Cal should be a safe place for everybody.

Below is the text of an email I sent to University of California President Janet Napolitano and UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, in response to the complete and utter failure of the University to respond appropriately to repeated incidents of sexual assault and harassment by Astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy.

Dear President Napolitano and Chancellor Dirks,

On most days, being a member of the UC Berkeley community is one of the things I am most proud of. 

Not today. 

I am writing to express in the strongest possible terms my shock and disgust at how the University has failed to properly address repeated claims of sexual harassment and assault by Astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy. As I am sure you are well aware, despite acknowledging the veracity of these claims, the University took no meaningful disciplinary action. Not only is Marcy not being held responsible for his actions, but the pathetic response by the University sends a message to others who would act in a similar way that they can do so and expect to get away with it. 

Beyond the failure of the University to take appropriate action, the behavior of Astronomy Department interim Chair Gibor Basry has been completely unacceptable. In an email to faculty that has been widely shared online, Basry suggested that things are “hardest for [Marcy] in this moment” and asked that they offer him “understanding and support.” When the Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion feels that a man found guilty of repeated and inexcusable sexual harassment and assault is more deserving of sympathy and support than the countless women whose lives and careers he has irreparablly damaged, it is no wonder that there is little faith from the community that proper action will be taken to address these serious and wide-spread issues. 

The failure of the University to respond appropriately to this incident has already done serious damage to Cal’s reputation. This is particularly apparent on social media, where many scientists and academics at other institutions have have said that they are no longer comfortable encouraging their students to apply to Berkeley, with some going so far as to say that they will actively discourage it. The sentiment of these posts is echoed by an increasing number of prospective graduate students who say they have decided not to apply to Berkeley after seeing the recent news, and others who report that they had already been steered away from Berkeley by concerned mentors. 

I hope it does not come as news to you that Marcy’s behavior is not at all uncommon in science and academia, and that the only way it can be stopped is by strong, meaningful action from institutions. Where there is a strong imbalance of power, such as between a professor and students, speaking up about inappropriate or even illegal behavior can often in a very real way mean having to choose between your safety and your career. Far too many women have already left science because of people like Marcy. 

The University of California Diversity Statement reads:

Because the core mission of the University of California is to serve the interests of the State of California, it must seek to achieve diversity among its student bodies and among its employees. The State of California has a compelling interest in making sure that people from all backgrounds perceive that access to the University is possible for talented students, staff, and faculty from all groups. The knowledge that the University of California is open to qualified students from all groups, and thus serves all parts of the community equitably, helps sustain the social fabric of the State.

Right now, these words ring hollow. 

I hope you’ll take the time to consider the power of your position, and recognize that you have the opportunity now to help enact meaningful change to dismantle a toxic legacy that continues to be exclusionary to fully half of the population the University is supposed to serve.

Daniel Lurie
Graduate Student
Department of Psychology
University of California, Berkeley