UC Berkeley law school dean resigns amid sexual assault claims

- UC Berkeley Law School Dean Sujit Choudhry resigned today, two days after his executive assistant sued him for sexual harassment.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks spotted our camera today, cinched up his coat, opened up an umbrella and refused to talk to us.

But he had had plenty to say to prospective UC Berkeley law students today, the first day of "admitted students weekend," where the university tries to woo students who had been admitted, but not yet committed, to getting their law degree here.

The timing is ironic, as just hours earlier, Choudhry resigned his post. Earlier this week, executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against him.

In the suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, Sorrell says Choudhry repeatedly touched her against her will.

"He sexually harassed her by frequently kissing her, putting, having her put his hands, he would grab her hands and put them on his waist,” said Sorrell’s attorney John Winer. “He would give her bear hugs where he'd press up against her breasts. He would kiss her in unwanted ways and in unwelcome ways."

In a statement, Choudhry said, "While I disagree with the plaintiff's claims and allegations, and will defend against them, I am unfortunately unable to comment on the substance of the lawsuit. However, I can say that I cooperated fully with, and take extremely seriously, the university's confidential investigation into this matter and ensuing sanction."

Sorrell says, and the campus confirmed, that Claude Steele, the executive vice chancellor and provost, declined to fire Choudhry, instead docking his pay and telling him to write her a letter of apology.

The suit says Steele had seriously considered terminating Choudhry but didn't want to "ruin the dean's career."

Some current law students at Berkeley took issue with that decision.

"i think that's ludicrous,” said Sameera Mangena, a second-year law student. “ I think the idea that the woman's safety is less important than the career of someone who's perpetrating sexual harassment and sexual assault is just a completely ludicrous idea."

Choudhry is the second Berkeley law school dean to resign as a result of sexual-harassment allegations. In 2002, John Dwyer stepped down after being accused of having sexually harassed a student.

And last fall, Cal astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy resigned because of a sex harassment scandal.

“UC Berkeley has a problem with sexual harassment,” Winer said. “We had a problem with the astronomer. And in every case, the discipline has always been too light. And with light discipline, the problem is going to keep continuing."

So we tried to talk to the chancellor about all this.

He just ignored our questions and was driven away.

Current law students say they hope future students won't be driven away, either.

"I feel like the dean's actions have really kind of marred this weekend,” said first-year law student Emily Zia. “It just really makes me so mad."

DeCarol Davis, a second-year law student, said, “When these admitted students come, we're not here to lie to them. We're here to tell them what happened."

Today, the university official who declined to fire Choudhry said in a statement that the decision not to fire Choudhry earlier "is the subject of legitimate criticism." Yesterday, that same official sent out letter to law school alumni, asking for donations.
 

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