As proud alumni of the UC Berkeley School of Law, we were shocked and dismayed to learn that Dean Sujit Choudhry sexually harassed his executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell, less than 15 years after Dean John Dwyer resigned in another sexual harassment scandal. Even more disappointing are the University and Law School’s response and seeming complicity in continuing Choudhry’s employment after the University’s own investigation confirmed the truth of these violations. In short, this feeble response has betrayed students, the UC Berkeley community, Boalt alumni, and the values that we hold dear.
It has been reported that Choudhry admitted in summer 2015 to hugging, kissing, and making other inappropriate and unwanted contact with multiple women on staff. Despite the University’s findings consistent with these admissions, the University punished him with only a one-year, ten percent salary reduction and required that he write a simple letter of apology to the survivor (a penalty alleged in the complaint to have been driven by the University’s concern with ameliorating any harm to his career and advancement). The University’s response is a complete and utter failure of UC Berkeley and the School of Law to condemn sexual harassment in its community. In 2014, Choudhry’s total compensation was $472,917. This suggests that the University values a female employee’s safety and well-being only to the extent of $47,000. And, of course, the financial penalty--none of which appears to have gone to the survivor--does nothing to adequately protect current and future survivors of sexual harassment and create an inclusive, welcoming culture for all Law School students, faculty, and staff.
A leading institution of legal education--one that fashions itself on the cutting edge of progressive legal education--must do more. As alumni, we demand it. As Chancellor Dirks reminded the entire campus in 2014, “sexual assault has no place on a college campus or anywhere in civilized society.” Generations of Berkeley Law students, many of them women and particularly women of color, have worked tirelessly to recruit a more diverse faculty and create a more inclusive environment for the study of law. UC Berkeley, and in particular the Law School, is an institution that prides itself on commitment to gender equity and social justice, which is the reason many of us specifically chose to attend Berkeley Law. Law school deans should model the values of the school that they represent. Moreover, Boalt’s Dean should and must be someone that faculty, staff, and students feel comfortable and safe approaching with questions and concerns and as a leader that the entire legal academy and profession looks to with admiration.
In light of Choudhry’s violation of multiple women at the Law School, the notion that he could continue to hold the position of Dean is unreasonable, laughable, and insulting--not only to the women in the Berkeley community, but also to the values that brought us to Boalt, values that tie generations of alumni together. Given his behavior and the impact it would undoubtedly have on his ability to effectively connect with and serve the Law School community, he was entirely unfit to hold the position of Dean. That the University and the Law School had not already reached this conclusion is, quite frankly, alarming.
We demand the immediate termination of Sujit Choudhry. We also demand that the University initiate an independent, external investigation into the handling of this incident and related incidents over the years that suggest larger, systemic issues in the handling of sexual harassment and assault at UC Berkeley. The professional advancement of faculty or staff who have admitted to engaging in sexual harassment must never again take precedence over the best interests of the survivors and the larger Berkeley and Boalt communities.
As long as Choudhry remains at Boalt or the University of California in any capacity, we cannot in good conscience contribute financially to Berkeley Law or to the University. Nor are we comfortable encouraging prospective students to attend Boalt. Let us be clear: we cherished our time at Boalt and consider its faculty members and students to be mentors and friends to this day, and we thus make these demands with heavy hearts. But we cannot recommend our alma mater when it apparently allows a confessed repeat harasser to hold its highest position of power and the University appears to aid him in covering up such blatant misconduct.
We await your prompt, full, and satisfactory response to this situation.