In #MeToo era, a ban­ish­ment leaves a cam­pus di­vided

UCI case high­lights con­flict­ing views on what con­sti­tutes sex­ual ha­rass­ment and ap­pro­pri­ate dis­ci­pline.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Teresa Watan­abe

For years, the pro­fes­sor told the as­sis­tant dean that she was beau­ti­ful and greeted her with hugs and a kiss on each cheek.

Dur­ing their time to­gether at UC Irvine, Fran­cisco J. Ay­ala, 84, and Bene­dicte Ship­ley, 50, per­ceived their en­coun­ters in dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent ways.

He said he be­lieved he was show­ing her ad­mi­ra­tion, re­spect and the courtly man­ners of his na­tive Spain. She said she felt ob­jec­ti­fied and hu­mil­i­ated. Her ver­sion won out this year, when of­fi­cials con­cluded that Ay­ala had sex­u­ally ha­rassed Ship­ley and two other women.

The univer­sity swiftly moved to erase his pres­ence. The world-renowned ge­neti­cist re­signed, was banned from cam­pus and stripped of pres­ti­gious Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia ti­tles. And though he had given Irvine $11.5 mil­lion in do­na­tions, his name was taken off the univer­sity build­ings he helped sup­port.

The sanc­tions have bit­terly di­vided the cam­pus, drawn in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and un­der­scored the grow­ing com­plex­ity of the na­tion’s pitched bat­tles over sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

As the #MeToo move­ment em­pow­ers more women to share their sto­ries and hold pow­er­ful in­sti­tu­tions ac­count­able, the UC Irvine case high­lights con­flict­ing views about how to de­fine sex­ual ha­rass­ment — and whether all of­fen­sive acts de­serve equal pun­ish­ment.

That de­bate is likely to deepen if, as ex­pected, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion changes fed­eral sex­ual ha­rass­ment stan­dards for cam­puses. Un­der Ti­tle IX stand-

ards fol­lowed by UC, one marker of sex­ual ha­rass­ment is un­wanted con­duct “suf­fi­ciently se­vere or per­va­sive” to un­rea­son­ably in­ter­fere with a per­son’s ed­u­ca­tion or em­ploy­ment. The ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­sid­er­ing mov­ing to a def­i­ni­tion used by the U.S. Supreme Court that states the con­duct also must be “ob­jec­tively of­fen­sive.”

Un­wanted fondling or forcible kiss­ing clearly crosses that line — but peo­ple sharply dis­agree about Ay­ala’s con­duct, which in­cluded a 2015 in­ci­dent in which he jok­ingly of­fered one of the women his lap as a seat at a fac­ulty meet­ing (and then apol­o­gized af­ter he learned she was of­fended).

El­iz­a­beth Lof­tus, a UCI pro­fes­sor of so­cial ecol­ogy, law and cog­ni­tive sci­ence, said she found Ay­ala’s hugs and cheek kisses “adorable.” Ship­ley, who said Ay­ala also on oc­ca­sion rubbed his hands up and down her sides when hug­ging, viewed his be­hav­ior as “more than creepy.”

Of the 10 women be­sides the com­plainants who said Ay­ala gave them com­pli­ments or greeted him with kisses, two said it made them feel un­com­fort­able, ac­cord­ing to UCI’s find­ings. The Times ob­tained an unredacted copy of the re­port. Oth­ers who wit­nessed Ay­ala’s ac­tions called them in­ap­pro­pri­ate. One called him a “dirty old man.”

Rose McDer­mott, a Brown Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who spe­cial­izes in gen­der is­sues, be­lieves younger women are more sen­si­tive to per­ceived ha­rass­ment than older ones.

“How we draw the line be­tween in­ap­pro­pri­ate or pa­tron­iz­ing be­hav­ior and gen­uine ha­rass­ment is re­ally chal­leng­ing be­cause women them­selves don’t agree,” she said. “Those in-be­tween spaces are get­ting harder to ne­go­ti­ate.”

More than 100 schol­ars at UCI and around the world have signed a state­ment ex­press­ing con­cern that the sanc­tions were “a mas­sive over­re­ac­tion.”

Kris­ten Mon­roe, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor who signed the let­ter, de­scribed her­self as a fem­i­nist whose “nat­u­ral pro­cliv­ity is to be sym­pa­thetic to women.” But she called the sever­ity of the univer­sity sanc­tions against Ay­ala “ex­ces­sive” and said close su­per­vi­sion and train­ing might have been enough.

A UCI spokes­woman said Ay­ala re­ceived mul­ti­ple train­ing ses­sions, both on­line and in per­son. He says they didn’t ad­dress his rou­tine greet­ings and com­pli­ments.

“The #MeToo move­ment has gone too far,” Mon­roe said.

On the other hand, 38 tenured pro­fes­sors who were Ay­ala’s col­leagues at the School of Bi­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences have writ­ten an ar­ti­cle sup­port­ing the women who took on the inf lu­en­tial scholar de­spite po­ten­tial risks to their ca­reers. They said that ex­cus­ing his un­wel­come be­hav­ior as Old World man­ners was of­fen­sive, and that Ay­ala knew the rules but chose to break them.

“A pow­er­ful man sex­u­al­ized ju­nior col­leagues in the work­place in a way that eroded rather than im­proved their self-con­fi­dence and morale,” they wrote. “Pro­longed ex­po­sure to this kind of ha­rass­ment can be as dam­ag­ing to ca­reers and men­tal health as de­mands for sex­ual fa­vors in re­turn for ad­vance­ment.”

Last fall, UCI launched what turned into a six­month in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter Ship­ley, as­sis­tant dean of the School of Bi­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences, filed a com­plaint of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, as did three mem­bers of the UCI Ecol­ogy & Evo­lu­tion­ary Bi­ol­ogy depart­ment: Michelle Her­rera, a grad­u­ate stu­dent; Kath­leen Treseder, a pro­fes­sor and depart­ment chair­woman; and Jes­sica Pratt, an as­sis­tant teach­ing pro­fes­sor.

All four asked UCI to re­lease their names.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded that Ay­ala had sex­u­ally ha­rassed Treseder, Pratt and Ship­ley. In­ves­ti­ga­tors sided with the women on some claims that Ay­ala de­nies and that they could not cor­rob­o­rate — in­clud­ing Treseder’s al­le­ga­tion that he told her he wanted to “grab [her] ass” and that he talked about her hav­ing an or­gasm.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors noted that Treseder was so un­nerved by Ay­ala that she stopped as­sign­ing him fe­male teach­ing as­sis­tants and asked a male col­league to at­tend events with her.

UC Irvine Chan­cel­lor Howard Gill­man ac­cepted the in­ves­ti­ga­tion find­ings, praised the women’s courage in step­ping for­ward and jus­ti­fied the sanc­tions by not­ing the mul­ti­ple sub­stan­ti­ated al­le­ga­tions and the “power dif­fer­en­tials at play.” UC Pres­i­dent Janet Napoli­tano ap­proved Gill­man’s ac­tions.

Dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view at a friend’s home, Ay­ala — a for­mer Do­mini­can priest whose fam­ily vine­yard made him a mil­lion­aire — said he is con­tin­u­ing his aca­demic re­search and does not plan to sue UCI, his aca­demic home for three decades, or de­mand the re­turn of his do­na­tions.

Still, he said he felt “dread­ful,” and that the univer­sity had “done me as much dam­age as pos­si­ble.”

He said he was trou­bled that, among the women who com­plained, only Pratt told him his be­hav­ior both­ered her. If oth­ers had, he said, he would have stopped im­me­di­ately.

“Un­for­tu­nately, these things I see as cour­te­sies are in­ter­preted by three or four women as sex­ual ha­rass­ment,” he said. “Most peo­ple who know me will ac­knowl­edge my man­ners are very gen­tle­manly, very proper and I treat women and men with ut­most re­spect.”

Ship­ley, who spoke to The Times in a cam­pus con­fer­ence room, ac­knowl­edged that she had not told Ay­ala how she felt but said she feared do­ing so would jeop­ar­dize her ca­reer. Over 28 years at UCI, she said, she worked her way up from an ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant.

“You’re afraid of what’s go­ing to hap­pen to you,” Ship­ley said. “You’re afraid for your fu­ture pro­mo­tion.”

Even though her claims were vin­di­cated, she said that speak­ing out “cost me dearly” in back­lash from col­leagues. Ay­ala’s greater sta­tus is ev­i­dent in pho­tos of his of­fice taken be­fore he was ex­pelled from cam­pus: the framed im­ages of him pos­ing with U.S. pres­i­dents and the queen of Spain, the in­ter­na­tional awards, the more than two dozen hon­orary de­grees.

Ship­ley’s of­fice is stark. She ex­plained she re­moved all per­sonal pho­tos and items be­cause she felt threat­ened af­ter some fac­ulty mem­bers con­fronted her.

In a let­ter to fac­ulty last month, UCI Provost En­rique Lav­er­nia said the ad­min­is­tra­tion wel­comed “on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion” about the case but not “in­sen­si­tive or con­fronta­tional ac­tions” against the women who came for­ward.

Fear of re­tal­i­a­tion in the male-dom­i­nated world of sci­ence is a gen­uine bar­rier to re­port­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by the Na­tional Acad­e­mies of Sci­ences, En­gi­neer­ing and Medicine. A 2003 na­tional study cited in the re­port found that 58% of those sur­veyed in academia had ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Fa­tima Goss Graves, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter, said aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions too of­ten fail to mete out mean­ing­ful con­se­quences to sex­ual harassers.

“I’m not deeply wor­ried that in­sti­tu­tions are go­ing over­board in strong ac­count­abil­ity for ha­rass­ment,” she said. “I do not think we are any­where near that.”

But Can­dace Het­zner, Bos­ton Col­lege’s as­so­ciate dean for aca­demic af­fairs, who has spo­ken out about aca­demic sex­ual ha­rass­ment, said she wor­ries that cases like Ay­ala’s could jeop­ar­dize the progress that has been made.

“I am hear­ing from lots and lots of fem­i­nists who say it’s all got­ten too com­pli­cated and heavy-handed,” Het­zner said. “We’ve lost per­spec­tive on what truly mat­ters. Rape and forced sex is heinous. Say­ing ‘why don’t you sit on my lap?’ is not. To the ex­tent you don’t make dis­tinc­tions … you risk get­ting a back­lash that de­stroys much of what many of us have fought for for many, many years.”

Gary Coron­ado Los An­ge­les Times

BENE­DICTE SHIP­LEY, as­sis­tant dean of UC Irvine’s School of Bi­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences, said she viewed pro­fes­sor Fran­cisco J. Ay­ala’s be­hav­ior as “more than creepy.”

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

AF­TER the al­le­ga­tions by Ship­ley and oth­ers, Ay­ala, a world-renowned ge­neti­cist and for­mer priest, was banned from cam­pus and stripped of pres­ti­gious UC ti­tles.

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