I call my parents every day. Yes, you can make fun of me, but usually if I go a day or two without talking to them, my homesickness kicks in. The phone call often starts with my mom asking me what I ate for lunch and ends with her asking about my plans for the day.
It never fails to surprise me how paranoid my parents can be, but I don’t blame them for this. When I tell my mom I’m hanging out with some guy friends alone or going to a male professor’s office hours, she always tells me one thing: Be careful.
This isn’t because she doesn’t trust my friends or my professors. It’s a fear justified by the atrocities seen every day in society today. Sexual harassment is so common, especially on college campuses, that news stories on the issue don’t surprise me anymore. I’m no longer shocked when reading stories about boyfriends or school faculty crossing the line, like Gabriel Piterberg, who faced sexual harassment charges from multiple former students.
But what does a student at a world-class institution do when something like Piterberg happens? Who do they turn to and what do they have to go through to get the justice they deserve? The recent Piterberg situation made me realize I was deficient in my knowledge on the ins and outs of the procedures surrounding University of California policy violation accusations and judgment procedures, so I decided to talk to Kathleen Salvaty, UCLA’s current Title IX coordinator who will be leaving her post in February to serve as the first UC systemwide Title IX officer.
The process a student has to go through for UCLA to take action against a sexual harasser or predator is quite extensive. The complainant has to go through a series of steps before it’s even determined that their allegations are valid. The processes for bringing allegations against a student and a professor are the same, but once it has been determined that a violation of UC policy has occurred, the procedural paths diverge.
There are no prescribed guidelines in place that dictate minimum sanctions for a faculty member found guilty of violating UC policies on sexual violence, which does not include sexual harassment. For students, there are such guidelines in place when they have had the same determinations made against them.
“For students, there are now sanctioning guidelines and minimum sanctions,” Salvaty said. “Those have been in place since Jan. 1 of 2016. For faculty, there are no minimum sanctions.”
According to the UCLA Student Conduct Procedures on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, the minimum sanction for a student who commits “Aggravated Prohibited Conduct,” described as “sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking,” is “suspension for at least two years, up to dismissal.” The Office of the Dean of Students decides whether the infraction is worthy of a more elevated punishment than the minimum.
There is no baseline punishment, however, for faculty members who have violated UC policies.
According to Salvaty, the vice chancellor for academic personnel, Mike Levine, decides on the sanction the faculty member will receive.
When I asked Salvaty about this discrepancy between the method of determining student sanctions and faculty sanctions, her response didn’t sit well with me: the UC Office of the President decides what infractions are associated with minimum sanctions.
So if a 20-year-old student is found to have violated UC policy on sexual violence, then there’s an automatic punishment of suspension that’s handed out to them, but for a 50-year-old professor, there’s no set consequence?
Although I’m alarmed by this difference in the handling of faculty versus students, what surprised me the most from my inquiries was that there are no minimum sanctions in place for a faculty member or a student found to have violated UC policies on sexual harassment, as opposed to violence.
As we’ve seen with cases like Piterberg’s, sexual harassment is a pressing issue not just among students, but also between students and professors.
When I asked Salvaty about the lack of minimum sanctions associated with sexual harassment for both students and faculty, she speculated in an email that the president’s office may see sexual violence as a crime that – in all but exceptional circumstances – would merit a minimum sanction of suspension for some period of time. Apparently, this is not the case for sexual harassment.
I can’t help but wonder why it is that faculty members are given such leeway in matters as serious as sexual violence. Why is it that there is no actual rule in the books saying that a faculty member deserves a minimum punishment if they are found to have exhibited prohibited conduct? I don’t understand why students and faculty are treated differently in such cases, with faculty receiving more freedom in the matter than if the respondent is a student.
Faculty members also have the right to reject the sanction that has been handed down by the vice chancellor. If this is the case, the respondent has the right to a full hearing on the matter. The Academic Senate would then propose a different sanction to the faculty member, which ultimately is accepted. Salvaty added that in most cases the respondent does not opt for the full hearing.
Salvaty explained that one of the main reasons faculty are able to question their sanction is faculty members’ shared governance with the Academic Senate and the rights associated with employment and tenure. Tenured faculty or faculty who are part of the Academic Senate are guaranteed the right to reject their sanction and receive a hearing on the matter. However, a faculty member who is a lecturer at the university does not have the same rights and the procedure is different. The Academic Senate would not be involved and the process would be much less complicated. But according to Salvaty, most of UCLA’s faculty are tenured and are guaranteed the right to question a sanction and ask for a full hearing.
UC President Janet Napolitano recently approved a series of recommendations called “Enhancing Policies and Procedures Related to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Matters for Faculty, Non-Faculty Academic Personnel, and Staff.” These recommendations are set to be implemented at every UC campus by July 1 of this year.
The idea of a set of new policies mandated at every UC campus sounds impressive. It seems as if though Napolitano is taking extra measures to ensure that an incident like Piterberg does not occur again. However, after reading through the recommendations, my feeling of dissatisfaction has only intensified.
Many are things that one would think were already implemented in the UC system. The list boasts of establishing set time frames for investigations so that they do not exceed three months. It uses fancy jargon to say that a database to track sexual violence and harassment data will be created and claims that it will guarantee that both the complainant and respondent are allowed equal opportunities to present their cases and discuss them with the investigator.
As happy as I am that the UC system is taking some type of action, I can’t help but question how effective these changes will actually be. Many of the recommendations that are set to be implemented should have been in place a long time ago. After all these years, what are we doing without a proper system to track sexual assault data? How has it not been mandated that both a complainant and a respondent be treated equally? They’re basic rules that shouldn’t even have to be listed out.
In a way, I believe this also goes to show the state of our current UC system and its disheartening methods of dealing with cases of sexual assault and harassment. After looking at the policies that are currently in place, I’m almost not surprised that Piterberg was given sanctions that barely affected his ability to continue teaching at UCLA. However, it also makes me equally as scared of what will happen in future sexual harassment and sexual violence cases.