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Students and colleagues defend Professor Nezar AlSayyad

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We, 40 students of professor Nezar AlSayyad at UC Berkeley, ask the administration to consider an opposing student perspective to a piece that The Daily Californian ran earlier this week regarding a prior sexual harassment claim. There was a settlement last fall between the claimant and the university for $80,000. AlSayyad stated, “I have not violated any code of conduct, nor has the university administration — to my knowledge — found that I have violated any university code of conduct at this time.”

In November 2016, we sent a letter to the UC administration and several news organizations that offers a balanced perspective from these students who have worked closely with AlSayyad. We stand by the contents of the letter today; it states, “AlSayyad has helped us to develop as scholars and as human beings.” It’s critical that all points of view be heard, particularly as AlSayyad awaits the final step in this process in the next week — a recommendation from the faculty tenure committee.

The signers in agreement of this letter, who wish to remain anonymous and will contact UC Berkeley directly, are composed of those who have worked closely or studied with AlSayyad and include his doctoral and master’s thesis students (for most of whom the professor served as chief adviser), research assistants and colleagues with whom he has collaborated.

We would like to make clear that we have never experienced any forms of harassment or inappropriate actions in our interactions with him throughout the years. On the contrary, he has always been a genuine mentor who cares deeply for his students’ well-being, has supported their careers and has encouraged them to become better professionals who interact with colleagues in a mutually respectful way.

There have been accusations in recent news insinuating that there is something inappropriate about AlSayyad’s historical behavior, including his getting together with students and colleagues in social activities inside or outside campus. But such conduct is not unusual, particularly for the studio culture of architecture and urban design. Indeed, as collaborative scholars and students, meeting in and out of class time or regular office hours is essential for joint research, workshops, etc.

For those of us who have AlSayyad as a supervisor or a committee member at UC Berkeley, our collective experience has been that he has helped us to develop as scholars and as human beings. As a supervisor, part of his job is to suggest particular faculty members for us to work with based on the nature of our work. This is not uncommon and other faculty members often do this as well, though at times it can lead to disagreement among students and faculty members. We believe that in no way should these disagreements be taken as evidence suggesting abuse of power and authority.

We are surely united with victims of misconduct and strongly encourage the investigation of any serious allegations. However, we think that the press has not allowed for the due process of the university’s current investigation. Nor has it allowed each side of the dispute to be fully heard. Given that these times continue to provoke increased conflicts and racist sentiments, it is particularly easy to jump into a quick judgment, especially when the subject is being identified in the news as a Middle Eastern scholar.

AlSayyad has not been given the time nor space to present his point of view about the incidents. The accusations are extremely serious, and it flies against all principles of justice and fairness for conclusions to be drawn based on allegations.

We understand the very legitimate concerns of students and will strive with the campus community to fight any misconduct or unacceptable behavior. We are simply making a request that one should wait until the investigation process is over before making a judgment on the case. We stand in support for justice and fairness for all.

Lisa Sullivan, Amir Gohar, Mercedes Corbell, Casondra Sobieralski and Heba Mostafa are colleagues, former students and current students of Nezar AlSayyad.

FEBRUARY 14, 2018