UC Berkeley has fired a professor more than a year after three students accused him of sexual harassment.
Blake Wentworth was an assistant professor at the school’s Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies when he was accused of sexual harassment by three students who went public with their stories. The women—Kathleen Gutierrez, Erin Bennett, and Nicole Hemenway—filed complaints with the university and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in April and May last year, claiming that Wentworth had made sexual advances toward them and tried to start inappropriate relationships with each of them, according to the Guardian. They were among at least seven students who filed complaints against Wentworth with the university between February 2015 and March 2016, the Daily Californian reported.
Wentworth denied the allegations. He then sued the three women for defamation and the University of California for harassment and discrimination in September last year. The lawsuit against the university reads:
Past sexual harassment by administrators and faculty has sparked reactions at college campuses. However, academics across the country have decried misguided reforms which allow for the destruction of careers through false, distorted, and/or exaggerated claims.
“These actions are part of the university’s continuing effort to eradicate sexual misconduct from our campus,” Cal officials told the news station in a statement. “The harassment of students by faculty represents an unacceptable breach of the teacher-student relationship and carries the potential for enormous harm.”
The university’s actions come nearly a year-and-a-half after another, separate internal investigation in October 2015 found that Wentworth had made “unwelcome sexual advances” toward a student. Wentworth was reportedly not disciplined by the university following the investigation’s finding.
“This firing was our doing. The university gets to put their name on the decision, but they were perfectly happy not doing anything,” Hemenway, one of the women who sued Wentworth, told the Guardian. “This was because of student organizing efforts.”
Michael Hoffman, the attorney representing Wentworth, sent Fusion the following statement in response to his client’s firing this week:
On May 27, 2016, U.C. investigators wrote in a final report: “If the issue before us had simply been sexual harassment alone, we would agree with [Dr. Wentworth]. The disciplinary action we recommend appears out of proportion to what we know about disciplinary actions for sexual harassment taken by the University.” Today’s distortion, ostensibly timed to shift news away from U.C.’s financial scandals and civil rights violations, will be addressed in Dr. Wentworth’s pending lawsuit, where the evidence will show that U.C.’s campaign to ruin his career began days after his hospitalization. Dr. Wentworth denies the false assertions, which are a pretext to discriminate and retaliate against him.
A report published by the school in April after other high-profile cases of alleged sexual harassment showed that 19 employees, including six faculty members, have been accused of sexually harassing students or other employees since 2011.
Update, 5:02 P.M.: UC Berkeley referred us to their statement from earlier this week, which said in part:
These actions are part of the University’s continuing effort to eradicate sexual misconduct from our campus. The harassment of students by faculty represents an unacceptable breach of the teacher-student relationship and carries the potential for enormous harm. The University is committed to holding violators strictly accountable.