Can A House Divided Stand?
The Fallout of the Dunster Tutor Hiring Controversy:
In the wake of the tutor hiring controversy in Dunster House last spring came the fallout.
After students and tutors criticized house masters Karel F. and Hetty Liem for stifling free expression and allegedly playing favorites among tutors, the house was divided. A University investigation conducted over the summer found no wrongdoing, but the after-effects of the scandal are hitting the house in full force.
Just weeks into the academic year, one tutor resigned in protest, another claimed that he "lived in fear" and the University reopened its investigation of the Liems.
One year later, none of the eight tutors who complained of ethical misconduct remains in Dunster House. And the tutor who was the biggest target those complaints has decided to leave Dunster House to get married.
In addition, the renewal of the Liem's contract in May for only two years--not the customary five years--have led some observers to suggest that the Liems have been closely scrutinized during the controversy. They say the limited contract extension is the Liems' opportunity to prove that they can control their house.
Last spring, eight Dunster tutors accused Vincent W. Li '87, who had been assistant senior tutor for hiring, of improperly influencing Karel Liem to hire Li's brother and girlfriend and two of Li's longtime friends.
Li's brother, Dr. William W. Li '84, was appointed immediately after his hiring as co-chair of the pre-med advisory committee with his brother both were close friends of Karel Liem during their time as undergraduates.
Liem said he removed Vincent Li from the hiring process when his brother applied. But Vincent Li was present at one of his brother's student interviews and encouraged students who had a favorable impression of his brother to tell the masters.
Both Vincent and William Li have denied all charges against them.
"Any charges that have ever been raised were completely unfounded," Vincent Li said. "[My accusers] are people who are cowards and charlatans."
By the end of last year, two of the eight tutors who had charged misconduct resigned, and 39 students signed a petition calling for Vincent Li to step down.
Emily C. McNeal '93, one of the circulators of the petition, said last May that more students didn't sign the petition because they were "worried something would happen to them."
Henriette L. Power, Dunster House senior, tutor, told The Crimson last May that Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 had to intervene to stop Liem from firing the tutors who had made the charges.
The Liems held a public meeting to dispel rumors of a witch hunt. At the meeting, Vincent Li denied doing anything wrong.
Jewett investigated the issue over them summer, but found no wrongdoing. The Liems rewrote the tutor hiring policy and returning students seemed to forget the controversy.
The Lis Fight Back
But a quiet year as not to be.
Six of the tutors who charged Li with ethical misconduct were greeted this fall with letters threatening a libel suit if further complaints were made public.
The letter from Richard A. Brown '86, the Li brothers' lawyer, threatened a libel suit is the tutors took "any further actions to propagate false and professionally damaging information."
Sophie A. Volpp '85, a resident tutor in East Asian Languages and civilizations, resigned to protest the letter, saying she left "shocked," "angry" and "threatened."
After waffling for weeks, physics tutor David C. Bear '92, an outspoken critic of the Li brothers and the Liems, filed a formal complaint of harassment with Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles.
Jewett, calling the letter "unwise and counterproductive," decided to step up his investigation of the conflict, speaking to 40 students and "a substantial number" of tutors.
Knowles and President Neil L. Rudenstine also voiced concern about the situation.
New Rules Questioned
As a result of the criticism of his tutor hiring polices, Liem had revised the hiring procedure over the summer.
The new system included a committee to review tutor applicants, new restrictions on tutor hiring and enumerated grounds for tutor dismissal.
Under the old rules, the assistant senior tutor hiring narrowed the pool of applicants for any open tutor spot to a short list of finalists. Students and house officials interviewed those finalists, and the co-masters made the final decisions.
According to the new rules, an advisory committee was assigned to review the candidates. The committee originally consisted of seven people; the co-masters, four members of the senior common room and Vincent Li.
Many tutors were upset that Li was named a member of the advisory committee. Liem later asked Li to step down from the committee.
The new rules also required tutors to reapply to the House each year, with their applications to be reviewed by the advisory committee.
In order to evaluate the new rules and protect student interests in the process, two seniors revived the process, two seniors revived the defunct Dunster Students for Free Expression.
The students, Ted G. Rose '94 and Jesse M. Furman '94, sent letters to all Dunster residents claiming Li and Liem had shown "a troubling lack of concern for free expression."
Rose, who is a Crimson editor, said in October that 10 students told him they were afraid to speak out on the hiring controversy, out of fear of reprisals from the Liems.
Thirty-five members of Dunster Students for Free Expression composed a list of questions about the hiring controversy presented the questions to Liem.
The students also requested increased student involvement in tutor selection, an explanation for the lack of tutors in several concentrations and the appointment of a third co-chair of the committee that advises pre-meds.
Students expressed concern that since the Li brothers chaired the pre-med committee, disagreements with the Lis in another context might be reflected in their medical school recommendations.
At Jewett's suggestion, Liem called a public meeting moderated by officials from the Harvard Mediation Service to address student concerns. During the meeting, Liem announced a number of changes in the hiring policy.
He reduced the amount of time one needed to have graduated before becoming a tutor from five years to four. He also made exemptions to the policy for current tutors, thus allowing Bear, an outspoken critic of Liem and the Lis, to remain.
Liem said he would place himself on the pre-med committee to alleviate the fears that the Lis would be biased. Some students criticized this move an not being a significant change.
Liem also took responsibility for miscommunication and increased tensions in the house, formally apologizing for "not providing `masterly' leadership."
Liem said the Li brothers would retract their letters threatening six tutors with libel suits and apologize to those tutors.
But the Li brothers refused to comply with Liem's request. After the meeting, William Li told The Crimson he "had not decided yet" whether he would issue a written retraction.
Later in October, in the first interview he granted with the press, Vincent Li said that he had received more than a dozen harassing phone calls since the issue was brought up last year and was "living in constant fear."
"If anybody is being harassed, I'm being harassed and intimidated," Li said. "I am in fear, I live in fear. That's the bottom line."
Harvard Police Lt. Lawrence J. Murphy confirmed in October that the police were investigating the Lis' charges of harassment.
In response to Bear's formal complaint, Knowles asked Jewett in October to set up a committee to investigate whether the Li brothers' actions constituted "harassment."
Dean of Housing Thomas A. Dingman '67 chaired the three-person committee, which Dingman said met for a month and spoken to about a dozen people.
Dingman, Jewett and Knowles refused to give details of their report. But one tutor, speaking anonymously, said the committee found the Lis guilty of harassment and told them to "desist that behavior."
Vincent Li denied that account, saying he was vindicated on all counts and calling his accusers "cowards" and "amoral."
"They don't deserve to be at Harvard." he said.
Liem, who has not seen the committee's report, said the Lis were cleared of harassment charges and found only to have committed "unwise" acts.
"He [Vincent Li] hasn't done anything wrong," Liem said. "We all do unwise things all the time."
Vincent Li has decided to leave Dunster House to marry Fiona Murray, a tutor in environmental sciences, whom Li was accused of influnecing Liem to hire. Liem said that the two became romantically involved only after Murray was hired.
Liem rehired William Li for next year after a student evaluating committee gave him a unanimous recommendation. Liem said he did not tell the students about Dingman's report.
The tutor controversy clamed down soon after Liem's public meeting.
But the matter flared briefly again in March when Power, the senior tutor, announced that she would resign at the end of the academic year.
Power said the tutor hiring controversy made her "weary," "sapped her enthusiasm" and contributed to her decision to resign.
She emphasized, however, that she was leaving primarily for personal reasons.
Power said that eight tutors in all will not be returning next year, though several have already been replaced. Bear is one of the tutors who will not be returning, having accepted a resident tutor position in North House.
Liems' Contract Renewed
In May, Jewett confirmed that the Liems' term as House Masters was renewed, but said it was for just two years instead of a normal five-year term.
Jewett, in consultation with President Neil L. Rudenstine, had decided in March to renew the Liems' term, though Dunster students were not informed of the decision.
Jewett declined to explain why the extension was granted for just two years.
He said only that "the decision was made that it would be prefer able to extend the appointment for two years, and then do a regular review at that time."
One former tutor speculated that the University could have extended the Liems' term for two years while it looked for replacements.
Students and tutors expressed surprise at the renewal, and many were not pleased.
"I don't think [the Liems] have been doing a good job," one former tutor said. "I think the bulk [of the problem] is tutor hiring because it shows poor management style and less than complete regard for equity and openness of discussion."
"I find it difficult to believe that Harvard was pleased with all the controversy it provoked," another former tutor said. "Liem trampled on all the principles of free speech and made many tutors and students fearful of speaking out."
Liem has high hopes for next year, however.
"I hope that the house will run really well," he said. "I'm very optimistic."