Geoffrey Marcy
US astronomer Geoffrey 'Geoff' W. Marcy, Professor of Astronomy at the University of California, stepped down on 14 October following student sexual harassment allegations. NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images

Prominent astronomer and UC Berkeley professor Geoffrey Marcy has resigned following sexual harassment allegations from several students. The university has been at the centre of much criticism over its handling of the investigation into Marcy.

The university's investigation, which was sparked by multiple complaints, revealed Marcy had sexually harassed female students over a nine-year period. UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B Dirks and provost Claude Steele confirmed Marcy's resignation on 14 October and said: "We believe this outcome is entirely appropriate and have immediately accepted his resignation."

According to the Los Angles Times, the university officials described Marcy's conduct as "contemptible and inexcusable." Despite this, Dirks and Steele said they did not have the authority to sack Marcy without a long and uncertain procedure. The allegations would also be subject to a three-year statute of limitations, which would have excluded any older allegations against the professor, the Times reported.

Following the investigation's findings, Marcy was given strict guidelines on his behaviour and was warned he would be suspended or dismissed if he violated those guidelines. Dirks and Steele wrote: "Our objective was to protect our students by immediately preventing any reoccurrence of the behavioural standards that went beyond what is specifically proscribed by the University's rules and regulations."

The university's initial response was met with severe criticism, including from Marcy's own colleagues in the astronomy department. A group of the astronomer's colleagues wrote the university a letter urging administrators to remove him from his post.

For his part, Marcy issued an online apology on 7 October in which he said he did not agree with all the complaints made but took responsibility for his actions. "While I do not agree with each complaint that was made, it is clear that my behaviour was unwelcome by some women. I take full responsibility and hold myself completely accountable for my actions and the impact they had. For that and to the women affected, I sincerely apologise," he wrote.