BERKELEY — A UC Berkeley professor with a distinguished history and three-decade career will opt for retirement rather than serve a three-year suspension without pay given to him by the university after an investigation into a sexual harassment claim.
Nezar AlSayyad, a professor of city and regional planning and architecture, also will sue the university this week, his attorney Dan Siegel said Tuesday. Siegel added that AlSayyad's reputation has been left in tatters over a matter that should never have gotten this far.
UC Chancellor Carol Christ handed down the suspension Aug. 13, overturning the one-year suspension recommended by a committee that oversees tenured and privileged professors. The committee's decision came after a five-month investigation into the allegations by the graduate student.
"We will bring a suit challenging that what the chancellor did was legal, putting herself in place of this committee and deciding who was telling the truth about what," Siegel said. "It's going to challenge the ways in which the university runs these proceedings."
A spokeswoman for UC Berkeley contacted through email Tuesday did not offer any immediate comment. AlSayyad's profile remained up on the university's website Tuesday along with a note that he is not expected back for at least three years.
The case stems over a March 2016 complaint by the graduate student that AlSayyad, one of her advisers, sexually harassed her. The complaint alleges, among other things, that AlSayyad "momentarily put his hand on (the woman's) leg and said something to the effect of, 'I hope we can be better friends,' " Siegel said.
AlSayyad has not commented to this newspaper but has denied the allegations elsewhere. Siegel on Tuesday reiterated his client's denial
"There's no doubt that he and (the student) had a longstanding, very friendly professional relationship. They had worked together for years. She's about 30 when this happens, a mature, sophisticated young woman," Siegel said. "If she objected to anything, all she had to do was tell him to cut it out. It didn't have to escalate to this degree. This is not Harvey Weinstein using his authority to exert power."
In August, the university said the investigation found that AlSayyad "engaged in a pattern of unwelcome, manipulative and divisive behavior toward the graduate student and toward his faculty colleagues" from 2012-14, a pattern that "created a hostile environment."
By retiring, AlSayyad will be able to collect his pension and his health benefits, Siegel said. He chaired the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Berkeley for nearly two decades, and in 1988 founded the area of Environmental Design and Urbanism in Developing Countries in the College of Environmental Design.
"We had 40 women who testified or wrote letters in that initial investigation that he was a great guy, a gentleman, somebody who never treated them with anything but respect," Siegel said. "It's a sad situation."