Illustration by Rose Collins

UC Santa Cruz graduate student Rebecca Ora stood in front of a panel of UC regents on Nov. 13. She recalled a dinner in 2014 with UC regent George Kieffer and other UC students. Ora alleged Kieffer repeatedly touched her leg under the table during that dinner.

UC Executive Director of Strategic Communications and Media Relations Claire Doan said the UC has retained an outside investigator who will determine the facts in the matter.

Ora went public with her allegations after experiences reporting left her frustrated by a regents policy she deems unfair. 

“All the articles about this are saying ‘graduate student publically calls out regent for sexual misconduct,’ but for me one of the most shocking things here is that the UC regents have their own policy for these things,” Ora said. “There is no real way of removing a regent apart from the regents deciding they want to remove a regent, and that’s unacceptable.”

Kieffer denied Ora’s account in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle after the Nov. 13 regents’ meeting. He said he trusts the process that has been set up to address these complaints. 

“I was obviously disappointed by the manner in which the complaint came to light,” Kieffer said in an email. “I have and will continue to participate in the investigation process rather than make the case in the press.”

Approved on March 16, 2017, Regents Policy 1112: Policy on Review of Allegations of Board Member Misconduct outlines procedures to address any allegation that a regent has not fulfilled their duty as set by UC bylaws, policy or applicable law. 

The UC Board of Regents is ultimately responsible for determining if a preponderance of evidence has been found to warrant censure of a board member.

At time of press, the formal investigation into Ora’s allegations is underway. Per Regents Policy 1112, the investigation is expected to conclude within 90 days of its initiation. 

Ora didn’t plan on reporting the alleged incident, but at a July 2018 regents meeting she told an administrator about her memory of the 2014 dinner, not realizing the woman was a mandated reporter. The administrator told Ora she would have to report the incident. 

Ora said she was given two options by the Title IX office once she reported — an informal resolution process or a formal investigation. Based on the mediator’s advice, Ora chose the informal resolution process. 

“Even if it went to the investigation process, the three regents would still decide what to do about the consequences,” Ora said. “I would have even less of a say. So my response was ‘If that’s the case, then if the mediation fails I’ll go public because this is not my problem. This is a community problem.’”

During the informal resolution process, Ora called for George Kieffer’s resignation and for the regents to curb his power. Ora chose to speak publicly at the Nov. 13 regents meeting after the regents rejected her demands. 

“To pretend we’re on even ground is laughable,” Ora said in a text message. “If we had been equals in the first place, I would have been in a position to tell him to take his hand off my body.”

Ora also pointed out the lack of legal support for students in similar situations and described struggling to navigate the issue with few resources. 

“I’m doing a doctorate in art. As a graduate student, I don’t have the money to hire a lawyer,” Ora said. “On [Kieffer’s] Wikipedia page, it says he is one of California’s most powerful lawyers. […] How is someone supposed to navigate this process? It’s not at all possible. It’s certainly not fair.”

Since she can’t afford to hire a lawyer herself, Ora said she’s looking for another option for legal counsel. She said she doesn’t want to attend any meetings with the hired investigator without appropriate advising. 

Ora said she came forward publicly to call attention to a process she deems flawed. She’s concerned the policy doesn’t focus on the rights of complainants. 

The word “complainant” only appears once in Regents Policy 1112 in a paragraph that states, where appropriate, the Office of the General Counsel would provide the complainant with a written report of their rights and available options for reporting alleged misconduct. 

“I came forward now because it came to the point where the mediation had stalled and the deeply disappointing regents’ refusal to entertain any of the demands, any consequences, and any improvements for this list of problems,” Ora said. “I went public not just to shame and push the university toward action, but to genuinely involve the community.”

When considering sanctions for a regent, the board’s decision can only be made after an investigation by the UC Office of the General Counsel, which must in turn consult a panel of three regents. The panel normally involves the chair of the board, vice chair and the chair of the governance committee. 

According to Regents Policy 1112, a formal investigation may be launched if, after a confidential preliminary investigation into an allegation, the Office of the General Counsel and at least two of the three regent panel members determine the allegation warrants further investigation by an appointed investigator. 

“Any allegations, investigation, or proposed sanction of a Regent may be resolved informally at any time, following consultation with the Office of the General Counsel and with the approval of the Regent panel,” according to Regents Policy 1112.

The policy mandates the affected regent be given an opportunity to respond to allegations and comment on information gathered. Before the investigator officially finds a violation of policy or law, the affected regent has another opportunity to respond. 

If the investigator finds a preponderance of evidence that the regent has violated policy or law, they recommend a sanction and the UC Board of Regents, excluding the affected regent, votes to accept or reject the sanction.

“It looks like the policy someone would want to write for themselves,” Ora said, “because that’s what it is.”