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
- Sexual Harassment in the Academy: What I Tell Reporters
- There Is No Moral Relativity in Sexual Harassment – a Guest Post
- Boston U Dean to Struggling Grad Students: Go To the Food Pantry – Guest Post
- Dealing with Sexual Harassment Intersectionally
- A Crowdsourced Survey of Sexual Harassment in the Academy
name withheld says
At a different institution (not UCLA), I was as a pre-doctoral student on the receiving end of some fairly obvious gender-based discrimination — I was refused the add code that had already been promised for a grant writing class once I revealed that I was pregnant. My (male) advisor told me, rather honestly, that he had never seen a grad student go up against a faculty member and come out better for it. And that this wasn’t his fight. Basically, this act of discrimination set off a chain of events that threw my entire graduate career into disarray. I did file a complaint with the university (a few years before the creation of the Title IX office.) It added years to my time to completion and chaos in my committee formation and general process. Ironically, because of the work I have done on my own, I am now one of the best grant-writers and I am wrapping up my dissertation within the next few months. So the university can claim that I have no proof of actually having suffered any damages _even though this professor has refused to acknowledge me as a existing person in the hallways of our department_. He has also lied about our relationship (saying everything was fine) and guided opportunities away from me and towards his own students.
The other day I was chatting with a young female professor in our department, and I mentioned the “I’ve never seen a graduate student go up against a faculty member and come out the better for it.” She agreed that that statement is true, and implied that she would probably give a grad student the same advice, to go away quietly and lick one’s wounds, but to not file a complaint against a faculty member _because of the cost to the graduate student_.
I’ve been in the ‘real world’ too, and I know its just as bad there, but exactly how do we think positive change is ever going to happen if no one will ever expend any political capital to hold their tenured colleagues accountable?
-name withheld for fairly obvious reasons
I don’t trust UCLA. I graduated from UCLA and during my first year I was physically abused by another student. Domestic violence. At that time I didn’t want to report it to the police, I really cared about this person. Instead I reported it to the dean of students. Together with my complaint, I provided medical documents indicating that I have a back injury as consequence of this incident.
The Dean of students met with all the people involved in the situation, and asked some of them if I could have created all the story. At the end the person I reported ended up writing a letter apologizing to the university for violating the student code, which I honestly find insulting. I was asking the university, and I clearly said that during the meeting with the Dean of students, to enforce anger management classes for this person, so he wouldn’t hurt anyone else.
I don’t think the university is concerned to protect the students or to provide a safe environment for them. I don’t think the students complaints are taken serious at UCLA
Cassia Roth says
What you went through sounds horrible–I am sorry you had to experience that.
And I agree–people with political capital need to old others accountable. I would like to say that in this case, many faculty members DID do just that. Their letter to the Chancellor et. al. was very important, and it demonstrated to all that sexual harassment is not acceptable in the Department. And then we had this response.
Kelly Ferguson says
Thanks, Karen, for standing up for these graduate students. I am constantly frustrated by how these kinds of predators are excused and allowed to continue. No more!
If a similar gendered, tenured professor is telling to to lick your wounds (and agreed with the statement from a male tenured professor,) it’s probably to say that you should pick your battles and that you’re probably (don’t know the details) being dramatic. You appear to be making it a gendered issue when it may not necessarily be the case: (1) why wouldn’t a professor direct funds/attention/grants/etc. towards her or his own students? (2) why would a woman agree with the statement on the basis of tenure instead of gender as you so mention if it were a gender issue?
I agree 100% that women suffer from institutional biases, but don’t make it the problem when it simply isn’t there as it minimizes legitimate issues for sexism. In other words, if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem will look like nails.
Dude, the code was withheld because she was pregnant. Trans* individuals aside, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is prima facie gendered.
“Dude” that doesn’t explain why a female tenured professor would side with the male professor. There are usually two sides to a story and I’m a little hesitant to believe that a professor (male or female) would just up and decide to deny an add code over a pregnancy. Based on the rest of the post it sounds more like the professor was just playing politics and hoarding resources for his own students. Again, not every issue is a gendered one unless you make it that way.
Frankly, this serial harasser has been abusing female colleagues and students for over a decade. While I don’t doubt that many faculty came to learn of his abuse through the lawsuit, I am also plainly, plainly sure many of them well knew about it for years yet decided to “come out” and co-sign the letter this year/last year *only* because the lines were being drawn publicly. How many of these now indignant faculty members who KNEW about this abused dared/would have dared say *peep* about this abuse earlier. None. Spineless & coward. It was only the bravery of the plaintiffs that made faculty members draft and sign a letter. Because when the sh•it actually hit the fan, they had their public front, their “decent academic persona” to protect. Cowards.
This was posted on Retraction Watch yesterday:
Yes, this UC employee doesn’t even understand his institution’s policy (and, well, the law) which says sexual harassment and sexual assault are different offences, with different processes and remedies. Sexual assault is a crime and part of the penal code.
And yes, he seriously claims there are similarities between being a victim/survivor of rape and a victim of plagiarism.
If this attitude is common on campus, it’s little wonder we have such a huge problem.