Graham Fleming Resigns—Returns To Teaching After Biased, Flawed UC Investigation
Fleming Says Charges Against Him by Fired Employee Were False, Then Mishandled by University Office of the President Janet Napolitano in Bungled Investigation
Berkeley—Expressing both his admiration for and his deep disappointment with the University of California at Berkeley, Graham Fleming resigned his position as Vice Chancellor for Research following a deeply flawed University of California Office of the President (UCOP) investigation into allegations made against him by former UC Berkeley employee Diane Leite.
Fleming, one of the most successful Vice Chancellors for Research in UC-Berkeley history, resigned under protest. He strongly denies the charges of harassment made by Leite, as well as allegations by the University that he failed to disclose a conflict of interest because of his close relationship with her—even though he was ultimately responsible for her dismissal. He will return to his tenured role as a professor of chemistry.
“I resign under protest, with profound objections to and great personal disappointment in the investigation into those allegations,” Fleming said in his resignation letter to Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks. “This process violated fundamental principles of due process and fairness, and resulted in a report riddled with inconsistencies, mischaracterization of the facts, and distortion of witness statements, as well as the selective omission of relevant information.”
Fleming’s legal counsel provided evidence to UCOP, including sworn declarations from respected members of the University and business communities, that demonstrated that the findings against him were not supported, and that the investigation was biased. Fleming’s counsel unsuccessfully sought retraction of the investigation report. Efforts to obtain an independent and unbiased review of the investigation process and all the evidence were summarily rejected by University officials. An urgent letter to UC General Counsel and Vice President-Legal Affairs Charles F. Robinson, sent on April 6 and requesting his immediate intervention in this matter, went un-responded to in UC President Janet Napolitano’s office.
“Because I was not afforded due process by UCOP, and because there is no independent mechanism to appeal a biased and unjust report, there is no way for me to clear my name. I am concerned that my professional and personal reputations have been irreparably damaged,” Fleming said. Despite the flawed investigation and its unsupported conclusions, Fleming continues to have positive feelings about the University he has served with distinction for the past 18 years. “I still strongly believe in the University and its mission….I remain committed to serve the University, its students, and faculty, and to continue to build and enhance this great institution for future generations,” Fleming said.
“Unfortunately, given the current climate around issues of sexual harassment on college campuses, the rights of the accused are often lost in the rush to judgment, with devastating impact,” said Sam Singer, Fleming’s spokesman. With no way to fight or appeal the findings, Fleming had no choice but to resign.
Singer said UCOP began its investigation of Fleming in 2014, after ex-University Assistant Vice Chancellor Diane Leite made a series of inflammatory allegations, long after her termination, claiming sexual harassment by Fleming—charges that were never made at any time during her employment, or even at the time of her firing in May of 2012. Given the circumstances, Fleming believes that Leite made these charges against him because he did not protect her job after she was involved in a pay hike scandal benefitting her subordinate, with whom she had had a sexual relationship.
Fleming notes that he and Leite had a long-standing and affectionate friendship, as well as a close professional partnership at Berkeley, for almost 11 years. While Fleming acknowledges that their relationship was occasionally flirtatious and familiar, both he and Leite agree that at no time were the two ever sexually or romantically involved.
Fleming maintains that he was nothing more than supportive of Leite, and that she never gave him any indication that any of his actions toward her were unwelcome. In fact, Leite did not even raise any issue of alleged sexual harassment until well after her firing, Singer said.
“The allegations of harassment are not true,” Fleming said. “I am hurt and disappointed that Diane Leite has fabricated these charges to harm me and the University. She wanted me to protect her job after the details of her affair became public. I ultimately had to terminate her, once it became clear that she had lost the confidence of many in the University community.
Fleming noted that during the course of his 35 year career mentoring, teaching, and working with women, this is the first and only complaint of alleged improper conduct he has ever received.
Fleming also vehemently denied the UCOP finding that he had a “conflict of interest” and that he improperly tried to protect Leite’s job during the investigation into her conduct. He noted that he acted in full accordance with UC procedures, and with the guidance and at the direction of University counsel. He did not protect Leite and, in fact, he ultimately made and carried out the decision to terminate her. Leite herself admitted that Fleming never promised or gave her any favors and never made any threats to her.
“The University has made egregious errors in its handling of my case, but there is no internal procedure for me to appeal this unjust decision, and no way to clear my name,” said Fleming. “At this point, I have not ruled out legal action.”
The allegations by Leite against Fleming are suspect as she never made them at the time of her firing in 2012. Fleming was not even told of these charges until May of 2014– two years after Leite had been fired– even though her allegations went back to 2008, Singer said.
“These facts alone should have given the University pause in evaluating the merits of Leite’s allegations,” Singer said. Rather than undertake an independent and unbiased review of all the relevant facts as required by its own policies and procedures, the University found against Fleming with no due process, said Singer.
About Graham R. Fleming
Graham R. Fleming has been the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California-Berkeley since 2009. A decisive and visionary leader, Professor Fleming used the Office of Research to mobilize the vast and diverse scholarly talents of the Berkeley campus to address major challenges confronting the world. Because of his leadership, the campus is now positioned at the forefront of research in many areas, including energy and climate research, the theory of computing and data science, neuroscience and precision medicine. He strengthened and invigorated the invaluable role that ORUs, museums, and field stations play in the campus research landscape. He led the effort to strengthen UC Berkeley’s entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. These efforts will continue to ensure the university’s research excellence in the years to come.
He transformed the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. Among other things, he substantially expanded new funding opportunities, and successfully engaged external partners – federal and state agencies, industry, investors, foundations, private philanthropists, as well as other researchers – from around the world.
Professor Fleming created faculty teams that led successful proposal development for numerous new large-scale interdisciplinary institutes and centers that are fully supported by private philanthropy, including the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology, the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute (BECI), the Philomathia Center for energy and environmental research, the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, the Social Science D-lab, the Kavli EnergyNanoscience Institute, and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Convergence Research.
Professor Fleming also established many new campus-wide programs to support faculty research based on a merit-based competitive review process across a wide area of disciplines that have attracted significant, new private philanthropic support. Prominent examples include the Bakar Fellows Program, which supports innovative research by early career faculty at UC Berkeley with a special focus on projects that hold commercial promise; the Rose Hills Innovator Program for faculty who are who are developing highly innovative research programs in STEM fields; the Chau Hoi Shuen Foundation Women in Science Program, which supports education and research projects of leading female UC Berkeley faculty; and most recently the Signatures Innovation Fellows Program to support faculty interested in developing market-based applications in the data science area.
In addition, Professor Fleming engaged with a group of prominent alumni and entrepreneurs to enhance UC Berkeley’s innovation ecosystem which, with the close partnership of the College of Engineering and the Haas Business School, led to the creation of new accelerator space at Skydeck in downtown Berkeley in 2012.
Prior to his appointment at Vice Chancellor for Research, Professor Fleming served as Berkeley Lab’s Deputy Director from 2005 through 2007, at the forefront of a major revolution in the biophysical sciences. Through joint appointments as a faculty member at UC Berkeley and founding director of both the Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and UC Berkeley’s California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), Professor Fleming played a critical role in proposing and planning the construction of Stanley Hall which became the Berkeley home of QB3. Professor Fleming also played a key role in bringing the Energy Biosciences Institute to UC Berkeley, to date the largest industry partnership in higher education.
Throughout his career, Professor Fleming has worked to re-shape the intersection of physical and biological sciences, while maintaining his own ground-breaking research into ultrafast chemical and biological processes, in particular, the primary steps of photosynthesis. He has published close to 500 scientific papers in his field.