Two former SF State astronomy students recently accused a world-renowned astronomy professor of sexual harassment during his time at the University from 1984 to 1999.
Geoffrey Marcy – who has been in the spotlight this month for a sexual harassment scandal at the University of California, Berkeley – taught at SF State in the physics and astronomy department. Marcy was an adjunct professor from 1999 until Oct. 14, when his status was terminated by the department, according to University spokesperson Adrianne Bee.
Preet Dalziel, who received her bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy from SF State in 1991, said Marcy exhibited inappropriate sexual behavior toward her, and she was discouraged from filing a formal complaint.
“Geoff was my thesis adviser,” Dalziel said in an email. “I witnessed him giving back rubs to other students and to me. He also touched my breast.”
Dalziel said she reported the incident in the 1990s during her time at SF State and was told three other women had reported Marcy that week.
Her classmate Lynda Williams also said in a Contra Costa Times article that she experienced similar inappropriate sexual behavior from Marcy and was also discouraged from filing a report.
“That is the real story here. Not just Marcy,” Williams said in the article. “The whole system of complaint and grievance in academia is corrupt, because women have to go to administrators whose job it is to make it go away.”
Students who took Marcy’s classes at UC Berkeley made anonymous comments on Rate My Professor about his teaching, describing Marcy as a charismatic and enthusiastic lecturer.
“He’s good. The one thing that kinda got me was his cockiness,” one of the comments from 2013 said. “I guess he’s a big deal in astro though. There was a group of girls in the front row that swooned over him. Weird. But I guess confidence and knowledge will do that.”
SF State’s department of physics and astronomy condemned Marcy’s actions in a statement released Oct. 14 after UC Berkeley’s findings were made public.
“We call on all members of the scientific community and the institutions in which we work to make a renewed, public, serious and enforceable commitment to preventing sexual harassment and all forms of discrimination in our profession and in our institutions,” the letter said.
Stephen Kane, an assistant professor in SF State’s physics and astronomy department and Marcy’s former colleague, said Marcy was an inspiration to him for his research in exoplanets.
“I have an enormous sense of loss in that I have lost a colleague who was a leader in this field and someone whom I respected a great deal,” Kane said in an email.
Kane said he aims to ensure that steps are taken to ensure student safety.
“Our students, to whom we have the privilege of sharing our knowledge, place a great deal of trust in us as mentors and it is terrible thing to break that trust,” Kane said. “We have also used this as an opportunity to remind our students that we strive to make SFSU a safe educational environment for them, stressing that students should feel free to approach faculty if an incident occurs and informing them of their Title IX rights.”
Title IX is a government ordinance that mandates public universities prohibit sexual misconduct on campus.
Susan Lea, who taught graduate astrophysics in 1999 while Marcy was still teaching at SF State, said she didn’t suspect anything of the sort from what she knew of Marcy. She said she was sad to hear the accusations against Marcy and hopes to create a safer environment for women in the field.
“We try to make women comfortable and encourage women to be a part of the sciences,” Lea said. “I know that this area is lacking in women, and so we try to make it more welcoming to them.”
The sexual harassment scandal comes in light of recent updates to Title IX legislation. The changes to California State University Title XI policies include the prohibition of romantic relationships between students and faculty, as recently reported by Xpress.
In a letter on his website, Marcy said he took responsibility for his actions at UC Berkeley despite not agreeing with every complaint.
“I take full responsibility and hold myself completely accountable for my actions and the impact they had,” Marcy said. “For that and to the women affected, I sincerely apologize.”