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Harvard Forms External Committee to Assess Harassment Policies in Wake of Dominguez Allegations

The Center for Government and International Studies houses the Government department, including many of its professors' offices.
The Center for Government and International Studies houses the Government department, including many of its professors' offices. By Delano R. Franklin
By Jonah S. Berger and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: Sept. 7, 2019 at 7:49 p.m.

Harvard has appointed a committee to conduct an external review into the circumstances that allowed former Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez to harass multiple women over four decades, University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in an email Friday.

The email — sent by Bacow to Government professor Steven R. Levitsky — names the members of the committee and details the scope of its work as charged by the University. The group will begin their work this month.

The committee comprises three academics affiliated with other universities: former Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Susan Hockfield; Vicki J. Magley, a psychology professor at the University of Connecticut; and Kenji Yoshino, a law professor at New York University School of Law.

Yoshino previously served as a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers — the University’s second highest governing body — and worked on Harvard’s Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging.

Hockfield convened MIT’s first Diversity Leadership Congress to foster diversity and inclusion at the school. Magley has contributed to numerous studies of campus climate issues raised by sexual misconduct, including one study with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2018.

Bacow wrote Friday that the three committee members will visit campus this fall. They plan to conduct interviews with Harvard affiliates and review information about Harvard’s current systems for addressing and preventing sexual harassment, as well as specific details of what transpired in Jorge Dominguez’s case.

Allegations against Dominguez were first reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education in February 2018. Since that time, nearly two dozen women have come forward to accuse the former professor of sexual misconduct.

In May, Bacow informed Levitsky — who chaired a departmental climate review following the allegations — that the University would initiate an external review of the Government department’s failure to provide a safe work environment for its affiliates. That came after the conclusion of a Title IX investigation, the details of which remain confidential, that ultimately led Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay to strip Dominguez of his emeritus status and bar him from all Harvard-sponsored events.

Bacow wrote in his Friday email that the University is not directing the external review committee to review the “behavior or decisions” of any individual people in relation to the Dominguez scandal, nor to re-investigate the allegations themselves.

“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,” Bacow wrote.

In the months after the allegations first surfaced, a committee created by the Government department undertook a review specific to its own departmental climate. In its final report, released in late April, the committee called on the University to initiate an external review — a request Bacow specifically referenced in his Friday email.

Levitsky, who is on leave this year, wrote in an in email that Bacow’s announcements made him “hopeful” about the impending review.

“The scope of the review is broadly what we asked for and what the administration pledged last spring,” he wrote. “I do not know any of the committee members and have thus not yet formed a solid opinion, but at first blush it strikes me as a credible committee.”

Student activists have also lobbied for an external review over the course of the Dominguez investigation, including at a rally in front of Massachusetts Hall in February. The University had stated they would not initiate an external evaluation until the Title IX investigation concluded, leading many Government graduate students to repeatedly criticize what they said was a protracted timeline for initiating such a review.

Bacow did not specify when the review will be completed, but wrote that the committee will issue a report to “the Harvard community” at the end of its audit.

“This review will examine factors that may undermine our University’s ability to prevent or address incidents of sexual harassment,” he wrote. “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.”

Government Graduate Student Council Co-President Manuel Melendez-Sanchez wrote in an email to The Crimson Friday that while he appreciates that the report will be made public, he feels the committee is “not fully external.”

“While it is disappointing that the team Bacow has chosen is not fully external, it should ultimately be judged by the rigor, comprehensiveness, and objectivity with which it conducts the review,” he wrote. “We will be watching this process very carefully.”

Melendez-Sanchez added he hopes the committee will interview the women who say they experienced sexual harassment at the hands of Dominguez.

“It is imperative that this includes Domínguez's victims, including those who are no longer actively affiliated with the university,” he wrote. “This review simply cannot provide useful recommendations for the future unless it begins with a clear and comprehensive understanding of the failures of the past.”

— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mollmccaff.

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