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UC Berkeley suspends professor for sexual harassment, citing ‘voluminous evidence’

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Tenured professor Nezar AlSayyad has been the focus of a two-year-long investigation, stemming from a complaint filed by former College of Environmental Design graduate student Eva Hagberg Fisher

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This week in a front-page news story in the San Francisco Chronicle, we learn the outcome of one of architecture academia’s most high-profile #MeToo moments: Nezar AlSayyad—the tenured UC Berkeley architecture professor investigated for sexual harassment in a case that began back in 2016—has been suspended for three years without pay.

The Chronicle reports that the ruling was handed down after the committee found what Vice Provost Benjamin Hermalin described in an email as “a pattern of sexual harassment that created a hostile environment”—consistent with reports made by Eva Hagberg Fisher, a UC Berkeley graduate student and doctoral candidate:

AlSayyad, who was one of Hagberg Fisher’s advisers, also attempted to isolate her from other faculty members and establish himself as her most important supporter, “thereby using his power for personal gain,” Hermalin wrote, noting that campus Chancellor Carol Christ reviewed “voluminous evidence” and concluded the violations were serious.

Nezar AlSayyed, tenured professor at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design, who has been suspended for three years from his post following a sexual harassment investigation.
Photo: Bonnie Azab Powell / UC Berkeley

As Curbed wrote back in March, the university had already recognized numerous incidents of inappropriate behavior between 2012 to 2014 that echo Hagberg Fisher’s claims—and a settlement reached between Berkeley and Hagberg Fisher in December 2017 led to the school paying her a settlement of $80,000.

However, AlSayyad’s active employment status has remained uncertain as the internal investigation conducted through the Committee on Privilege and Tenure chugged along. While he hasn’t been teaching or advising for at least three semesters, AlSayyad has continued to draw an annual salary of $211,000 a year.

Faculty senate hearings are confidential, though it’s reported that the group spent four months deliberating before making a recommendation to Chancellor Christ that AlSayyad receive a one-year suspension, which she apparently “tripled after determining that the tenured professor also abused his faculty powers.”

AlSayyad’s attorney Dan Siegel, a prominent Bay Area civil rights attorney who has previously denied all claims to Curbed, told the Chronicle that “‘We’re very actively considering a legal challenge to the (discipline) decision’... adding that AlSayyad believes the chancellor was wrong to reject the faculty senate’s recommendation of a one-year suspension.”

As per official statement from campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, AlSayyad’s suspension entails the following:

While suspended, AlSayyad may not engage in teaching, nor supervise new graduate students. He is barred from serving as principal investigator on any grants administered through the university, and barred from departmental or other service roles on campus, including the administration of campus research centers. He will have no access to university property except as generally available to the public.

The Chancellor’s office also points out that “Over the past several years, the university has intensified and reformed its response to sexual misconduct; improved educational efforts aimed at faculty, staff and students; expanded its investigative capacity; and enhanced support and services offered to survivors.” One such strategy was to appoint linguistics professor Sharon Inkelas as special faculty adviser to the chancellor on sexual violence/sexual harassment for a three-year term.

When reached for comment, Inkelas referred Curbed back to Gilmore, who declined to comment on the AlSayyad investigation specifically. Gilmore writes, “We understand the frustration with the time it takes to adjudicate faculty cases. Changes have been made in recent years at the UC system and campus levels, including timelines placed on some aspects of the process, and the elimination of a faculty-led investigation. Those changes were not in place when this case entered the system. Still, we understand the ongoing concern and UC and campus leaders continue to explore ways to address this issue, which has been raised by federal and state agencies.”

As of last week, AlSayyad’s faculty profile on the College of Environmental Design website says that he will “be away until 2021.”

Anyone with information about alleged misconduct in the architecture, design, and development industries can contact Curbed’s editor-in-chief, Kelsey Keith, at kelsey@curbed.com. We are accustomed to discussing sensitive information and stories over the phone, so feel free to send an email asking for a phone call. You can also send tips using the app Signal, which encrypts text messages and voice calls. Tip Curbed via Signal here: 267-714-4132.