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Berkeley Department Head Sends Misguided Letter to Staff About Serial Harasser Geoff Marcy

I'm sorry, this is hardest for who right now?

Dr. Geoff Marcy at SETIcon

As we shared with you last Friday, UC Berkeley professor Geoffrey Marcy was found to have violated sexual harassment policies at the storied university over the course of about nine years. As of last week, there were no punishments being handed down from the administration, and we hoped that was because they were taking their time deciding on a fitting one. As of today, there are still no sanctions or penalties being doled out to Marcy for his actions.

On top of the lack of consequences, a pretty gosh darn misguided letter went out from the department head regarding the events, with this as its closing paragraph:

Of course, this is hardest for Geoff in this moment. For those who are willing and able, he certainly can use any understanding or support they can offer (this wouldn’t include endorsement of the mistakes he acknowledges in an open letter on his website). I ask that those who have the room for it (now or later), hear him out and judge whether there is room for redemption in all that will transpire.

*record scratch*

Sorry, this is hardest for who?

So let me get this straight. An investigation into a professor’s violations of sexual harassment policies goes public, and it’s the professor who’s having the hardest time? Not the four women who had to step forward and provide their accounts of what happened? Not the countless others who haven’t come forward for their own reasons and have to watch this unfold? Not the people who found themselves having to make a decision between their career and their personal space?

Hell no.

In a Medium post, Goni Halevi, a colleague of Marcy’s, wrote a series of open letters to the professor, the UC Berkeley astronomy department, and the university at large. She prefaced these letters with her reaction to the above letter from the department head, saying:

It suggests that we should sympathize with the serial harasser rather than with the innocent women he harassed. It literally puts the former above the latter by suggesting not just that this is hard for Geoff, which is certainly true though I couldn’t care less, but that this is hardest for Geoff.

Placing the needs of Marcy above all else, without even mentioning the innocent women is a special kind of messed up. It’s exactly this kind of behavior that dissuades people from stepping forward and reporting violations in the first place. It’s obvious who the university prioritizes here, and it sure as hell isn’t the women.

I understand that Marcy’s got a lot of accomplishments under his belt. But that does not make this okay. His achievements should not overwrite the very real burdens these women have had to face for so long. Abusing the teacher/student power dynamic like that is completely wrong.

So why isn’t UC Berkeley doing anything about it?

(via Washington Post, image via Flickr/Raphael Perrino)

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Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (thebolditalic.com), and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters (spinningplatters.com). She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.