Protests at the University of California at Los Angeles are mounting over the case of a history professor who was suspended following an investigation into sexual-harassment complaints but who will be allowed to return to the campus in July, according to reports by the Los Angeles Times and a student-run paper, the Daily Bruin.
More than 40 students marched on the campus Wednesday to protest the university’s handling of the complaints against the professor, Gabriel Piterberg, lodged by two graduate students who said he sexually harassed them over a period of years. The students have filed a federal lawsuit against the university, accusing it of doing little to help them and dissuading them from filing formal complaints.
After investigating the students’ complaints, the university reached a settlement with Mr. Piterberg in 2014 that did not include any admission from him that he had engaged in improper or unlawful conduct, or that any of the allegations were accurate, according to the Times. The settlement document, released by UCLA on Wednesday, said it had been forged to “avoid the cost, uncertainty, and inconvenience of an administrative proceeding.”
Under the terms of the settlement, Mr. Piterberg, who is currently on sabbatical in Europe, paid a fine of $3,000, was suspended for an academic quarter without pay, and agreed to attend training to avoid sexual harassment. He also accepted restrictions on how he could meet with students. But some people on the campus say those sanctions are too light a punishment.
In a letter to UCLA’s chancellor, Gene Block, 28 faculty members in the history department said that Mr. Piterberg’s return to the campus would make students feel unsafe, and that the restrictions imposed upon him would add to their workloads. “His actions were not only deeply injurious to the specific parties involved, but have poisoned the academic community,” they wrote in the February letter. “Piterberg’s public presence on campus will signal that an effective climate of tolerance for harassment persists at UCLA.”
Dozens of graduate students also wrote a letter that criticized the university’s handling of the case, saying it is perpetuating a “unsafe and hostile climate.”
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, a university spokesman, Ricardo Vazquez, said UCLA “vigorously disputes” the claims in the lawsuit.