A prominent UC Berkeley architecture professor who was suspended in August for three years without pay for sexually harassing a graduate student and abusing his faculty power has resigned from the university, The Chronicle has learned.
Professor Nezar AlSayyad remains barred from campus through June 2021, says an email sent Sunday to students and employees of the College of Environmental Design, which houses the architecture department.
"It is important for those who interact with Professor AlSayyad to understand that his retirement does not change any constraints on teaching, advising, or research stemming from his announced three-year absence from campus," wrote College of Environmental Design Dean Jennifer Wolch.
Typically, retiring professors automatically gain emeritus status, with the right to teach and advise students and keep an office on campus. But when Chancellor Carol Christ suspended AlSayyad last month, she also received permission from University of California President Janet Napolitano to withhold AlSayyad's emeritus status for three years if he chose to retire.
The tenured professor's pension, however, is not withheld. By retiring, AlSayyad, 62, who has taught at UC Berkeley since 1985 and recently earned $211,000 a year, will receive a pension retroactive to July 31, as well as health care.
AlSayyad has denied sexually harassing any students or abusing his power. He said through his lawyer on Monday that he will sue the university this week, challenging his three-year banishment and asking that his emeritus privileges be reinstated after one year.
"He believes that if he leaves for three years, it will be very difficult for him to reintegrate into the university," said attorney Dan Siegel. "We'll raise the issue of whether the chancellor has the authority" to override the recommendation of a committee of fellow professors who recommended a one-year suspension.
Universities across the country rely on internal investigations when dealing with employees who are accused of sexual harassment, which is prohibited on campuses by the federal law known as Title IX. When the accused are tenured professors, the investigation is followed by a trial conducted by a faculty committee behind closed doors. While lacking the force of law, the trial determines a professor's professional future. AlSayyad had a three-day trial in November.
University policy calls the faculty committee "advisory" and says, "The chancellor makes the ultimate decision regarding discipline."
For UC Berkeley doctoral student Eva Hagberg Fisher, AlSayyad's retirement brings an end to a years-long ordeal that began after she joined the architecture department in 2010 and that The Chronicle brought to light in 2016.
"I think it's a great outcome," Hagberg Fisher said. "Now it feels done."
In March 2016, she filed a complaint with UC Berkeley alleging that AlSayyad, an internationally recognized scholar who was one of her advisers, not only sexually harassed her but also manipulated, intimidated and isolated her, forcing her to change departments — and the course of her career.
A five-month campus investigation upheld nearly all of Hagberg Fisher's allegations and found that AlSayyad spent months ingratiating himself with her before placing his hand on her upper thigh, proposing they become "close friends" and suggesting they go to Las Vegas. The investigator concluded that AlSayyad's behavior became increasingly personal from 2012 to 2014 as he sought to position himself as Hagberg Fisher's protector and make her beholden to him while he served on the exam committee that would determine if she was qualified to write a doctoral dissertation.
But because AlSayyad had tenure, the 52-page investigation report was just the beginning. He was barred from teaching classes as of spring 2017 after students protested against him. But he remained on the payroll and continued advising students and serving on their dissertation committees.
The subsequent process, including his faculty trial, took nearly two years.
In February, 75 UC Berkeley architecture students, alumni and supporters protested AlSayyad's continued role on campus, arguing that it had put their academic careers in limbo.
Six months later on Aug. 13, after AlSayyad and the university failed to agree on terms for the professor's future, Christ determined that AlSayyad "engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment that created a hostile environment." That's when she tripled the faculty committee's recommended suspension.
In a letter to Hagberg Fisher, Vice Provost Benjamin Hermalin called the violations serious. He said Christ imposed the three-year suspension because AlSayyad tried to "isolate you from other faculty members ... and establish himself as your most important supporter, thereby using his power for personal gain."
Hermalin said Christ reviewed voluminous evidence and concluded that AlSayyad's actions were harmful to other students and colleagues, as well.
The Chronicle's 2016 investigation into Hagberg Fisher's case found that complaints about AlSayyad's behavior spanned decades. In the early 1990s, a student reported that the professor had slept with her, prompting his removal from her thesis committee, according to former professors. In 2008, another former professor said AlSayyad "consistently bullied" students and junior colleagues, threatening to ruin the careers of those who complained.
Siegel, who also represented AlSayyad back then, called the allegations libelous and defamatory at the time.
On Monday, he said the faculty committee that conducted the trial last year found no pattern of abuse or manipulation. He said they found only that AlSayyad "put his hand on Ms. Hagberg Fisher's leg momentarily. Literally momentarily.
"The most you can say is, in the moment, he got a little carried away."