Juvenal Cortes, professor named in LA Times Qatari Sheikh reporting, resigned at end of fall semester

Johnson Hall at Occidental College. Sarah Hofmann/The Occidental

Occidental Diplomacy & World Affairs (DWA) professor Juvenal Cortes resigned from his teaching position at the end of Fall 2020, according to Jim Tranquada, director of communications and community relations. In July 2020, Cortes was named in a Los Angeles Times article on the undergraduate experience of USC student and Qatar’s Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani in connection to potential allegations of academic misconduct.

After being named in the LA Times reporting on July 16, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Wendy Sternberg confirmed on July 28 that at the time the college was looking into the reporting consistent with the faculty handbook.

According to Sternberg, the college ceased its investigation when Cortes tendered his resignation at the end of the fall semester. Sternberg said she could not elaborate further on the nature of the resignation.

Cortes said he had no knowledge of a USC student helping a Qatari prince at USC when approached by LA Times reporters outside his Occidental office. In an email to The Occidental, Cortes emphasized that no allegations of academic misconduct were offered against him and that he plans to return to academia.

According to Cortes, his departure from Occidental was motivated by a desire to pursue other goals in 2021. Cortes said he is currently in Michoacán, Mexico taking on advisory work in politics while working on his ranch.

“I learned a great many things at Oxy, both from its students and extraordinary faculty and administration,” Cortes said via email. “After four years at Oxy and with the onset of the pandemic, I felt it was time to move on and pursue others goals I set for myself early in life. I will miss being part of Oxy, a college with a very bright future.”

The LA Times article detailed how Al Thani enjoyed a lifestyle that rivaled some of LA’s wealthiest celebrities while enrolled at USC — eschewing the dorms for a suite at the Beverly Wilshire and trading nights in studying at the library for nights out gambling in Las Vegas. Despite rarely attending classes, Al Thani made the Dean’s list three times.

According to the reporting, Al Thani’s academic success was possibly buoyed by help he received from Cortes, then a graduate student at USC. The article does not outline any specific allegations of academic misconduct, but does include accounts from advisors and professors suspicious of the role Cortes was taking in Al Thani’s academics and of the quality of work the often absent royal was producing.

As Dean of the College, Sternberg has the power to initiate the procedures when “professional misconduct of unfitness” warrants warning, reprimand or dismissal of a faculty member, according to section K of the 2020–2021 Occidental Faculty Handbook.

According to the handbook, any faculty dismissal “must take into account the faculty member’s entire record as a teacher and scholar.” Sternberg did not confirm if actions outlined in section K of the faculty handbook were initiated.

Cortes joined the faculty at Occidental in Fall 2015. Cortes graduated from UC Berkeley in 2009 and earned a PhD from USC in 2015. In 2017, Cortes was a candidate to fill a tenure track position in the college’s Diplomacy & World Affairs department. During the hiring process a student created a petition to collect positive feedback in support of his application.

Julian Willnow contributed to the reporting of this article.

Correction (March 25, 7:49 pm): This article was updated to reflect the student petition in support of Cortes was created during the hiring process for a tenure track position he received, not the tenure review process.