Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Return

A sign not found at Berkeley
Law school ex-dean’s letter on sex-harassment case sparks protest

San Francisco Chronicle via UC Daily News Clips, Filipa A. Ioannou, 9-7-16

When UC Berkeley law Professor Sujit Choudhry returned to campus this semester, he did not come quietly. Instead, Choudhry, who resigned last spring as the law school’s dean following a sexual-harassment lawsuit from his former executive assistant, marked his return with an open letter in Berkeley’s student newspaper, the Daily Californian. 

The letter, in which he justified his return to the campus and described emotional difficulties the case has caused him and his family, ignited a student protest overnight.
Around 100 students protested and marched in front of Sproul Hall; about 50 stayed to protest the law school, Boalt Hall, floor to floor. There was no face-to-face confrontation between Choudhry and the protesters.

“We are protesting the fact that we live in a world where inequity exists, where survivors of violence are not welcome. We live on a campus that values its reputation over its students and their well-being,” said Axenya Kachen, a student organizer of the event. Some students lambasted the Daily Californian, the student newspaper, for giving Choudhry a platform for his views.

“This is next level glorification of a perpetrator who is given a platform and vehicle that many survivors simply” do not have, one student, Alyssa Liu, wrote on Facebook. Student activists have clashed with campus newspapers elsewhere over choices to include controversial perspectives in opinion pieces — one high-profile case, at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, led the student government to slash the paper’s budget in response to a guest commentary critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

After many unhappy reader emails, the Daily Cal’s editors published a response defending the decision to publish Choudhry’s letter. “In a March editorial, the Daily Cal’s Senior Editorial Board condemned Choudhry’s actions and his resulting light punishment. The publication of others’ beliefs, however — even those that are unpopular and contentious — is fundamental to a multifaceted dialogue on pressing matters related to the campus and city,” they wrote.

On Berkeley’s campus, some felt criticism of the newspaper was misguided.

“I’m totally fine with protesting the dean. But I think protesting the Daily Cal demonstrates a lack of respect for speech. It’s disappointing to me that Berkeley, as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, has become so anti-speech,” said David Derrick, a third year Boalt Hall law student.

Steve Montiel, press secretary for UC President Janet Napolitano, said in an email statement that Choudhry will not teach this academic year. “Professor Choudhry did not return to the UC Berkeley School of Law for the remainder of the spring semester, consistent with President Napolitano’s instruction. Nor did he return during the summer,” Montiel wrote. “Interim Dean Melissa Murray will identify and supervise his non-teaching duties while he is on campus.”

Choudhry’s sexual misconduct case is only one of several that Berkeley has faced in recent years.
Choudhry’s lawyer, Bill Taylor, said he had sincerely apologized and suggested that it made little sense to continue focusing on Choudhry “unless, of course, the university wants to use him as a scapegoat for not having handled some of these other incidents more effectively.”

“There is a big difference between being a sexual predator and being someone who touches a colleague — or even hugs a colleague — out of affection. This is in the latter category and has never been said to anybody to be otherwise,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, demonstrators did not agree, and some clarified the target of their protests. “We were not protesting the op-ed,” said Kachen. “We are protesting the institution that allowed a known sexual predator back on this campus.”

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