UC Berkeley Investigates Law Professor for Alleged Harassment of Muslim Student


The University of California, Berkeley, renowned for its commitment to free speech and academic freedom, is currently embroiled in a controversy surrounding allegations of harassment by one of its law professors, Catherine Fisk.

The incident involves a Muslim student, Malak Afaneh, who was interrupted while delivering a pro-Palestinian speech during a dinner hosted by Fisk and her husband, Law School dean Erwin Chemerinsky, at their home.

UC Berkeley Investigates Law Professor for Alleged Harassment of Muslim Student

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Rpogge)

The Incident and Its Aftermath

The controversy came to light through a viral video on social media, which showed Fisk approaching Afaneh, touching her, and attempting to stop her speech. The video also captured Chemerinsky, known for his work on free speech issues, asking Afaneh to leave their home. The incident took place on April 9, 2024, when Fisk and Chemerinsky hosted a dinner for graduating law students, as requested by the law school's class presidents.

In the video shared by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Fisk can be seen grabbing the phone from which Afaneh was reading her speech, putting her arm around Afaneh, and saying, "Leave, this is not your house, it is my house." She then tries to take the microphone from Afaneh's hands. Afaneh, undeterred, continues her speech, criticizing UC Berkeley's alleged funding of weapons manufacturers. Fisk eventually relinquishes the microphone, stating, "I have nothing to do with what the UC does."

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University's Response and Investigation

Following the incident, Afaneh reported the harassment to UC Berkeley's Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD). NBC News reported that OPHD provided Afaneh with a document confirming the investigation. The document indicated that on April 9, 2024, there were reports that the respondent physically restrained you, tried to forcefully take your phone and microphone, and requested your departure from a university event when you started discussing Palestine and Ramadan.

In response to questions, a university representative explained that OPHD investigations are typically kept confidential, so they would not confirm or deny the existence of any specific case. Fisk, however, did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

Reactions and Implications

The incident has sparked outrage and debate within the UC Berkeley community and beyond. The San Francisco Bay Area office of CAIR welcomed the "Title IX civil rights investigation," calling Fisk's actions "an apparent act of Islamophobia and silencing based on [Afaneh's] pro-Palestinian beliefs." The incident raises important questions about academic freedom, free speech, and the treatment of marginalized voices within academic institutions.
Fisk, a respected legal scholar specializing in labor and employment law, has faced criticism for her handling of the situation. Some have argued that her actions were an infringement on Afaneh's right to free speech and expression. Others have defended Fisk, citing the need to maintain decorum and respect in academic settings.

The allegations of harassment involving Professor Catherine Fisk at UC Berkeley have raised significant concerns about the protection of free speech and the treatment of marginalized voices on campus. The university's investigation into the matter will likely have far-reaching implications for the academic community and its commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for all students.

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