|Time to remember the past?|
My Word: Berkeley professor accused of misconduct being railroaded
March 6, 2017, East Bay Times
Misconduct by faculty members and administrators at the University of California has become a frequent news item in the East Bay Times recently. We are united with victims of such misconduct. It is a serious obligation of the university to thoroughly investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior.
We are 36 women and men who’ve studied and worked closely with UC Berkeley Professor Nezar AlSayyad, a valued, respected colleague and mentor who has been unjustly tried and convicted in the court of public opinion for alleged acts of misconduct.
We know AlSayyad well. We trust him. In the decades we have known him, he has shown us respect, collegiality and goodwill. He has been a mentor who cares deeply for students’ wellbeing, an exceptional teacher and adviser, and tremendously supportive of his students’ scholarly and professional development.
For many of us, he was one of the main reasons we chose UC Berkeley. Beyond his impressive range and depth of intellectual contributions and his unstinting service to the academy and the public sphere, it is his unfailing generosity of spirit that impressed and moved us the most. He was recognized with the Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest honor UC Berkeley grants its faculty.
A few months ago, a claim of misconduct raced through local news media. This and the leaking of a confidential report, written by an outside consultant who is possibly unfamiliar with university culture, triggered an unfair campaign by students against sexual harassment on campus. News coverage later reinforced the false impression that this preliminary Title IX report rendered a specific final verdict on the allegations. This episode has scorched Professor AlSayyad’s personal and academic reputation.
The rush to judgment, before charges have been heard, responded to or resolved through established university and legal procedures, is ominous and chilling. It is the vague nature of this investigative process that is most egregious.
In our judicial system, one is innocent until proven guilty. However, the current process appears rudderless and vulnerable to personal grievance and zealotry than concern for the facts. Although he has not been formally charged of violating the Faculty Code of Conduct, the university abruptly interfered with his teaching schedule, leaving many of his graduate students bewildered and uncertain. His rights as a tenured faculty member and as a member of the UC Berkeley community have been disrespected. Some of us raised these concerns in a Nov. 18 letter to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks. It remains unanswered.
We are disturbed that AlSayyad has become a target for built-up frustration about the handling of inappropriate behavior on campus and the university’s unsatisfactory record on the issue. This frustration, while understandable, has manifested itself through insinuation and intimidation.
AlSayyad has even been subject to slanderous remarks about his Middle Eastern background. Current students and graduates have been targets of aggressive solicitations in an attempt to smear him.
Having indicated support for AlSayyad, some members of this group of signatories have been subjected to personal and online harassment, accused of insensitivity to misconduct.
UC Berkeley has done little to dampen this dysfunction. It must demonstrate that it is capable of treating seriously complaints of possible misconduct and protecting the rights of all involved, including faculty members. A fair and impartial investigation, informed by a diverse set of interviewees and thorough documentation, is the only way to determine what AlSayyad did or did not do. This is the least we would expect from UC Berkeley.
Montira Unakul works for UNESCO in Bangkok. Heba Ahmed is associate professor of architecture at Cairo University. They are former students of AlSayyed. Thirty-four other former students also signed this op-ed.