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Harvard to Examine Sexual-Harassment Reporting and Response

9.9.19

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In the wake of the charges of persistent sexual harassment against former Madero professor for the study of Mexico and Harvard’s first vice provost for international affairs Jorge Domínguez—who was stripped of his emeritus status and privileges after his early retirement—President Lawrence S. Bacow announced that three academic leaders will serve as a committee of external reviewers charged with examining factors that inhibit reports of such misconduct or that deter an effective response. They are:

  • Susan Hockfield, president emerita of MIT
  • Kenji Yoshino, Warren professor of constitutional law at New York University School of Law and past president of Harvard’s Board of Overseers; and
  • Vicki Magley, professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, whose website describes her research interests as encompassing individual and organizational coping with sexual harassment and interventions to address workplace incivility.

Bacow announced the committee in a message on September 6 to professor of government Steven Levitsky, chair of the department’s internal review committee. As The Harvard Crimson reported last spring, the committee detailed failures of communication and reporting in the Domínguez case, and called for an external review.

The University committee has a three-part charge, aligned with the government department report. Bacow outlined the questions it is to pursue this way:

  • What characteristics of organization or culture might have inhibited those who had suffered (or were aware of) misconduct from reporting it?
  • When misconduct was reported, were there characteristics of our organization or culture that inhibited an effective response?
  • How do we vet candidates for leadership positions to assure that we are aware of any allegations of misconduct, including sexual harassment, and how might we do this?

The answers thus “will examine factors that may undermine our University’s ability to prevent or address incidents of sexual harassment,” forming a part of a larger response to the problems (detailed in Bacow's message, which appears below).

As such, the review itself is somewhat bounded. Although the Domínguez case serves “as an example through which these questions can be explored” and “will help frame the review,” Bacow continued, the new committee’s work “will not be a re-investigation of the allegations, nor a review of the investigation of those allegations. In addition, we are not asking the committee to review the behavior or decisions of individual members of the Harvard community in regard to the Domínguez matter.”

Beyond the searching discussion and self-review within the government department, the Domínguez case has reverberated more broadly at Harvard. Representatives of the Graduate Students Union, who have been negotiating an initial contract with the University—which seemed initially to focus on economic issues and benefits—have made sexual-harassment reporting and investigatory procedures a focal issue, reflecting the power dynamics between faculty advisers and their graduate students.

Bacow’s letter does not detail what kinds of staffing or other support the committee may receive. Yale recently released a report conducted by an outside law firm that investigated persistent sexual misconduct—including multiple incidents of harassment and assault, extending back 25 years—by a retired professor at its school of medicine. That investigation differs from Harvard’s new review, not least because the law firm Yale retained was discovering the facts about the long history of misconduct by the professor there (not part of the new committee’s mission in this post-Domínguez review). But the extensive public report, widely disseminated in the Yale community, at the end of that investigation, and its recommendations on how that institution could improve its processes to deter such misconduct and to detect and discipline such behavior in the future, may be useful models for the Harvard review committee’s work.

The Harvard review committee will interview community members and review maerials this fall, and will issue a report at the conclusion of its work.

The text of President Bacow’s letter follows.

MESSAGE FROM PRESIDENT BACOW TO STEVEN LEVITSKY

September 6, 2019

Dear Steve,

As you know, Harvard University is committed to providing a working and teaching environment free from harassment and discrimination for all members of our community. I write to share with you that we have named a three-person committee to conduct an external review into factors that may inhibit Harvard’s ability to accomplish these objectives. I’m pleased to let you know that the committee will be chaired by Susan Hockfield, Professor of Neuroscience and President Emerita at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and will include Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law, and Vicki Magley, Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Connecticut.

In May I wrote to you of my commitment to conduct such a review, in line with the recommendation included in the Government Department’s Committee on Climate Change April 30 report. This review will explore three central questions, which were also included in your April report:

  • What characteristics of organization or culture might have inhibited those who had suffered (or were aware of) misconduct from reporting it?
  • When misconduct was reported, were there characteristics of our organization or culture that inhibited an effective response?
  • How do we vet candidates for leadership positions to assure that we are aware of any allegations of misconduct, including sexual harassment, and how might we do this?

This review will examine factors that may undermine our University’s ability to prevent or address incidents of sexual harassment. It will be one in a series of initiatives to address the issues and concerns that were raised related to the findings of sexual harassment made against Jorge Dominguez. Some of these initiatives, such as your efforts in the Department, those in the FAS Dean’s Office and in the Office of the President and Provost through the Title IX Office and the Office for Dispute Resolution, are underway or have been completed. We anticipate that this review will identify additional areas where further work can be done.

With the intent of learning from the past, the committee will use the Dominguez case as an example through which these questions can be explored, but though that case will help frame the review, it is important to note that the review will not be a re-investigation of the allegations, nor a review of the investigation of those allegations. In addition, we are not asking the committee to review the behavior or decisions of individual members of the Harvard community in regard to the Dominguez matter. 

Central to this process, the three-person committee will conduct interviews with members of the Harvard community and review materials relevant to policies, practices, and what transpired in the Dominguez case. The committee will begin its review of information around the Dominguez case and Harvard’s policy, procedures, and systems that exist to address and prevent sexual harassment this month. The members will visit campus this fall and at the conclusion of its work, the committee will issue a report to the Harvard community. Inevitably, a review of this sort will raise concerns that will be sensitive for some members of our community. I appreciate the courage that it may take for people to talk about these issues with the intent of assuring that the Department and Harvard more broadly are doing our best.

The three individuals making up this committee bring important perspective and experience to this review. Susan Hockfield’s distinguished career as a faculty member, her experience as dean of the graduate school and provost at Yale, and her tenure as the president of MIT will be invaluable for helping us to consider the environment for research and education at Harvard. A signature of her presidency was her vocal commitment to making MIT a leader in building diversity all along the pipeline of talent. She convened MIT’s first-ever Diversity Leadership Congress, a gathering of 300 leaders from across the Institute committed to cultivating a culture of inclusion that allows everyone to contribute at the peak of their ability. These efforts led to a marked increase in women and minority scholars joining the MIT faculty.

For more than 25 years, workplace sexual harassment and incivility has been the focal point of Vicki Magley’s work and research, including the precursors to and consequences of sexual harassment for both individuals and organizations. She has evaluated sexual harassment training programs, and studied and advocated for civility interventions as an alternative approach to current, typical sexual harassment interventions. She has also consulted with numerous organizations and government agencies to create a better understanding of the climate for mistreatment and to evaluate interventions designed to alter that climate. Additionally, Magley was one of four research experts who worked with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on the 2018 consensus study on sexual harassment in academia and is a member of the advisory committee working with universities across the country on implementing the recommendations included in that report.

A legal expert in constitutional and anti-discrimination law, Kenji Yoshino taught at Yale Law School and served as deputy dean there prior to joining the faculty at NYU. His service as a member of Harvard’s Inclusion and Belonging Taskforce last year, his prior term as a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, and his own work related to inclusion and belonging provide an excellent backdrop for looking at cultural factors that may undermine our efforts to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of our community. 

As this committee begins this endeavor, I want to once again express the University’s appreciation for the diligent and thoughtful work of the Government Department’s Committee on Climate Change. Your commitment to strengthening Harvard’s ability to address and prevent harassment and discrimination has been integral to this dialogue that is critical to our community’s future.

All the best,

Larry

 

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