Templeton Prize 2010 Laureate Professor Francisco J. Ayala at the Templeton Prize news conference, March 25, 2010 National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. (Photo Credit: Mark Finkenstaedt)

Francisco Ayala, a renowned evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, has resigned his position after an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him. The university will also be removing his name from their School of Biological Sciences, the science library, graduate fellowships, endowed chairs, and other programmes that were started or supported by his funding. By removing Ayala from the university without emeritus status, UoC is eliminating one of their most profitable donors, according to a report from the New York Times.

The investigation that resulted in this resignation began in November 2017, after four women accused Ayala of inappropriate comments and ‘other kinds of behaviour’, including unwanted physical contact. The accusers in question have been named as Kathleen Treseder, the Ayala Chair in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Jessica Pratt, Assistant Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Benedicte Shipley, Assistant Dead of Biological Sciences, and Michelle Herrera, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology. The women have also claimed that despite earlier complaints to the university, no actions were taken against Ayala to prevent similar situations in the future, ultimately leading them to press legal charges.

Many of Dr Ayala’s colleagues were shocked to receive this news, with some stating that their lack of access to the official report has made the announcement difficult to accept.

“I have no facts, no information,” Donald Saari, Professor of Mathematics, told The Times. “I do not even know what are the charges. But all of this is upsetting because it runs counter to everything I know about Dr. Ayala.”

Several people, both supporters and detractors of Dr Ayala, have expressed their displeasure with the way UoC has handled this matter. Micha Liberty, a lawyer who is representing three of the four women involved, has pointed out that the university did nothing after earlier complaints, stating that she believes it was because of the money Dr Ayala was donating to the institution. It was only after the women took further action that the university chose to respond, implying that this is a move intended to preserve the university’s reputation.

When The Times reached out to Dr Ayala himself, his assistant informed reporters that he was out of the country and directed them to a statement wherein Dr Ayala regretted any actions that had made his colleagues uncomfortable.

“It was never my intent to do so,” the statement reads. “Nor do I wish to put them, my family, or this institution through the lengthy process of further investigation, hearings, appeals, and lawsuits.” 

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