Former UC Berkeley Student Files Complaint Against Professor, University Over Alleged Sexual Harassment - NBC Bay Area
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Former UC Berkeley Student Files Complaint Against Professor, University Over Alleged Sexual Harassment

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    A recent University of California at Berkeley graduate has filed a lawsuit against well-known philosophy professor John Searle alleging that he sexually assaulted her and harassed her while she was working for him last summer. Elyce Kirchner reports. (Published Thursday, March 23, 2017)

    A University of California, Berkeley professor has been accused of sexually harassing his research assistant.

    The assistant and former UC Berkeley student filed a complaint Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court against the professor and university for damages and a demand for a jury trial.

    The complaint alleges 84-year-old John Searle, a highly-touted philosophy professor at Cal, sexually harassed the student while she was employed by the University as his assistant. The university did not take any action when she reported the incident, according to the complaint. Instead, the university retaliated against her, according to John Kristensen, the plaintiff's lawyer.

    “This is another example of the University of California standing idly by as their students or employees are victimized by indifference to the predatory faculty,” Kristensen said in a statement. “There is a crisis of sexual assault on women at our nation’s institutions of higher learning. My client had to suffer twice. First, when the assault and subsequent harassment took place. Then again when she reported the misconduct and the responses were; at best, indifference, and at worst, enabling of the inappropriate sexual conduct that led to her original assault.”

    The complaint also claims Searle groped his assistant and told her they were going to be lovers. The professor also allegedly openly watched pornography in his office and fired the student after she declined his advances, according to the complaint.

    Searle, who has taught at Cal since 1959, also serves as a consultant for the John Searle Center for Social Ontology.

    "Everyone looks up to him," student Griselda Aguiluz said. "A lot of people come to Berkeley because he teaches here."

    Another student who works closely with the professor said the allegations made in the complaint are false.

    "I cannot see him coming at anybody like that in any type of sexual manner or even a rude manner at all," said Raenalene Musni, Searle's current research assistant.

    A campus spokesperson said Thursday the university is unable to comment on any specific allegations or individuals due to privacy laws and university policy. The university will also investigate the claims made in the complaint, according to the spokesperson.

    Since 2015, several sexual misconduct scandals alleging star professors abused students have hit the UC Berkeley campus. And since 2011, 20 Cal employees have been investigated for sexual misconduct, including a former law school dean.

    A university spokesperson said sexual harassment and sexual assault is never tolerated.

    Students now fear whether Searle is guilty or not, Cal's reputation will be impacted.

    "Either way, allegations destroy reputations of anyone," Cal student Joel Sedano said. "I feel like that just tarnishes the school's reputation."

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