Four women who accused former Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez of sexual misconduct say Harvard failed to collect information they possess about Dominguez’s behavior, despite their offer to meet with University representatives about the matter.
The University opened its Title IX investigation into Dominguez in early 2018, after 18 women came forward to accuse him of repeated acts of assault and harassment spanning four decades. Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced the conclusion of the investigation on Thursday, writing in an email that she had barred Dominguez from campus and removed his emeritus privileges.
But that investigation, four of the women say, did not adequately take into account the information they were willing to provide.
In July 2018, at least three months after the Title IX investigation into Dominguez began, four of the women — former Government Assistant Professor Terry L. Karl, former Government Ph.D. candidate Suzanna E. Challen, former Government concentrator Nienke C. Grossman ’99, and former Government Ph.D. candidate Charna Sherman — attempted to arrange a meeting with the University’s Title IX office about its investigation through their lawyer, Debra S. Katz.
Karl, who left Harvard for a professorship at Stanford following Dominguez’s misconduct toward her, was the first woman to publicly come forward about the abuse she suffered. In February 2018, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article that centered on Karl’s story and detailed how other women contacted her to share similar stories of abuse.
In response to Katz’s offer for the four women to meet with Harvard representatives, Eileen Finan, an attorney for the University’s Office of the General Counsel, wrote in a letter that she, Title IX Officer Nicole Merhill, and Deputy University Provost Peggy Newell would meet with the women and Katz under “certain constraints.”
Namely, Finan specified that, if the women agreed to the meeting, she and her colleagues could not discuss the ongoing investigation against Dominguez or the possibility of an external review of the circumstances surrounding his misconduct.
“Because the University has an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Professor Dominguez, we will not be able to discuss the specifics of the investigation in order to preserve the integrity of that review,” Finan wrote.
“I understand that your clients may not be prepared to meet within these constraints, but I also appreciate that you have stated that your clients have recommendations on best practices, including on how to address structural and cultural impediments to redressing sexual harassment in academia,” she added.
Though Finan did not refuse to discuss the women’s allegations specifically, the women declined to meet under the University’s terms.
“We thought, well, if you're taking those topics off the table, that defeats the purpose of meeting,” Challen said.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on the women’s criticism of the investigation.
Harvard’s unwillingness to meet with the four women under their conditions is not the first time the University has failed to actively gather information from some of the women, according to Karl. She has said she previously offered documents to the University that were “directly relevant” to the investigation, but never received follow-up communications about that information.
“In order to give a fair sanction, you need to know what the impact is on victims,” Karl said Thursday. “I can tell you that nobody has ever asked me.”
Jessica Westerman, an associate at Katz, Marshall & Banks who has also provided legal counsel to the four women, said in an interview Thursday she believes Harvard did not adequately consider all of the evidence available to them during the investigation.
“Refusing to review evidence that you know is out there is a fundamental flaw in any investigation,” she said. “As their attorneys, we were basically stonewalled in our requests to Harvard.”
“Their handling of it was disappointing to say the least,” Westerman added.
Yoshiko Herrera, who has also publicly accused Dominguez of sexual misconduct, wrote in an email that she also was not consulted during the investigation, though she feels she “should have been.”
Multiple women praised the sanctions Gay imposed on Dominguez and the initiation of an external review, which University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced in an email to Government department leaders on Thursday. The review will examine the environment that allowed Dominguez’s misconduct to continue for multiple decades, but it will not directly review Dominguez’s conduct or the Title IX investigation.
The initiation of the external review follows multiple calls for such a probe from students, faculty, and alumni. The first group to call for an external review did so in March 2018, when 15 of the women who accused Dominguez of misconduct urged then-Dean of FAS Michael D. Smith to appoint an “independent commission” in order to ensure a “full and fair” investigation.
Sherman, one of the four women represented by Katz, said she remains optimistic that Harvard will invite her and the other women to participate in the forthcoming external review.
"There was a consistent dismissive view by Harvard throughout this process,” Sherman said. “And our hope now is that as they proceed with an external review, they will include us.”
— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.
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