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UCLA students and faculty protest return of historian Gabriel Piterberg

Should a professor who can’t be trusted to be alone with students be trusted to teach at all? Students at the University of California at Los Angeles say no, and they’re protesting the university’s decision to allow a professor accused of serial sexual harassment and assault to return to campus, despite a university agreement that stipulates he must leave his door open when meeting with students, among other requirements.

He “harassed, assaulted and really psychologically terrorized these women … on the clear understanding that he had the impunity to do so,” said Matthew Kelly, a recent Ph.D. from UCLA’s history department, in which Gabriel Piterberg, the accused professor, teaches. “If the university's final response is to allow him to return to the department after paying [a fine] -- what is it, a sexual assault fee? -- and agreeing to leave his door open, then he was right. He has effective impunity.”

Kelly’s comments echo those students shared at a rally last month in opposition to Piterberg’s planned return to campus this summer. He was put on leave after being accused of sexually harassing and assaulting two female graduate students. A university investigation into those claims resulted in punishments for Piterberg -- including a $3,000 fee and the open-door office rule -- that students say are too light, and effectively condone his alleged behavior. Faculty members and other alumni also have spoken out against his return.

The complaints against Piterberg are detailed in a lawsuit filed last year by two graduate students who have been public about their involvement in the case, Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Glasgow. According to the suit, which names the regents of the University of California as co-defendants, Piterberg consistently attempted to bring up sexual topics with and make advances toward Takla, starting in 2011. For example, Piterberg told Takla, his former research assistant, that he’d been “distant” lately because he’d been feeling “frustrated,” and, later, that if she hadn’t been his student, he would have “risked everything” and really kissed her, the suit says.

On another occasion in 2013, according to the complaint, during a meeting at Piterberg’s home (where Takla says she felt safe going only after she told Piterberg that she wanted to keep the relationship strictly professional), he allegedly told Takla intimate details about his relationships with other women, including his wife. When she got up to leave, Piterberg allegedly tried to caress and grope her and stuck his tongue into her mouth. ...

Read entire article at Inside Higher ED