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Overlooking Sexual Misconduct

The University failed to protect affiliates from Professor Jorge I. Dominguez

Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 10 women are now accusing Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez of sexual misconduct. In 1983, Harvard had relieved Dominguez of administrative duties for sexually harassing a junior colleague. In response to these new allegations, which now total 18 and span decades, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences placed Dominguez on immediate administrative leave. In an email to Harvard affiliates, University Provost Alan M. Garber encouraged members of the Harvard community to come forward with stories of “inappropriate behavior,” with the promise that these allegations would be taken seriously.

We are disappointed but not surprised that the University did not respond more definitively to Dominguez’s severe misconduct in the early '80s. Yet we are taken aback that, in spite of being disciplined for sexual harassment, Dominguez continued to rise through Harvard’s ranks for over 30 years. By letting Dominguez remain in contact with students, and allowing him to remain in his position of power, the University put its students and wider community at risk, turning a blind eye to his history of gender-based harassment. Out of respect to the accusers, and out of a clear need to demonstrate its commitment to a safe, assault-free community, the University must publicly and openly acknowledge its past failures.

But that step—while critical—is only symbolic. The University cannot turn back time and prevent past students from being victimized. Going forward, it must take definitive and practical steps to prevent future students from going through what Terry Karl reported enduring. Harvard must do more to actively protect its community members from abuses of power that allow sexual misconduct.

Although Dominguez was previously disciplined for sexual harassment in the 1980s, we acknowledge that the most recent allegations against him have not yet been verified. We thus believe that Harvard has taken an appropriate step by placing Dominguez on administrative leave while it looks into these claims. Yet the University should not use his status on leave as an opportunity to dawdle in its pursuit of truth and justice. An investigation must begin immediately and progress swiftly, and we urge the University to be expeditious in its fact-checking of these accusations.

And if Harvard finds that these systemic, deplorable accounts are substantiated, we see only one valid response: Immediate dismissal. In that case, justice would have been delayed for far too long. Placing a faculty member on administrative leave still allows them to remain a member of the Harvard community. This should not be construed as a punishment for sexual misconduct.

Going forward, the University must be proactive rather than reactive in combating gender based misconduct and abuses of power. We appreciate FAS Dean Michael D. Smith’s call for victims and witnesses to come forward with their stories. However, messages like these cannot come only in response to headlines and missed opportunities. For victims to be willing to come forward, they must be able to trust that Harvard will take their accusations seriously from the very beginning.

The University must continually remind the community of its commitment to preventing and responding to sex and gender-based misconduct, as well as the ways in which individuals can pursue protection, support, and justice.

The bottom line is clear: Dominguez’s history of sexual misconduct and harassment on this campus is unconscionable. As he rose to various positions of power at Harvard, his accusers felt compelled to sacrifice their own educations, careers, and community—some even left. All the while, he was allowed to stay.

Though Harvard has failed to protect affiliates from Dominguez, the Chronicle’s report has offered the University an opportunity to respond to its mistakes and actively reconsider its values and policies. Justice for the accusers should be served swiftly and conclusively. Harvard must promote a different culture—one where it is not the victims of sexual misconduct but the perpetrators who feel that they have no place on this campus.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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