Friday, May 25

UCLA TA claims department targeted him with threat of Title IX complaint


The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights launched a investigation into UCLA following a complaint that alleged the communication department misused the Title IX process. (Daily Bruin file photo)

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights launched a investigation into UCLA following a complaint that alleged the communication department misused the Title IX process. (Daily Bruin file photo)


A graduate student is accusing the communication department of misusing the Title IX process to threaten him.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into UCLA on Wednesday for possible sexual harassment under Title IX, a department spokesman said. The investigation follows a complaint filed on behalf of Justin Gelzhiser, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, which claims the communication department staff threatened to report Gelzhiser to the Title IX office unless he left his teaching assistant position in the department.

UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said the university will respond to any inquiry it receives from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and added the Title IX office processes all allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence carefully and impartially.

Gelzhiser said he thinks he was targeted by the communication department because he sent a letter in support of former communication lecturer Keith Fink on June 5 to Laura Gómez, then-interim dean of social sciences. Fink, who had been undergoing a review process, was notified by Gómez on June 27 that his contract would not be renewed.

“The Department of Communication wanted to get rid of me because they had just got rid of (Fink), who they didn’t want anymore,” he said.

More than a week after Gómez terminated Fink’s appointment, on July 13, Gelzhiser met with communication department staff, who he said told him a student accused him of inappropriate behavior. Department staff also questioned him about his sexual history and said they would report the claim to the Title IX office unless he left his teaching assistant position, he said.

“They threatened me – they said, ‘If you don’t leave the department, this could destroy your career,’” Gelzhiser said.

Kerri Johnson, chair of the communication department, said she is confident faculty and staff in the department follow all proper Title IX procedures. Johnson added that while she cannot comment on Gelzhiser’s allegations, staff are obligated to immediately report sexual misconduct allegations to the Title IX office.

After the department did not renew his TA contract, Gelzhiser said he filed a union grievance and now works for the sociology department.

“I’m a great TA, academically 4.0 – so there’s no reason for them not to rehire me,” he said. “Why would they not want to rehire their highest-ranked TA in 10 years? Because he’s connected with (Fink).”

Gelzhiser said that several months later in a meeting with administrators relating to his union grievance, he learned that the department filed a Title IX complaint against him. In November, Gelzhiser said he met with UCLA Title IX coordinator Mohammed Cato, who told him the office dropped the case against Gelzhiser because the alleged victim did not respond to them.

“That’s lies – if a student says she’s being abused by a professor on campus, but she doesn’t follow up on it, (the investigation) just dies?” he said. “Of course not – the university has an obligation.”

Gelzhiser added Cato told him the communication department filed the Title IX complaint on July 17, and later told him the department first reached out to the office on July 13. When responding to Gelzhier’s union grievance, the department said it filed the complaint on July 14.

Cato referred a request for comment to Vazquez.

Alexander Stremitzer, a law professor who serves with Gelzhiser on the Academic Senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom, said he asked Jerry Kang, vice chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, under which the Title IX office operates, to provide Gelzhiser with more information about whether and when the Title IX complaint was filed against him.

Stremitzer said he thinks the university should investigate whether staff at the communication department abused the Title IX process. He added he thinks there is a lack of resources available for individuals accused of Title IX violations and said he helped Gelzhiser to make sure his due process rights were respected.

“It’s not popular to think about this, but we should care about both the accuser and the accused,” he said. “We have all the resources for the accuser, but we don’t really have resources for the accused.”

Gelzhiser said he filed the complaint with the Department of Education in December because he thinks the Title IX process at UCLA is a corrupt system that can lead to abuses of power. He added he thinks the university has not adequately investigated his claims that the communication department misused the Title IX process.

“It’s sex discrimination what they did to me. As a male, 99 percent of the time you’re going to run,” he said. “You don’t have rights.”

Vazquez said the Title IX office does not condone any manipulation of its investigatory processes.

Gelzhiser said he hopes the Department of Education’s investigation forces the university to release more information about his case.

“It’s been emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausting for me,” he said. “I’m not intimidated by UCLA – I’m doing this so that it will provide greater safety for members of the UCLA community.”

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News editor

Bharanidaran is the News editor. He was previously a news reporter for the campus politics beat, covering student government and the UCLA administration.


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  • JUSTIN GELZHISER

    Keith Fink’s new non-profit “The Foundation for Advancing Institutional Accountability in Higher
    Education” is representing me with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. It is FREE to all UCLA community members facing any kind of legal issues include landlord & tenant, Title IX, academic freedom, etc. You can email “[email protected]” for more information.

  • Eric Matthews

    Jane Bitar strikes again!

  • PI

    Lecturers are let go all the time and vouching for a lecturer never results in the voucher’s career being put on the line. The accusations of inappropriate behavior is more likely a completely unrelated complaint. It seems more like Justin is launching his own Title IX as a way to discredit the Title IX filed against him.

    He has dated students in the past. Perhaps the complaints are related to that, instead of his ridiculous complaints about “sexual discrimination”.

    • Kenneth

      This sounds like Jane Bitar, or someone from UCLA, talking here. They only have one comment ever, after all.

      • PI

        Yes, I’m a student at UCLA.

        You can verify the statement about how rarely lecturers are offered a PSOE position by asking any lecturer what their job security is like. Their contracts are usually terminated before they can reach SOE status. The fact that Keith Fink did not get his contract renewed is nothing out of the ordinary. There’s no reason the person who vouched for him would be seen in a negative light.

        I can’t really offer any concrete evidence online about Justin Gelzhiser’s dating history, other than the fact that I know a student who has dated him.

        • Eric Matthews

          I call BS — you’re not a student. Why would a student know so much about PSOE/SOE status? Why would they care?

          Sure, because it take 18 quarters of contingent quarter-to-quarter employment to reach SOE status. The bad ones simply aren’t around anymore by the 18th quarter because the departments have no obligation to renew their status. So of course their job security is weak (at best) during the 18 quarters because they can be let go at any time.

          But among the group of lecturers who reach their 18th quarter, the vast majority do, in fact pass. If they’ve been around for so long, they’re presumably doing something right.

          This is not a forum about Justin Gelzhiser’s dating history. But you’re saying “I know someone who knew someone who dated him” is weak at best.

          Enough with these UCLA-manufactured PI posts to try to clean up their own mess.

          • PI

            Uh, because I’ve talked to lecturers who have complained about how shittily their departments treat them? That I have personally had lecturers who were amazing, and I was sad to see them leave and asked why? That I’ve thought about becoming a lecturer at UCLA, only to be told it’s a terrible job prospect by lecturers?

            And the whole premise is that Justin Gelzhiser claims that a bogus Title IX was filed against him. All I’m saying is that it might not be so bogus.

          • Eric Matthews

            Believe me, it’s bogus. Read the links provided. I know if you’re a student this may add to your reading load but I’d argue it’s important as its a major campus affair.

          • PI

            It only seems bogus if you are set on the view that the communications department is out to get Gelzhiser. Coincidence does not equate to evidence.

    • Eric Matthews

      “PI” has no idea what they’re talking about. If Justin had anything to hide, he wouldn’t have launched such an investigation. Guilty people don’t draw attention to their behavior, folks! It’s quite simple.

      What PI also can’t get through their head is that this just wasn’t ANY lecturer — Keith Fink was one of the best (if no the best) lecturer in the Department. An expert in his field and a UCLA National Debate champion, nonetheless. Here are some comparative stats on his teaching — a document that the Daily Bruin itself previously released. https://drive.google.com/a/accountabilityinhighered.org/file/d/0B0CFxKu9pB2eZGt2VnJIVlkzUVE/view

      • PI

        Ever heard about projection? Or gaslighting? Both of these involve guilty people drawing attention to their guilty behavior. They hope that people will buy that they are innocent by using exactly the “logic” you used.

        And no, what *you* can’t get through *your* head is how academia works. Even “best lecturers in the department” almost always fail to get their contracts renewed after multiple years. That’s just how academia works. Lecturer positions are highly unvalued, whereas publications and research is what research institutions put their money on. I’m sure Keith Fink will find a great job at a community college, where the focus is on hiring great lecturers.

        Unfortunately, UCLA doesn’t care very much about keeping lecturers for multiple years. Many departments let go of lecturers before 6 years (this might change depending on department policies on SOEs) because that would mean that they will have to be offered a permanent position (Lecturer SOE = tenured lecturer). If you search for the number of people who have this position at ucla, you’ll realize how extremely rare this is to get.

  • JUSTIN GELZHISER

    “PI”, what’s your name? It’s very weak of you to hide behind an acronym.

    Here’s an article link to one of the most respected and well-known academic journals in the entire country who covered my case and Keith Finks as well. Hopefully, an official investigation from the Department of Education against UCLA and the findings from this article will help you see how uninformed you are and elucidate to you the actual facts of my case: https://www.chronicle.com/article/A-Grad-Student-Defended-a/242175