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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, September 11, 2016

UC-Berkeley Law School Dean's Return Stirs Campus Outrage

UC Berkeley (2016)Following up on last week's posts:

Daily Californian editorial, Choudhry Does Not Belong on UC Berkeley Campus:

Sujit Choudhry’s open letter in The Daily Californian’s opinion section demonstrates unequivocally that the former UC Berkeley School of Law dean still has no meaningful concept of his actions, their implications or sexual harassment in general. His diatribe weaves together the most prevalent tactics of sexual violence perpetrators — survivor shaming, self-victimization and false apologies — and further emphasizes why he does not belong on campus. ...

In the ongoing battle to create an environment where all people, particularly survivors of sexual violence, feel safe and supported on campus, Choudhry’s presence is a step in the wrong direction.

Choudhry implored readers of his op-ed to refrain from judgment until they understood the facts on both sides. His account has been published — in his own repugnant words. He can no longer hide behind the claim that his side has not been heard.

Daily Californian, Tyann Sorrell’s Statement:

When I read Professor Sujit Choudhry’s letter in The Daily Californian, I groaned, and then belted out the biggest, loudest and longest scream. I screamed for myself and UC Berkeley. I screamed for everyone who has been sexually harassed, including those who are too scared to come forward to accept, name and report what they are experiencing. Choudhry’s letter made me scream because it demonstrates how sexual harassment, including its profound effects, continues to be misunderstood, misaddressed and openly denied.

Like many other victims of sexual harassment, I was in denial about what was being done to me. In the email I sent to (then) Dean Choudhry, I shied away from “naming” the harassment, but I explained that the way he touched me and he kissed me made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and was wrong.

The power differential between myself and the dean of one of the top-ranking law schools in the country made it even harder for me to speak out. Dean Choudhry had a reputable temper. I was very afraid of what might happen if I spoke up and specifically named what I felt he was doing to me.

My role at the law school was to support the dean administratively and sometimes personally, to help him be most effective with his duties and obligations as dean. I felt loyalty to the office of the dean, and I tried to help Dean Choudhry as best as I could, even in the midst of the pain I was experiencing due to his actions. When I could no longer stay silent, I wrote a long email to him describing examples of some the abuses that I experienced while working for him, including his inappropriate kissing, touching and caressing of me. I also explained that I felt violated by him and humiliated, and was very aware that he was my boss and I was in a vulnerable position as a woman and a subordinate employee. Even after I mustered up the courage to address how his conduct made me feel, I was too afraid to call it sexual harassment, and instead, in the same email, I tried to pass off his actions as being “friendly,” “warm,” “harmless” and of “pure intentions.” This language reflected the fear and shame I felt at the time and was my form of coping. I hoped and assumed that Dean Choudhry would read the email as a whole, rather than disregard my explicit statements of feeling violated and uncomfortable and choose only to announce my conciliatory language, as he did in his op-ed piece.

I find it inexcusable that a father, husband, law school professor, world renowned scholar and dean would be clueless about inappropriate behaviors and touching in the workplace, not to mention a renowned law school.

Many careers and personal lives in addition to my own have been adversely affected by Choudhry’s abuses of power. I deeply resent Choudhry’s responses to my claims, including his recent op-ed piece, which I find to be defensive and arrogant, displaying a profound misunderstanding of the impact of his actions on me, staff and students. I am angered and saddened that Choudhry deems it appropriate to be present on campus, despite his violations of law and policy, and the fact that his scholarly pursuits do not require him to be on campus. To date, I believe that he has not offered an apology to the campus community even for his admitted actions.

Daily Californian, Berkeley Law Community, Campus Administration Hold Town Hall:

The Boalt Hall Student Association organized a town hall with campus administration Thursday amid controversy over former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry’s return to campus and his open letter to the Berkeley Law community — both of which students protested Wednesday.

About 100 Berkeley Law students, faculty members and staff gathered at Boalt Hall for a question-and-answer session with law school interim Dean Melissa Murray and other members of campus leadership. Some attendees, however, expressed frustration with the productiveness of the town hall.

First-year law student Mukund Rathi called Murray’s comments regarding Choudhry “condescending,” adding that Murray emphasized respecting due process and asked students to withhold judgment. “If students or other people concerned want to see justice done, they’re going to have to organize,” Rathi said. “Working through the official bodies is not working.”

Daily Californian, Campus Responds to Activist-Written Chalk Messages With Hoses:

Campus staff washed away chalk messages voicing support for survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Protesters wrote the messages on and near the site of their Wednesday demonstration at Boalt Hall against the return of Sujit Choudhry, the former UC Berkeley School of Law dean, who was found by a campus investigation to have violated UC sexual misconduct policy.

Axenya Kachen, a UC Berkeley senior, organized the protest with another student, Pablo Gomez. “I think for me it was disappointing but not unexpected,” Kachen said upon learning the messages had been washed away. “Chalking is a huge way to raise awareness for things on campus.” ...

Kachen said that while the campus had been quick to erase the messages in support of survivors of sexual harassment and assault, he felt campus police had not taken graffiti reading “Straight Lives Matter,” or SLM, as seriously. “I almost want to laugh. Why is it OK to remove survivor support messages and not literal hate speech?” Kachen said.

Only one person was found responsible for the graffiti targeting the LGBT community, according to [UCPD Lt. John] Suezaki. That man was given a citation for chalking Sept. 6 and received a stay-away order that forbade him from going on UC regents-owned property for seven days. “I don’t think it was meant on purpose to be left up,” Suezaki said of the allegedly homophobic graffiti. “Anything that’s written on campus, it’s supposed to be erased as soon as possible.”

Legal Education | Permalink


I posted this comment on the Daily Cal website in response to their editorial regarding Professor Choudhry's return to the campus:

I represented, some years ago as a union official, an employee of the Dean's office at Berkeley Law in her grievance against the then-dean. Although the case did not involve sexual harrassment it did provide me a perspective on the issues you rightly describe in this situation. The problem now, however, is that Choudhry has been punished once - however inadequate one may feel that discipline to have been - and now you are calling for him to be punished again via a ban or outright dismissal. That amounts to a kind of double jeopardy and thus a violation of due process. There were it would seem serious doubts about how that first disciplinary process was handled (and the Chancellor and Provost are now gone) but I cannot see any basis for further action against Choudhry with respect to his position as a member of the law school faculty. That is separate of course from the right of Ms. Sorrell to pursue damages or redress in other fora.

Posted by: Stephen Diamond | Sep 11, 2016 11:03:26 PM

The handling of this by U of C is disgraceful.

Posted by: mike livingston | Sep 12, 2016 4:08:03 AM