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UCLA Students Protest Light Punishment For Prof Accused Of Sexual Harassment

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UCLA students and staff rallied today against the university's handling of a sexual harassment case against one of the school's history professors. Gabriel Piterberg, a history professor at UCLA, was accused by two grad students, Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Hillaire Glasgow, of allegedly making inappropriate comments to them, pressing his body against theirs, and trying to force his tongue into their mouths. The women filed a suit against UCLA regents in June of 2015, claiming in their suit that they were encouraged by university officials to stay quiet about their allegations, and that there were other allegations against Piterberg that were ignored.

The alleged abuse occurred between 2008 and 2013 with Glasgow, and between 2011 and 2013 with Takla, according to the complaint. Takla told university officials in June of 2013. A quiet nine-month investigation into Piterberg's alleged behavior concluded in 2014. However, Takla said in the suit that she wasn't aware of what the results of that investigation were. Faculty didn't find out the end results until near a year later, according to the L.A. Times.

After the investigation, Piterberg was required to pay a $3,000 fine, was suspended without pay for a quarter and attended mandatory sexual harassment training. That suspension coincided with Piterberg's fellowship at the European University Institute in Italy, which some have argued made the suspension less severe.

Piterberg is currently on sabbatical in Europe, and won't be back on campus until the summer. Then, he may only have private meetings with students from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and he must leave the door open. He is also not allowed to entertain any "romantic" relationships with students, but that's not unique to him—that's already standard policy for any professor. If there are further allegations, the settlement states that they will be investigated via an expedited disciplinary process. He is also no longer the director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

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A recent editorial in the Daily Bruin accuses the school of failing to adequately punish Piterberg.

This outcome is an embarrassment for UCLA. Not only does this represent a huge step backward and a betrayal of students’ trust, but it displays a startlingly low standard when it comes to treatment of sexual assault suspects.

Students rallied the university's handling of the allegations today.

The women's attorney, Michael Porcello, believes the school should "cut its ties" to Piterberg, saying that his presence is an "ongoing threat to those students and faculty given past complaints of harassment against him by members of the UCLA community."

A total of 28 history faculty members wrote a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block that was delivered on February 18, opposing Piterberg's return to campus. Additionally, over 65 graduate students sent a letter saying the investigation should have been more transparent.

UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vasquez said officials have hired a new Title IX coordinator, more staff—including a confidential advocate for victims of sexual harassment or assault—and are working on creating a new office of equity, diversity and inclusion.

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