Rebecca Ora, a doctoral student of film at UC Santa Cruz, said during the November 13 University of California Board of Regents meeting public input session that UC Regent George Kieffer sexually assaulted her in 2014. Ora spoke about the investigation process, calling for policy change and Kieffer’s resignation.
According to Ora, on the night before the November 2014 Board of Regents meeting, Kieffer invited students to dinner to lobby them for support during a tuition funding dispute. Ora, then UC Student Association Labor Liaison, said that Kieffer purchased wine for the table despite the presence of underage students and groped her upper thigh the entire evening. Ora said she felt powerless to stop him.
“I was unsettled, uncomfortable and felt powerless to stop this figure of authority from putting his hands on my body,” Ora told the Board of Regents. “I told myself we were discussing the tuition of hundreds of thousands and I should not make a scene.”
The UC Regents Ethics Policy governs how the board handles allegations of misconduct. According to the policy, the Office of General Counsel conducts the investigation and consults with a panel consisting of the Chair, Vice-Chair, and the Chair of the Governance Committee. Kieffer has served as a board member since 2009 and previously served as chair from 2017 to 2019.
“The UC Regents have a policy all their own, written by the regents, which states that all complaints against a regent will be handled by the regents … And with a clear focus on ensuring the utmost delicacy toward the regent reported rather than the individual reporting,” Ora said at the meeting.
The policy states that the Office of General Counsel can only conduct a formal investigation with a two-thirds vote from the panel and only if the allegations are substantiated, were conducted on official duty, and were a violation of the Regent’s duties.
Ora said that she was encouraged to resolve the case informally through legal mediation. Since the matter was not resolved in legal mediation, it will go to a formal investigation. According to Ora, the investigation process is only just now beginning.
UC Office of the President Executive Director of Strategic Communications & Media Relations Claire Doan told The Triton that the university responded promptly to the allegations and is handling the case in accordance with university policies. Ora said in an email to The Triton that she reported the allegations in July 2018.
“I did not immediately report what happened to me because like so many others, I felt alone and ill equipped to know how or whether to report, given the significant power differential between a graduate student and a wealthy member of the Board of Regents,” Ora said. “I tried to forget it happened only to watch more be revealed as a serial abuser.”
Ora told The Triton that she was unable to sit on the committee for UC Santa Cruz’s Chancellors, even though she had the support of her Graduate Student Association, due to Kieffer’s presence on it. She experiences regular panic attacks and has fallen behind academically as a result of the sexual assault incident. She also said that she fears being hacked or harassed and that she has lost friends and relationships.
Kieffer is the second UC Regent in the past two years to be accused of sexual harassment. In 2018, former UC Regent Norman Pattiz resigned after students and fellow regents demanded his removal after a recording of sexually inappropriate remarks surfaced. After the incident, the Board of Regents amended its ethical board requirements to include a mandatory sexual harassment prevention training program.
Ora ended her comment by calling for Kieffer’s resignation and for increased oversight by the California State Legislature.
“So I call upon students, UC workers and others made vulnerable by the UC system to demand George Kieffer’s immediate resignation. I call upon the state government of California to conduct real oversight of this body of co-conspirators that cares more about cronyism than it does the health and well-being of the vulnerable,” Ora said, concluding her public input. “George Kieffer, get the fuck off this board.”