Forty Years in the Making: Dominguez and Sexual Misconduct At Harvard

As a single case, Dominguez forms a powerful example of how Harvard has grappled with issues of sexual harassment throughout its history, both today and in decades prior.


In late February, the #MeToo movement—which, since October, has unearthed sexual assault and harassment allegations against men in industries ranging from entertainment to politics—arrived without warning on Harvard’s campus.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published two articles in which 18 women publicly accused Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez of repeated acts of sexual harassment spanning nearly 40 years. The first reported incident occurred in 1979; the most recent in 2015.

The news sparked national attention and sent Harvard affiliates reeling. Within hours of the first article’s publication, students were sharing it on social media, many questioning why the University had not taken action against the professor long before.

Unlike many men caught up in the #MeToo movement, Dominguez had already been found guilty of sexual harassment once before—after a junior faculty member accused him of misconduct in 1983.

After the University temporarily sanctioned Dominguez, though, he continued to climb through the University’s ranks, assuming various administrative positions. He served as director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs from 1996 to 2006 and was named the University’s first Vice Provost for International Affairs in 2006, a position he held until 2015. As recently as fall 2017, he taught a freshman seminar.

The issue of sexual harassment extends beyond one professor. A recent Crimson survey of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences revealed that 28 percent of surveyed faculty indicated they know a department member who has experienced sexual harassment or assault at Harvard.

Yet, as a single case, Dominguez forms a powerful example of how Harvard has grappled with issues of sexual harassment throughout its history, both today and in decades prior.

RESPONDING TO THE ALLEGATIONS

The first Chronicle article sent shockwaves across campus.

Days after the article’s publication Feb. 27, Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild notified all Government concentrators the department would host a meeting March 2 to discuss “how better to promote and sustain a safe and respectful community.”

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Students also scrambled to organize their own response. Government concentrator Elena D. Sokoloski ’18 started the social media campaign “#DominguezMustGo.” She and other students also arrived at the March 2 meeting wearing black in honor of the “Time’s Up” movement, started by celebrities in response to the wave of sexual misconduct allegations sweeping the entertainment industry.

Hours after the meeting, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 sent an email to University affiliates directly referencing the Chronicle article and asking those who had experienced “inappropriate behavior” to come forward and speak with the University’s Title IX Office, the Harvard body that works to prevent and respond to violations of federal Title IX policy, including sexual harassment.

Shortly after the Chronicle published a second article detailing further allegations March 4, Dean of FAS Michael D. Smith announced FAS had placed Dominguez on paid “administrative leave” while FAS worked to conduct a “full and fair review” of the allegations brought against him.

The next day, Dominguez announced he planned to retire at the end of the semester and was immediately resigning from his administrative roles.

Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez retired at the end of the spring 2018 semester following harassment allegations.

Hochschild wrote in an email to department affiliates that Dominguez’s retirement would not affect the “full and fair review” of the allegations against him.

As administrators worked to address the allegations, hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students released two open letters calling on the University to take more decisive action against Dominguez and to expand its efforts to combat sexual harassment. Graduate students also sent a second letter detailing more specific policy changes they wanted the Government department to enact.

Hochschild emailed government department affiliates March 9 informing them she had posted a “Statement of Principles” on the department’s website and that the department planned to take several steps to “create a safe, healthy, and intellectually exciting environment.”

She also announced a preliminary list of members of the department’s newly created Climate Change Committee, formed in the wake of the allegations to improve department culture broadly.

Despite these steps, some individuals affected by Dominguez said they were dissatisfied with the University’s handling of the allegations.

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Several of the women accusing Dominguez of sexual harassment sent a letter to Smith, University President Drew G. Faust, Garber, and Hochschild arguing the University is “ill-equipped” to investigate Dominguez.

The women stated the Title IX Office did not have the resources necessary and that Harvard instead needed to bring in independent investigators.

During the month of April, Smith and Garber sent the women multiple emails stating they could not comply with the women’s demands. In one of the email exchanges, Smith revealed FAS had filed a “formal Title IX complaint” against Dominguez.

“We share a commitment to a full and fair investigation of the allegations surrounding Jorge Dominguez,” Smith wrote in an emailed response to the women.

In the initial letter, the women also wrote that three individuals—including Suzanna E. Challen, a former Government Ph.D. student—had reached out to the Title IX Office about Dominguez in Nov. 2017. The women wrote the office replied at the time it did not plan to take action.

Smith wrote in his response it would be “inappropriate” for him to discuss specific issues raised in the letter because of the formal complaint.

After a person, or the University, files a formal complaint with the Office for Dispute Resolution alleging a Title IX violation, ODR then determines whether the allegations—if true—would violate Harvard’s policies forbidding sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination. If ODR determines a violation is possible, it then launches an investigation and issues a report at the conclusion of the investigation stating what, if any, violations have been found.

ODR is currently investigating Dominguez, according to an email Hochschild sent to Government department alumni in May.

When ODR investigates instances of misconduct, it judges behavior against the policy in place at the time of the incident, according to Title IX Officer Nicole Merhill. But ODR uses current procedures to conduct the investigation.

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Challen and Nienke C. Grossman ’99, another signatory of the letter, said they were contacted by ODR to serve as witnesses in the Title IX process in the weeks following the initial publication of allegations against Dominguez.

Because Dominguez is a faculty member, a copy of the final report from ODR will almost definitely be shared with the dean of FAS.

In cases where there are allegations of harassment by faculty, the final report of the investigation is “provided to the Complainant and the Respondent, the FAS Title IX Coordinator for Faculty, the Title IX Coordinator of the School or Unit with which the Complainant is affiliated, as applicable, and the Dean of the FAS or his or her designee,” according to a written statement from Director of ODR William D. McCants.

The report also recommends specific actions against the individual in question ranging from reprimand to dismissal. Dominguez is a tenured professor; a copy of the University statutes states that only the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, can dismiss a permanently appointed faculty member for “grave misconduct or neglect of duty.”

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‘UNSATISFACTORY’

Harvard first took action against Dominguez in 1983 after Assistant Professor Terry Karl and a government graduate student accused the professor of various acts of sexual harassment. Then-Dean of FAS Henry Rosovsky sanctioned Dominguez by removing him from his administrative roles.

Just two years later, though, Dominguez was appointed to chair both the Special Appointments Committee in the Government department and the FAS Foreign Cultures subcommittee of the Core Curriculum.

Some Government students at the time said they believe the University’s actions were insufficient.

Michael P. Adams ’83, one of Karl’s thesis advisees, said the University remained silent on the issue when students attempted to raise concerns. He and two other undergraduates at the time, Michael A. Heller ’84 and Dove S. Scherr ’84, wrote a letter to The Crimson denouncing the University’s “secrecy on this issue” and its “unsatisfactory response.”

“We were saying this was happening and publishing the essay in The Crimson and talking to Time [Magazine], etc, but the University wasn’t talking about it, saying what was happening,” Adams said.

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Rosovsky declined to comment on the handling of the Dominguez case in the 1980s.

“I think it’s a good thing that justice is finally being done,” Adams said, citing the impact of the recent Chronicle articles. “But I can’t help thinking, if Harvard had dealt with this appropriately in 1983, 1984, none of those other women would have been harassed.”

In response to Dominguez’s case, a group of Government graduate students wrote a letter addressed to Rosovsky in 1984, according to then-graduate students Cynthia A. Sanborn, Jeffrey W. Rubin ’77, and Jill A. Irvine. Sanborn has kept a paper copy of the letter ever since.

In the letter, the students wrote the lack of information and the official secrecy from the administration on Dominguez was “damaging to the academic community as a whole.”

The students also demanded to be notified of findings about Dominguez’s misconduct as well as the status of his sanctions.

“We therefore request a public statement from your office that specifies the severity of the misconduct committed by Professor Dominguez, the sanctions imposed by the university, and other steps taken to prevent future abuses of power,” the letter reads.

According to a 1983 Crimson article about Dominguez’s punishment, the faculty misconduct policy at the time decreed “formal harassment complaints are investigated by an administrator and submitted to Rosovsky for a final decision.”

Rosovsky also declined to comment on the letter.

The October 7, 1983 issue of The Crimson featured an op-ed titled "About Dominguez."

In addition to concerns over Dominguez himself, some graduate students said they were deeply affected by the departure of Karl, who chose to leave the department after the harassment she experienced.

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Rubin said he feels many graduate students missed out on experiencing a true “intellectual community” in the department.

“They went off to do research and went somewhere else, some other town or university, got their Ph.D.s at Harvard, but did not have the richness, intellectual community, and professional networking that happened at Harvard,” he said.

Another Latin Americanist, like Karl, Philip D. Oxhorn—a graduate student at the time—said he feels more connected with other universities where he has worked.

Now a professor of political science at McGill University, Oxhorn said Dominguez’s misconduct was “no secret” amongst the graduate students.

“We all knew there was history, and we all knew it was likely to repeat itself unless more severe sanctions were imposed. And from what we now know, in hindsight, we’re not at all surprised,” Oxhorn said.

Dominguez’s case was not the only instance of sexual harassment allegations facing the Government department in the ’70s and ’80s. In 1979, for the first time in Harvard’s history, the University officially reprimanded a faculty member—Government Professor Martin L. Kilson Jr.–for sexual harassment after Helene S. York ’83 alleged that he attempted to kiss her when she attended his office hours.

Rosovsky wrote Kilson a “letter of reprimand” and requested that Kilson write York a “formal letter of apology,” according to a 1979 Crimson article.

In Feb. 1985, just two years after Karl left Harvard, Government professor Douglas A. Hibbs Jr. resigned after a student complained he had perpetrated sexual harassment. The New York Times reported this marked the first time a professor resigned for this reason in University history.

Irvine, who was a graduate student in the department throughout those years, said he remembers that period as a “struggle.”

“The atmosphere was really tough, and it was not an easy place to be a female graduate student at the time,” Irvine said.

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‘THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE A LEADER’

As the ODR investigation progresses, the University has taken broader steps to address issues of sexual harassment. Garber and Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp announced earlier this month that Harvard will now require all faculty and staff to complete an “online training module” created by the Title IX Office starting next semester.

Their emailed announcement noted the role of “recent events” in revealing the impact sexual harassment can have.

“As recent events across society have demonstrated, sexual and gender-based harassment remains a deeply ingrained problem,” Garber and Lapp wrote in their email. “It can impose enormous human costs, personally and professionally.”

University spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson wrote in an emailed statement earlier this month that the new requirement does not come as a response to allegations made against Dominguez.

Faust has also asked that a committee formed to look into the 2014 Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy specifically address two issues: What “structural and cultural realities” lead to an environment in which harassment is more likely and what the University can do to earn people’s trust so they are confident in Harvard’s ability to evaluate their concerns.

Grossman said she hopes the committee will consider inviting alumni and Title IX experts to share their perspectives.

She added she believes the committee should make its final report public.

“[This] shows the community that the University is thinking about these issues and reflecting about them and trying to do things the best way possible,” Grossman said. “It gives Harvard the opportunity to be a leader on an issue that many universities are facing and to contribute in a positive way to stopping harassment on campus.”

On a more localized scale, the Climate Change Committee within the Government department—comprising undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff—continues to meet. The group met twice in April and has created seven subcommittees to address separate issues, according to a May 17 email from Hochschild to alumni.

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The subcommittee is examining issues including how to promote “departmental diversity among faculty and graduate students” and how to improve the graduate mentoring program.

Government Professor Steven R. Levitsky, who is chairing the Climate Change Committee, said the committee is considering commissioning an “external audit” of the department.

The offices of Harvard's Government Department are housed in CGIS Knafel.

Levitsky said an external audit would not involve reviewing the Dominguez case, which does not all under the purview of the department. He said the audit would instead “explore the climate conditions that gave rise to systematic non-reporting of sexual and other forms of harassment.”

“I don’t think we are able to investigate ourselves in that matter, so what we want to do is figure out a way to organize an external investigation,” Levitsky said.

Levitsky said he and Hochschild are consulting experts and friends to determine who would lead this external investigation, whether outside professional consultants or professors from other departments.

Hochschild said the department has not yet raised this idea with FAS.

As the University continues to grapple with the effects of the Dominguez revelations, some say they hope the incident will spur the University to enact change going forward.

“The reason we brought this forward was primarily to try to press Harvard to do better, because we know it can do better, and it needs to for the sake of its students,” Challen said.

—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at angela.fu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.

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—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at lucy.wang@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22.

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