In a swift response to student demands, UC Berkeley officials on Wednesday offered an alternative for students who refused to attend a required class taught by an architecture professor recently found to have sexually harassed a student.
The striking move came a day after dozens of graduate students staged a protest on campus to condemn a UC policy that prevents administrators from notifying students about inquiries into faculty misconduct if those students are not involved in the investigation.
Many of the protesters are taking a required class from the professor in the department of city and regional planning or have him as an adviser. The last lecture of the semester in that class is Thursday, with the final exam on Dec. 1.
"We have heard your concerns," department Chair Teresa Caldeira wrote in an email Wednesday to students. "We have decided to set up an alternative section for the course. This alternative section will have another instructor of record who will see the semester through to completion."
Students can also choose to stay in the section taught by Nezar AlSayyad, an internationally recognized scholar who teaches in the architecture department and the city and regional planning department.
A source connected to the College of Environmental Design, which houses AlSayyad's departments, said he has been given no courses to teach this spring.
Campus officials have declined to comment on AlSayyad, who is the fourth high-profile employee in less than two years found by the university to have sexually harassed a student or colleague.
Although campus officials are limited in what they can say about pending investigations, they can take action — including restricting a professor's interaction with students — if they believe the allegations represent a safety threat to students, said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof.
"The law is clear about what is required of us to protect the interest and safety of students," Mogulof said. "But when it comes to broader communications, this is an extraordinarily complicated issue, given our adherence as a country to due process and innocent until proven guilty."
An independent investigator hired by UC Berkeley concluded in October that AlSayyad, 61, had spent months ingratiating himself with graduate student Eva Hagberg Fisher before placing his hand on her upper thigh in 2013, proposing they become "close friends" and suggesting that they go to Las Vegas. The investigator said the evidence showed that AlSayyad appeared to "'groom' Ms. Fisher for the possibility of becoming a romantic or sexual partner."
The professor's name is redacted from the report, but Hagberg Fisher, 34, confirmed that AlSayyad is its subject.
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 has vigorously denied wrongdoing in all cases. His spokesman, Larry Kamer, said that UC Berkeley's decision about AlSayyad's teaching is "preemptive" and "violates his due-process rights."
The report on Hagberg Fisher's case recommends that campus investigators begin the process of deciding whether AlSayyad violated the Faculty Code of Conduct, which could lead to tenure revocation. That outcome has happened only twice at UC Berkeley in 25 years.
If faculty investigators make that determination in AlSayyad's case, he would probably be referred to the Privilege and Tenure Committee of the Academic Senate on campus, which could recommend a range of sanctions, including a pay cut, loss of privileges or firing through tenure revocation.
"Professor AlSayyad awaits the start of the Privilege and Tenure Committee process that he believes will allow him to defend himself more effectively than he has been permitted to do thus far," Kamer said.
Brooke Staton, a master's student in AlSayyad's required course who is opting for the alternative, said students are pleased by the department's response. But, she said, they are still planning a protest on Thursday.
"The university policy that allows professors to continue teaching and advising while they are under investigation for sexual harassment is what needs to change," she said.