UC Los Angeles history professor Gabriel Piterberg agreed to pay $3,000 to end a Title IX investigation against him. Of course he did, since that’s only 1.6 percent of his $185,897 gross annual salary.
He accepted a one-quarter suspension without pay. Easy decision, since that suspension aligned with Piterberg’s fellowship at the European University Institute in Italy.
He attended a sexual harassment training. He agreed to not engage in “romantic” or “inappropriate” relationships with students — the same rule for all faculty.
But Piterberg never admitted guilt to sexual harassment claims from two graduate students, despite 38 history faculty standing against his continued presence on campus, and 75 student and community members protesting on March 2.
He made a negotiation with UCLA to end the internal investigation, and the students who filed the original Title IX complaint, Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Glasgow, are suing the UC regents for it.
The UC administration responses to these protests and accusations send one message — the UC is and remains an unsafe and unwilling place to take sexual harassment complaints.
Takla and Glasgow accused Piterberg of making inappropriate comments to them, trying to force his tongue into their mouths and forcefully pressing his body against theirs. It’s unacceptable that the UC system remains reluctant to investigate charges and offer serious punishments for sexual harassment accusations, in this case for a professor engaging in inappropriate conduct. The UC system fails to listen and address the demands of students, from the lack of necessary resources to the inflammatory “Consent is Sexy” campaign.
In exchange for Piterberg’s suspension and fine, UCLA agreed to end its Title IX investigation without reaching a conclusion or initiating charges against Piterberg to “avoid the cost, uncertainty and inconvenience of an administrative proceeding.” The settlement was signed by Piterberg, his attorney and UCLA Vice Chancellor of Academic Personnel Carole Goldberg. Her signature and such minor punishments reflect the institution’s prioritization of its profit-making reputation over the safety of its students and faculty.
Goldberg is another UC administrator who the entire UC should be ashamed to have representing it. She implies that the alleged violation of these two women is unworthy of the costs and inconvenience it would place on UCLA’s campus and reputation. This shows absolutely no support or concern for Takla and Glasgow.
The women filed a suit against the UC Regents in June 2015, claiming they were encouraged by university officials to stay quiet about their allegations, and that other claims against Piterberg were ignored. Based on Goldberg’s willingness to sign the settlement, these accusations don’t seem far-fetched.
As a tenured professor, Piterberg’s contract prevents the university from taking permanent action until the regents have completed the investigation — which isn’t scheduled for anytime soon. Regardless, there should be stronger punishments. If there was enough evidence for a suspension and a $3,000 fine, then there’s enough evidence that Piterberg took advantage of these women.
UCLA’s gratuitous treatment of Piterberg adds insult to injury. A professor’s talent or tenure should never interfere with justice, especially when they have violated student and community trust.
Last June, UCLA said the university “is committed to providing an environment free from harassment and discrimination and ensuring due process for all members of our community.” But if UCLA was really committed to providing a campus climate free of harassment, Piterberg would be suspended until the investigation is over.
The administration provided a superficial fix-it by banning him from holding one-on-one meetings in his office for three years unless the door is open and the meetings take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. This places the blame on his students for approaching him alone and suggests that sexual harassment only matters if somebody witnesses it.
Amanda Reyes, the union committee head on sexual harassment and UC Santa Cruz teaching assistant, said the investigative process is stacked against students. For example, students are required to undergo questioning by the accused professor’s attorney but aren’t allowed their own legal counsel.
As fellow UC students, we stand in solidarity with Takla and Glasgow, who have been fighting to have their accusations thoroughly investigated since 2013. But this isn’t a UCLA issue or even a UC issue. This is a systematic lack of understanding and stigma surrounding sexual harassment claims present in major educational systems.
The UC needs to step up and give its faculty thorough and ongoing training. They’re not taught how to speak to survivors, but told what not to do to avoid accusations, like don’t leave your door closed in office hours. As one of the most influential academic institutions in the world, the UC must change its process in responding to sexual harassment and serve as an example for the rest of the country’s educational systems.