A UC Berkeley doctoral student whose academic career changed dramatically after an architecture professor placed his hand on her upper thigh and proposed they become "close friends" has agreed not to sue the University of California in exchange for an $80,000 settlement, The Chronicle has learned.
The university admits no wrongdoing under the settlement agreement, which was finalized last Wednesday and includes attorney's fees.
Nezar AlSayyad, a tenured architecture professor and an internationally recognized Middle East scholar, remains employed at UC Berkeley more than a year after an independent investigator determined that he sexually harassed his former student, Eva Hagberg Fisher, from 2012 to 2014.
The university has given AlSayyad no classes to teach since fall 2016, but he continues to receive $211,000 a year. He has taught at UC Berkeley since 1985.
Student protests erupted against AlSayyad and the campus administration in November 2016, after The Chronicle first reported the investigator's findings. Dozens of graduate students also signed a petition demanding that the administration revoke AlSayyad's tenure if a separate investigation by the Faculty Senate determined that the professor violated the Faculty Code of Conduct.
That highly confidential process is under way, The Chronicle has learned. In the 149-year history of the university, just eight professors have lost tenure.
AlSayyad, 62, has denied all allegations of misconduct.
Meanwhile, despite the campus finding against the professor, Hagberg Fisher, 35, said her access to the architecture library is still restricted because she worries about running into AlSayyad.
"I feel dumbfounded. I feel angry," she said, "It's inexplicable that I am restricted in any way from going wherever I want. That he has much more access to the building than I do — and I'm trying to finish my dissertation."
Hagberg Fisher filed her sexual-harassment complaint on March 31, 2016. A year and a half later, she said, "I still can't get my education."
A UC Berkeley spokeswoman confirmed that Hagberg Fisher's potential civil claims have been resolved. As part of the settlement, the university is required to issue a statement, which reads in part:
"The University acknowledges and appreciates the efforts of Ms. Fisher, and other brave complainants in the UC community, who have come forward with complaints of sexual harassment, and brought this issue to light."
Spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said that UC policy bars her from releasing additional information at this time.
Hagberg Fisher said she had been prepared to sue the university over delays she said she's had to endure since making her report — including the time it took to get answers to questions and the four months she said it took to get a no-contact directive sorted out.
Under the settlement, which stipulates that the university "promptly responded" to Hagberg Fisher's allegations, she won't sue. In exchange, the UC regents will pay her $55,000, and give $25,000 to her attorney.
UC has recently paid far larger amounts to settle lawsuits by sexual-harassment claimants.
In April, the regents agreed to pay $1.7 million over 10 years to settle the lawsuit of a UC Berkeley employee who claimed that her boss, Sujit Choudhry, then dean of the law school, hugged, kissed and touched her repeatedly during 2014 and 2015, and that the campus did nothing to stop it.
That payout exceeded what had been a record UC settlement for sexual harassment, the $1.15 million won in January by a UC Santa Cruz student to settle her claim that a professor raped her when she was his student in 2015. The Chronicle hasn't named the professor because he hasn't been criminally charged.
In the case of AlSayyad, the investigator's 52-page report, obtained by The Chronicle, concluded that the professor's behavior toward Hagberg Fisher became increasingly personal, with frequent social invitations and hugs, as he sought to make her beholden to him.
The conduct "can be seen as an attempt to 'groom' (the student) for the possibility of becoming a romantic or sexual partner," wrote lawyer Eve Fichtner, the investigator.
Hagberg Fisher said last year that she nearly quit school "and had years of self-doubt" while AlSayyad held sway over her. "And when I trace it back, it all goes back to him," she said.
The investigator found that AlSayyad sexually harassed Hagberg Fisher at a crucial time, while he served on an exam committee that would determine whether she was qualified to write the dissertation needed for her degree. The professor invited Hagberg Fisher to dinner and drinks repeatedly and expressed his love for her, despite his "position of trust, authority and power," according to the report. He also hugged her and commented on her appearance, the report said, including on the morning of her doctoral exams.
Hagberg Fisher remained in school, but she withdrew from the architecture department and created an independent doctoral program.
Although Hagberg Fisher said the process of speaking up and reporting AlSayyad has been frustrating and, at times, discouraging, she is glad that she did.
"I definitely know I did the right thing," she said.