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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Bernsen sexually harassed 4, dean says”

    Former student body president Cade Bernsen sexually harassed four female students in the past year, according to findings from a Dean of Students Office investigation.

    The complaints made by the four students were “”credible and made in good faith,”” according to letters from the Dean of Students Office that were given to the women last week.

    The office had “”cause to conclude, more likely than not, that Mr. Bernsen engaged in sexual harassment and violated the University of Arizona sexual harassment policy and student code of conduct,”” said the letters from Veda Kowalski, associate dean of students.

    The four female students allowed the Arizona Daily Wildcat to view the letters yesterday.

    The Dean of Students Office could neither confirm nor deny the investigation’s findings because of federal student privacy laws, Kowalski said.

    Several attempts to reach Bernsen and his attorney for comment yesterday were unsuccessful, though Bernsen said soon after the complaints were made public that he was innocent and that the charges were fabricated.

    The phone number Bernsen had given to the Wildcat earlier this year seemed no longer to be in service.

    Until yesterday, only two of the four female students had publicly acknowledged complaining of sexual harassment against Bernsen, 27, who has been on paid administrative leave this semester.

    Two other women, a 22-year-old undergraduate and 27-year-old graduate student, spoke to the Wildcat after learning of the Dean of Students Office’s findings.

    Initially, two female students, a 20-year-old undergraduate and a 21-year-old undergraduate, filed complaints against Bernsen in November. The other two female students filed complaints soon after.

    The Wildcat is not identifying the women because of the nature of the complaints.

    While the letters state, “”Please be assured that the University will take appropriate action in this matter,”” the punishment for each complaint could not be released because of student privacy laws.

    In general, once a complaint has been investigated and is determined to be credible, the punishment can range from a warning to probation or even expulsion, Kowalski said.

    “”The more serious the violation to the community or to one’s self, that’s going to merit a more serious sanction,”” Kowalski said.

    In complaints filed with the Dean of Students Office, two of the female students said they were harassed within the offices of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona.

    One student complained that Bernsen would make comments such as “”nice rack”” while they worked together. The other complained that Bernsen threatened to sleep with her by the end of the school year.

    The 27-year-old graduate student said she filed her complaint after seeing the initial complaints appear in the Wildcat. Her complaint stemmed from two meetings with Bernsen in June and October 2005.

    The fourth female student, a 22-year-old undergraduate, said she verbally filed her complaint with the Dean of Students Office in November.

    Soon after, Bernsen released a statement saying he was innocent and that the charges were made up to force him to step down.

    “”The allegations against me reported in the Arizona Daily Wildcat yesterday are totally and completely false,”” Bernsen said in the Nov. 30 statement. “”It is my intent to defend myself to the fullest.””

    Last month, Bernsen began widely circulating a statement saying that he had been cleared of sexual assault and indecent exposure. The two complaints were dropped, according to Dean of Students Office documents, though the sexual harassment complaints were still being investigated.

    In interviews with the Wildcat, all four female students expressed relief at the outcome of the investigation, saying the process had restored their integrity.

    “”I’m happy that it returns some of our credibility,”” the 20-year-old undergraduate said.

    The complaints were filed to stop Bernsen’s behavior and were never about attacking him or removing him from office, the 21-year-old undergraduate said.

    The 27-year-old graduate student agreed.

    “”If a person gets away with this type of behavior, they think they can continue to get away with it,”” she said.

    The decision to go public with the complaints was made so the student body could know the actions of its elected leader, the 20-year-old undergraduate said.

    “”He’s an elected official,”” she said. “”He needs to answer to the people that elected him.””

    All four women acknowledged that the process from complaint to conclusion has been difficult, with one woman describing Bernsen’s mass-circulated statements as a “”web of lies.””

    “”He took advantage of (student privacy laws),”” the 20-year-old undergraduate said. “”He intentionally lied.””

    The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which protects all student academic records, proved to be a stumbling block to knowing the status of the investigation, the 21-year-old undergraduate said.

    If the female students had not come forward, the public would never have known about the complaints or the outcome, she said.

    Despite inaction on the part of the ASUA Senate, whose members had initially considered impeaching Bernsen, the 21-year-old undergraduate said she believed the outcome still validated her complaint.

    “”It’s good to know that the system does work,”” she said. “”Justice really was served in the end.””

    – Nick Smith contributed to this report

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