Credit: Raphael Perrino/Flickr

Geoffrey Marcy, prominent Berkeley astronomer, resigns after sexual harassment judgement

Geoffrey Marcy, a prominent astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, has resigned following a university investigation that concluded he had repeatedly sexually harassed women.

“This morning Professor Geoff Marcy resigned from the Berkeley faculty,” said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and  Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele in a statement. “We believe this outcome is entirely appropriate and have immediately accepted his resignation.” They called Marcy's conduct "contemptible and inexcusable."

The two officials also described the university’s decision not to fire Marcy, which has drawn extensive criticism. “It is important to understand that as Berkeley’s leadership considered disciplinary options, we did not have the authority, as per University of California policy, to unilaterally impose any disciplinary sanctions, including termination,” they wrote. “Discipline of a faculty member is a lengthy and uncertain process.”

Marcy’s impending resignation was first reported earlier today by BuzzFeed’s Azeen Ghorayshi, who also first reported the university’s investigation of Marcy on 9 October.

Marcy, an expert on exoplanets, also resigned today as principal investigator of the Breakthrough Listen project, an effort to survey stars close to Earth and listen for messages from other civilizations.

Here is the full university statement:

This morning Professor Geoff Marcy resigned from the Berkeley faculty. We believe this outcome is entirely appropriate and have immediately accepted his resignation.

UC Berkeley’s reaction to the finding that Professor Geoff Marcy violated the University’s sexual harassment policies has been the subject of understandable criticism and anger.

Before describing the disciplinary options that were available to us, we want to state unequivocally that Professor Marcy’s conduct, as determined by the investigation, was contemptible and inexcusable. We also want to express our sympathy to the women who were victimized, and we deeply regret the pain they have suffered.

It is important to understand that as Berkeley’s leadership considered disciplinary options, we did not have the authority, as per University of California policy, to unilaterally impose any disciplinary sanctions, including termination. Discipline of a faculty member is a lengthy and uncertain process. It would include a full hearing where the standards of evidence that would be used are higher than those that are applied by the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD) in the course of its investigations. The process would also be subject to a three-year statute of limitations. 

Our objective was to protect our students by immediately preventing any re-occurrence of the behavior described in the investigative report. We thus chose to establish, in writing, a strict set of behavioral standards that went beyond what is specifically proscribed by the University’s rules and regulations. In addition, the agreement authorized the administration to by-pass the lengthy, uncertain disciplinary process by stripping the professor of a faculty member’s usual due process rights.

We recognize and share the frustration that many have expressed, and we are committed to work with the Office of the President and the Academic Senate to reform the University’s disciplinary processes, criteria and standards so that in the future we have different and better options for discipline of faculty.

We also want our campus community to know that we fully support new efforts now underway in a number of departments and colleges to address cultural issues and standards related to sexual harassment. We must do everything in our power to create the conditions necessary for quick and confidential reporting of suspected violations of our rules and standards of conduct.