Blake Wentworth, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has been fired for allegedly sexually harassing four students, adding to the growing list of faculty and staff accused of sexual misconduct against students, employees or both.
Wentworth, a former member of the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, was the subject of a Title IX investigation, which included a review by two faculty members and a hearing conducted by the Academic Senate's Committee on Privilege and Tenure, according to a statement issued by the university on Tuesday.
The investigation unearthed “clear and convincing evidence” of Wentworth’s wrongdoings, leading to his dismissal, which is effective immediately, the statement said. Wentworth had retained an untenured position so UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks didn’t need the UC Board of Regents’ approval before firing him.
“These actions are part of the university's continuing effort to eradicate sexual misconduct from our campus,” Cal officials said in the statement. “The harassment of students by faculty represents an unacceptable breach of the teacher-student relationship and carries the potential for enormous harm.”
Wentworth obtained his B.A. at Dartmouth College and his Ph.D at the University of Chicago, the university website shows.
He was put on leave in 2016 after two graduate students, Kathleen Gutierrez and Erin Bennett, and alumna Nicole Hemenway accused him of sexual harassment in April and June respectively, the Daily Californian reported. The identity of the fourth student who was allegedly harassed by Wentworth remains unknown.
Wentworth, in response, sued Hemenway as well as Gutierrez, Bennett and their lawyer Michael Flynn for defamation and infliction of emotional distress. Flynn also represents Hemenway, according to the Daily Californian.
He also filed a lawsuit against the UC Board of Regents, claiming they discriminated and retaliated against him, the newspaper reported.
In recent years, sexual assault and sexual harassment claims have plagued UC Berkeley in particular and the University of California system on the whole.
Documents released by UC Berkeley last April showed 19 employees, including six faculty members, had sexually harassed students, employees or both since 2011.
A look at 112 sexual misconduct allegations across the UC system – one of the United States’ largest university systems – also made it apparent that discipline has been meted out inconsistently. The cases in question were reported from January 2013 to April 2016 at nine campuses, excluding UC Berkeley.
Wentworth's attorneys provided the following statement on Wednseday:
Today’s distortion, ostensibly timed to shift news away from U.C.’s financial scandals and civil rights violations, will be addressed in Dr. Wentworth’s pending lawsuit, where the evidence will show that U.C.’s campaign to ruin his career began days after his hospitalization. Dr. Wentworth denies the false assertions, which are a pretext to discriminate and retaliate against him.