Dozens of graduate students at UC Berkeley sent a starkly worded petition to campus leaders Monday demanding that a renowned architecture professor and Middle East scholar be suspended immediately for sexually harassing a student.
Nezar AlSayyad, an internationally recognized academic who teaches in the architecture department and Department of City and Regional Planning, is the latest prominent faculty member at UC Berkeley found to have sexually harassed a student or colleague in violation of University of California rules, The Chronicle reported on Sunday.
The next day, 74 students and three alumni from City and Regional Planning sent a petition to campus Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, the Academic Senate's tenure committee, and other campus leaders demanding that they consider the most severe punishment available, tenure revocation. They also demanded that the campus leaders apologize to any victims and do a better job protecting students.
Those who signed the petition are refusing to attend AlSayyad's classes and are asking for another way to finish the semester's work. They are planning protests Tuesday and Thursday outside Wurster Hall.
In response, administrators have called a meeting Tuesday with campus officials and College of Environmental Design leaders "to discuss all aspects of how best to protect student welfare and support their needs and interests," a campus source said.
In October, an independent investigator hired by UC Berkeley concluded that AlSayyad had spent months ingratiating himself with a graduate student before placing his hand on her upper thigh in 2013, proposing they become "close friends" and suggesting they go to Las Vegas. The student, Eva Hagberg Fisher, filed a complaint this year with the campus' Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. After a five-month investigation, the investigator said the evidence showed that AlSayyad appeared to "'groom' Ms. Fisher for the possibility of becoming a romantic or sexual partner."
The Chronicle also spoke with two former faculty members who said that another student alleged more than 20 years ago that she and AlSayyad had sex and that she felt taken advantage of. Her complaint was never investigated, and the former student declined to comment. Another student accused AlSayyad this spring of nonsexual misconduct, and an investigation is pending.
AlSayyad, 61, has denied all allegations of misconduct. He told The Chronicle that he feels victimized and that administrators are overreacting for fear of being perceived as soft on sexual harassment. He could not be reached for comment Monday. But on a faculty listserv, he called the story "vicious and defamatory."
Students who signed the petition said they wanted to stand in solidarity with Hagberg Fisher and to express frustration with a campus process that prevents administrators from notifying students sooner about investigations into faculty misconduct.
"It's infuriating," said Brooke Staton, 27, a master's student who is taking a required course from AlSayyad.
The findings and the graduate students' strong response follow revelations this year and last about three high-profile employees at UC Berkeley — an astronomy professor, the Law School dean and a vice chancellor — who groped, kissed or touched students or colleagues. In each case, the campus responded with minimal discipline until the cases became public. The astronomer quit under pressure, and the others stepped into tenure-protected faculty roles but have been given no courses to teach.
AlSayyad has also been given no courses to teach this spring, according to a source connected to the College of Environmental Design, which houses AlSayyad's departments.
The investigator recommended that campus officials begin the process of deciding whether AlSayyad violated the Faculty Code of Conduct, which could lead to tenure revocation. That has happened only twice at UC Berkeley in 25 years.
Hagberg Fisher, 34, said she was moved to tears when she heard about the letter.
"To see this magnitude of response was just profound," she said. "It is such a public disavowal of a person and his behavior."