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News Analysis: Univ. May Pursue Title IX Inquiry into Dominguez

University Hall, Fall 2017
University Hall houses the offices of some of Harvard's top administrators.
Harvard is launching an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez—an inquiry that may take shape as a Title IX investigation per Faculty of Arts and Sciences sexual harassment procedures.

A few days after The Chronicle of Higher Education published new accusations against Dominguez, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences placed him on “administrative leave." FAS Dean Michael D. Smith wrote in an email Sunday that FAS will conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment from 10 women that together span three decades.

“I write to announce that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has placed Jorge Dominguez on administrative leave, pending a full and fair review of the facts and circumstances regarding allegations that have come to light,” Smith wrote.

Harvard administrators have asked students and faculty who have experienced harassment to come forward and share their experiences.

“We encourage any member of our community who has experienced inappropriate behavior to come forward,” FAS spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven wrote in a statement to The Crimson.

Asked who will be carrying out the review of Dominguez, Cowenhoven directed The Crimson to the FAS Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy and Procedures.

The full policy contains a nearly seven-page section devoted to outlining response procedures to formal complaints against faculty members alleged to be in violation of the University’s Title IX policies, which prohibit sex or gender discrimination including sexual harassment.

The policy specifically prohibits the behavior the women quoted in the Chronicle’s story alleged Dominguez exhibited toward them, including inappropriate touching and unwanted advances. The women who spoke to the Chronicle comprised both former students and a junior faculty member under Dominguez's mentorship.

“In the academic context, sexual harassment often involves the inappropriate personal attention by an instructor or other officer who is in a position to exercise professional power over another individual,” the policy reads.

The document also notes that sexual harassment can occur between “persons of the same University status.”

“An example would be persistent personal attention from one colleague to another in the face of repeated rejection of such attention,” the policy says. “Both types of harassment are unacceptable. They seriously undermine the atmosphere of trust essential to the academic enterprise.”

The document outlines two avenues for resolving sexual harassment cases: informal resolutions and formal complaints. In the informal resolution process, FAS Title IX coordinators or University Title IX administrators work with both parties to settle on a “mutually acceptable resolution.”

Formal complaints are filed through the University’s Office for Dispute Resolution, which initiates official investigations. FAS refers complaints it receives through its Title IX coordinators to ODR.

There no time limit for submitting a formal complaint and initiating an investigation into a violation, though FAS encourages complainants to file grievances “as soon as reasonably possible” after experiencing an alleged policy violation.

All of the specific allegations in the Chronicle of Higher Education story took place beyond the state of Massachusetts’s 300-day window between the time of the incident and the time claims must be filed to guarantee consideration. Harvard’s policy, however, still allows even the oldest claims to be investigated.

The FAS policies and procedures also deal with the issue of complainants who do not wish to participate in formal investigations, or who wish to do so anonymously. Several sources in the Chronicle of Higher Education story were unwilling to reveal their names publicly.

If the women who allege they were harassed by Dominguez decline to participate in a formal Title IX investigation, it is more difficult for the University to confirm these accusations.

If complainants refuse to take part in the investigation, the University must determine whether the allegations indicate sufficiently reprehensible behavior or create a hostile environment for others in order to proceed with an investigation anyway.

Despite the University’s ability to investigate allegations without the complainant’s participation, Colby Bruno, a lawyer with the Victim’s Rights Law Center, said such cases often end up “dying out.”

“When a school is not faced with the pressure of a victim—and a victim wanting to do something—then the school feels no pressure and wants it to go away,” Bruno said. “If someone ever comes to them and says, ‘Why didn’t you investigate it,’ they can say the victim didn’t want to; people would say, ‘Okay, fine.’”

Difficulties also arise during investigations when complainants wish to remain anonymous. FAS’s policies and procedures indicate that requests for anonymity can sometimes result in Harvard deciding to close the case without completing the inquiry. There are also circumstances in which Title IX officers may deem it necessary to disclose the complainant’s identity for certain parts of the investigative process.

Bruno said that, though anonymous complaints are difficult to investigate, they still allow for continued pressure on the University.

“If you have a victim who wants to continue with [anonymity], that is where the school remains obligated to remedy the hostile environment because the student can continue to talk to the school, continue to be involved in it,” Bruno said. “That’s the kind of stuff that I think that doesn’t happen when the victim just says, ‘I don’t want to do this.’”

Administrators have repeatedly pointed to the Title IX policy and procedures and encouraged students and faculty with complaints of sexual harassment to disclose their stories to Title IX administrators. Title IX Coordinator Emily Miller specifically presented about Harvard's Title IX policies at a meeting for Government concentrators about the Dominguez allegations Friday.

The University has not revealed whether administrators are currently building a Title IX case against Dominguez. University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in an email that she cannot comment on the existence of a complaint or investigation within the ODR.

“In accordance with the privacy and confidentiality required by the University’s Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy and Procedures, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of an ODR complaint regarding any matter,” deLuzuriaga wrote.

—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at jamie.halper@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.

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