AUniversity of California at Los Angeles professor who was suspended for an academic quarter for allegedly sexually harassing two graduate students is teaching again this semester. But the noisy protests that greeted his return prompted university officials to move him into a more soundproof classroom monitored by campus staff members and police officers.
The university took those steps after some students in Gabriel Piterberg’s class complained that the protests, which included students shouting outside the classroom and others silently holding posters in the front rows inside, were interfering with their education.
Sage Yonaty, a third-year student whose focus is Middle Eastern studies, told the campus newspaper, the Daily Bruin, that he found the protests disruptive and that the class isn’t offered every quarter. “The issue is we’re here first and foremost to learn,” he said.
Mr. Piterberg, who specializes in Middle Eastern studies and the history of the Ottoman Empire, did not respond to requests for comment.
In 2014, Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Hillaire Glasgow, both graduate students in history, accused the professor of sexually assaulting them and harassing them over a period of more than a year. They said he repeatedly made lewd comments about his sex life, pressed his body against them, and forcibly kissed them.
They sued the university the following year, claiming officials had discouraged them from filing complaints.
As part of a settlement agreement announced last year, UCLA agreed to pay the two women a combined $460,000.
“Though Professor Piterberg accepted the university’s disciplinary measures, he has continued to deny the vast majority of the allegations of wrongdoing against him and remains a fully tenured professor at UCLA,” a university spokesman, Tod M. Tamberg, wrote in an email.
Still, Mr. Piterberg paid a $3,000 fine to the university and reached a separate agreement with UCLA that suspended him from teaching for the fall quarter of 2016, without pay, and removed him as director of the university’s Center for Near Eastern Studies. Those penalties cost him more than $60,000 in pay, the university confirmed.
The agreement also restricted his contact with students and required him to attend sexual harassment training.
Those disciplinary measures were taken in accordance with policies that were in place in 2014, some of which have since been strengthened, Mr. Tamberg said.
‘A Dangerous Signal’
In an opinion piece in, the Daily Bruin, two UCLA doctoral students — Melissa Melpignano and Shir Alon — wrote that Mr. Piterberg’s return to the classroom “sends a dangerous signal that a climate of tolerance for harassment persists at UCLA.”
The protests, they wrote, were intended to tell students that they deserve “a professor who is not forced by the university to hold office hours in a glass box at Charles E. Young Research Library, rather than in his office,” a reference to the glass-walled public room in the library where Mr. Piterberg is allowed to meet students.
Meanwhile, the university has been trying to minimize the chances of disruption in his classes by placing two officials from the student-affairs office and two campus police officers outside his classroom. A few classes were canceled, and students have been given the option to watch live streams of his lectures online.
“It shows to what great lengths the university is willing to go to silence any criticism,” Ms. Alon, a doctoral student in comparative literature and a member of a group called Bruins Against Sexual Harassment, said in an interview on Tuesday.
The university, Mr. Tamberg said, is committed to maintaining “an atmosphere where all students can live and learn free of discrimination, harassment, exploitation or intimidation.”
At the same, time, “We also wish to recognize the views of students enrolled in the two classes taught by Professor Piterberg, who have said that their choice of courses — and the professors who teach them — should be respected.”
UCLA has taken steps since 2014 to strengthen its response to sexual harassment and sexual violence, he added, including the addition of a new Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, an expansion of the Title IX office, and new policies and procedures for responding to complaints.
Protesters say that isn’t enough.
Bruins Against Sexual Harassment has scheduled a teach-in and public discussion on sexual harassment on Wednesday outside the building where Mr. Piterberg teaches, and they’ve invited his students to join them.
The protesters have included members of the local chapter of a University of California student workers’ union that calls sexual harassment a systemwide problem. Criticism over the University of California at Berkeley’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against faculty members was believed to be a factor that led that campus’s chancellor, Nicholas B. Dirks, to resign last year.
The Los Angeles chapter of the student workers’ union has filed a grievance against UCLA for allegedly threatening students who were protesting Mr. Piterberg with conduct-code violations. It also faulted the university for failing “to create a safe space for students and faculty to learn and teach,” said Zeke Trautenberg, a UCLA doctoral student who represents the Los Angeles chapter.
Correction (1/30/2017, 3 p.m.): We had the name of a UCLA anti-harassment group wrong in this article. It is the Bruins Against Sexual Harassment, not the Bruins Against Sexual Assault. The article has been updated to correct the name.