2016 was not the best year for the University of California’s public relations department, as each week seemed to release a new controversy surrounding the administrative transparency and accessibility of the 10 campuses. From two chancellors resigning amidst clouds of fiscal mismanagement, repeated state audits and countless acts of administrative apathy toward cases of sexual assault and hate crimes, the university has demonstrated a continuous lack of integrity and willingness to prevent these sorts of debacles from happening in the first place.
Perhaps the final straw, however, was in fall 2016, when news broke that UC Regent Norman Pattiz was found to have committed repeated acts of sexual harassment toward employees of his radio show (an endeavor separate from his role in the university). Audio recordings of the harassment surfaced, which revealed him making remarks such as, “If I was not married, I would be chasing you down the hallway” and asking his employees if he could touch their breasts. To make matters worse, employees confessed a fear of Pattiz, as he often possessed a gun and would pull it out jokingly in front of his employees. Former employee Ji Min Park was so disturbed by the regent’s actions that she left the company after a year, largely because of the extent of his sexual comments.
The UC Board of Regents responded to the findings by mandating online sexual violence prevention training, which was already in place for the university’s students, staff and faculty. This was something far overdue, yet not enough to compensate for the emotional damage done to the future of the UC system and the lives of the women that he ruined. While I applaud the regents for their immediate response and their benevolent intent, half-heartedly assigning online modules while allowing Pattiz to maintain the honor of serving on the board is a disgrace to the students, staff and faculty who take trust and confidence in the educational institution.
The University of California is a national trailblazer for sexual violence prevention, yet contradicts itself by having a member of their governing body who serves as the antithesis of these values. We’ve created task forces, held conferences, developed trainings, hired CARE advocates and developed an unparalleled structural framework for responding to cases of sexual violence, yet when a regent is openly found to have committed these acts with little to no remorse, the university turns their back and instead assigns online training. If it was any other staff or faculty member, they would not be allowed to pull out their firearm casually in front of the staff they supervise — whether in their role as a university employee or in a side endeavor. If a staff member made comments to their interns or supporting staff about whether they could hold their breasts, the university would unleash the harshest punishment, condemn the action to the fullest extent and ensure that no connections would be made between the perpetrator and the university.
Yet, this January, Pattiz will resume his seat at the bi-monthly board meeting, making promises to advocate for students on a spectrum of issues including impending tuition increases, diversity and campus climate and — ironically — sexual violence prevention.
I’m not an educational policy expert by any means, but I can tell you this: You wouldn’t need to spend thousands and thousands on press and public relations to cover up controversies if you eliminated the roots by which these controversies contentedly grow. Keeping Pattiz on the board further affirms the widely felt sentiment by students, staff and faculty that the board is neither representative nor aware of their interests.
Prospective students should not d see controversy after controversy when they Google the University of California. Professors are working too hard to provide quality instruction for their work to be de-legitimized by bureaucrats who don’t know how to act justly. Staff members are working themselves to death to provide the best support services for their students, only to see headlines questioning the impact of their efforts. Student activists are often sleep-deprived, full-time students working several jobs and paving the way for a better university only to have their parents question at the dinner table why their regent was sexually harassing their employees.
It does not matter if Pattiz was acting in his official role as a regent or not. When someone accepts the prestigious role of a governor-appointed regent, they are making a commitment to the university for 12 years that they will uphold the values, mission and focus of the university system — and one of the biggest focuses for the last three years has been sexual harassment and assault prevention. Integrity is how you act when no one is looking, or when nobody recognizes you as the regent, in this case.
If our theme is “fiat lux” (“let there be light”), it is our duty to act with integrity when unfavorable memories of our past actions come to light through media. By remaining on the board, Pattiz is making his stance loud and clear: That sexual harassment prevention is great to talk about for a 30-second sound bite and a resume builder, but when it comes to checking and challenging instances of sexual violence that he admitted to committing, he believes in no punishment or remorse.
Pattiz needs to admit that his acts were, by the university’s definition, an act of violence, and act with integrity by formally resigning from the Board of Regents. For all past, current and future student survivors and our allies, I urge Pattiz to do the right thing by understanding the weight of his actions and doing as any student, staff or faculty member would have to do if they were found guilty of the same acts of sexual violence.