A petition created by a UC Berkeley alumna, who is calling for the removal of a professor accused of sexually harassing his research assistant, is gaining traction.
Aarti Kelapure’s Care2 petition aims to gather 5,000 signatures. As of Thursday afternoon, 4,069 signatories had backed her in demanding that university officials fire professor emeritus John Searle and omit his name from a campus ontology center.
“As a Berkeley graduate, I am appalled that the school let Searle get away with such an abuse of power for so long,” Kelapure wrote. “All students deserve to learn and work in a safe, supportive environment, free from sexual harassment.”
The plaintiff is a former UC Berkeley student who on March 21 filed a complaint in Alameda County Superior Court against the professor and university. She is seeking damages and a jury trial.
The complaint alleges 84-year-old 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.
"UC Berkeley should honor the female students Searle harassed instead of honoring him,” Kelapure wrote on her Care2 petition. “Please join me in demanding that Berkeley strip Searle of his professor emeritus title and change the name of the John Searle Center for Social Ontology!”
A campus spokesperson said in March that 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 assault are never tolerated.