While the University of California regents have spent the past two years overseeing improvements to systemwide sexual harassment and assault policies, they don’t seem to have learned much from it.
It’s no secret officials up and down the UC system do not practice what they preach. The most recent example is Norman Pattiz, a UC regent since 2001, who was recorded asking to touch an employee’s breasts while she was recording a bra commercial.
It is blatantly clear that progress in the UC’s sexual assault policy does not appear to affect the upper echelons of its leadership, and it is high time this changes.
We cannot be expected to trust our biggest decision makers to represent the University community and its values effectively while men like Pattiz, whose term ends in 2026, can both decide future policies and remain willfully ignorant of the significance of their harassment.
Several women who have worked with Pattiz have said his predatory comments about women’s bodies were troubling and made them uncomfortable, even prompting one to leave her job because she found him intolerable. Pattiz told the Los Angeles Times he was sorry for his words and called the scandal a “valuable learning experience” – scarcely a sign of remorse for what should arguably disqualify him from being a regent.
What makes this truly disheartening is the fact that the University has made real progress on its sexual harassment policies. Over the past two years, UC President Janet Napolitano has called for more thorough investigations, the Board of Regents has updated the systemwide Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment policy and, at UCLA, a new Title IX coordinator has begun working under the new Office for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity.
But it’s obvious this improvement is not all-inclusive, and Pattiz is only the most recent example of administrative failure. Even as the UC has improved on a procedural level, various campuses have had a series of scandals related to sexual harassment and violence.
Sujit Choudhry, former dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, is suing the University, claiming it disciplined him differently than other faculty members accused of sexual harassment. And Gabriel Piterberg, a tenured UCLA history professor accused of sexually assaulting graduate students, will return to teaching next quarter with barely a slap on the wrist. Title IX investigations at both campuses determined administrative procedures responding to sexual harassment and assault claims were insufficient.
Students and employees naturally look to university officials as model examples of conduct and values. As such, UC administrators cannot advocate decreased sexual harassment on college campuses while at the same time acknowledging assault on women or making them feel unsafe in the workplace.
Of course, Pattiz does not represent the University, but his voice is a large part of its future. Sexual harassment and assault among university leaders is much larger than him, and certainly the breadth of the problem makes it difficult to formulate a solution.
Despite that, there are still steps the UC can take. The first would be for Pattiz and the rest of the board to sit in on one of the compulsory Title IX sessions UC employees are required to attend. They might learn a thing or two.