Prof. under investigation for sexual assault to continue teaching at UCLA
Piterberg was suspended last spring after two female graduate students complained he had sexually harassed them.
The suspension reportedly came before he traveled to Europe, where he spent his time as a fellow at the European University Institute.
After denying sexual harassment allegations and attempting to dismiss a federal lawsuit, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is allowing History Professor Gabriel Piterberg, who is involved in an ongoing Title IX lawsuit, to teach at UCLA again.
UCLA proceeded to reform its sexual assault reporting policies after the federal court denied dismissal of the case, according to an email sent to students by the university.
Piterberg was suspended last spring after two female graduate students at UCLA complained he had sexually harassed them. In the federal lawsuit filed in the California Central District Court, Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Glasgow allege the history professor made unwanted comments and advances toward them and forced his tongue down their mouths.
In the lawsuit filed by Takla and Glasgow’s lawyers against the UC Board of Regents in June, the grad students complained UCLA officials had discouraged them from making a formal complaint against Piterberg when they tried to report him.
“I tried to do the right thing and go to the right people,” Glasgow told UCLA’s student newspaper. “It was one of the bigger disappointments of my life.”
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights began a Title IX investigation on UCLA last April. In September, the UC Board of Regents denied Takla and Glasgow’s allegations and asked the court to dismiss the case. The court dismissed claims that UCLA failed to properly train and supervise Piterberg, but it is still holding UCLA responsible for not responding to the Title IX complaints. In November, the court denied the UC request to dismiss Takla and Glasgow’s complaints. UCLA officials asked for a 30-day extension, claiming the women did not provide enough evidence for their complaints.
The case is still being reviewed by the court. According to the settlement terms sent to Takla earlier this month, Piterberg is prohibited from interacting with Takla or any other students outside of normal business hours. Additionally, he has paid $3,000 to the UC Board of Regents.
“Normally a woman's allegations of sexual assault are taken very seriously,” Abdul Keddou commented. “The fact that UC is stonewalling on this one shows that Piterberg has politically protected status at UCLA.”
According to an editorial by UCLA’s campus newspaper, the tenured history professor was suspended by UCLA officials before a trip to Europe, where he spent his time as a fellow at the European University Institute and was congratulated for his fellowship by the University.
“This outcome is an embarrassment for UCLA,” the Daily Bruin editors wrote. “Not only does this represent a huge step backward and a betrayal of students’ trust, but it displays a startlingly low standard when it comes to treatment of sexual assault suspects.”
Takla’s lawyer, Michael Porcello, pointed out UCLA’s settlement with Piterberg only requires him to follow existing Title IX policies. Furthermore, he added, it does not even address Glasgow’s complaints.
“These terms seem symbolic of an administration more focused on protecting the reputation of the school and professor Piterberg than (it is focused on) seeking justice for the students he has victimized,” Porcello said.
In an email sent to students Monday morning, UCLA chancellor Gene Block announced a “new provision” in UCLA’s Title IX policy requiring all employees to report sexual assault incidences to UCLA’s new campus Title IX coordinator.
After listing other measures UCLA will be conducting, such as “more specific definitions of sexual violence,”and annual Title IX training for employees, Block concluded by mentioning UCLA’s “ongoing efforts to improve the culture and climate of our campus, and to keep our students, faculty and staff safe and free from sexual discrimination, harassment and violence.”
UCLA students do not seem to share Block’s confidence, however. A group of frustrated students met last week to discuss how UCLA has failed to act strongly on the issue.
Julia Nista, a third-year political science student, told Campus Reform she thinks Piterberg should have been fired.
“He should have had a full investigation, revealing what he did to these students, and he should no longer be able to teach at this university, nor should he be able to interact with women in close professional settings,” Nista said. “It is extremely disheartening that UCLA, who claims to promote the safety and security of students on campus especially in regard to sexual harassment, has lied about those commitments as exemplified in this case.”
When Campus Reform asked UCLA whether it planned to take further action against Piterberg, UCLA declined to discuss the matter, stating that revealing any information regarding Piterberg’s lawsuit would breach his privacy rights.
“All I can tell you is that this issue involves a confidential personnel matter, and as such, is subject to the right of privacy,” Ricardo Vazquez, Associate Director of Media Relations and Public Outreach at UCLA, told Campus Reform. “Therefore, UCLA is not allowed to disclose any information regarding this issue. We are obligated to protect the rights of privacy of our employees.”
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