm we had a pretty crappy system in the past, oops! (Oh, and BTW, we don’t really seem to be changing it).
Kang finished both letters by saying that “the greatest challenge is to restore the community.” So what were some of the things he came up with? Well, rest assured female graduate students and junior faculty members, the administration is “thinking intensely and creatively” about options like “office location, teaching time, teaching arrangements, and service responsibilities.” Of course, the administration does not want to “inadvertently reward” bad behavior.
I think I found a simple solution, albeit not that “creative,” and it only took me a second to think up. Piterberg resigns. Others have, miraculously, come to the same decision. If the recent “indefinite leave” of the Dean of Berkeley’s law school demonstrates anything, it is that sexual harassment is much more pervasive and entrenched in higher education than any of us want to admit. And it has got to go. So let’s start with the harassers.
Second Call to Action:
Contact UCLA directly to protest non-action on Piterberg.
Chancellor Gene Block
UCLA Chancellor’s Office
Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh
UCLA Office of the Chancellor
2147 Murphy Hall, Box 951405
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang
UCLA School of Law
385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Los Angeles, CA, 90095
Vice Chancellor of Academic Personnel Carole Goldberg
Stephen Aron, Chair, Department of History