Two UC Berkeley grad students are the most recent to allege that they were sexually harassed by a professor at the respected institution, the AP reports via KRON4, and this time they've taken up their accusations with a state agency due to what they say is a failure on the part of the administration to sufficiently discipline its faculty member.
Kathleen Gutierrez, 28, and Erin Bennett, 25, are doctoral students who filed their complaint against South and Southeast Asian Studies Assistant Professor Blake Wentworth with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. “It’s been debilitating,” Bennett, who has taken a medical leave of absence, said of her experience. “It’s already derailed my future career, my education.”
Bennett and Gutierrez say they reported Wentworth, who has denied wrongdoing, to the University a year ago. In fact, the Chronicle has it that Wentworth has been the subject of at least five student complaints. According to Gutierrez, Wentworth would seek her privately, telling her about sex, strip clubs, and drugs, sometimes touching her and saying he was attracted to her despite her demands for him to stop.
In October, the school did find that Wentworth violated the school's sexual harassment policy regarding Gutierrez, while he had not, they said, in Bennett's case. Bennett reported similar offenses to those Gutierrez cited.
While Wentworth has been taken off of teaching duties, he remains on payroll. According to a University statement, "Although we cannot comment on the reported complaint or litigation at this time, the campus has taken several steps to protect the interests and well-being of our students. Most recently, the department chair has reassigned this faculty member’s classes to other instructors."
At the end of last month, which held a series of scandals for the institution, UC Berkeley heralded improvements to its sexual harassment policy and response in an open letter. “We have an obligation to promote a campus culture in which sexual harassment, sexual violence, stalking and any abuse of power are neither tolerated nor ignored, but proactively prevented,” read that letter, signed by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele.
According to records provided to the Guardian and others, 11 employees of the University have been fired or resigned after facing sexual harassment accusations. The New York Times even remarked on the school's unfolding scandal, noting that Berkeley's law school dean had stepped down last month, referencing the resignation of a basketball coach, and pointing also to another resignation, that of an esteemed astronomy professor.