A SPECIAL administrative committee this month released its second annual report on sexual harassment at Harvard. For the second time, the most compelling question of all went unanswered.
With admirable diligence, the Coordinating Committee on Sexual Harassment reported that 66 instances of perceived harassment were called to the attention of officers in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences last year. Among them were two formal complaints--cases in which an individual "initiated an investigation of facts and sought a disciplinary response from the Dean of the Faculty."
The Coordinating Committee observed that while the number of incidents appears to be on the rise, many students remain unwilling to come forward with their complaints.
Conspicuously--and inexcusably--the committee failed to answer the all-important question as to whether the complaints cited resulted in guilty findings or disciplinary action. Despite its charge to comment "on the number and type of complaints, and, in very general terms, on their disposition," the committee included no discussion whatsoever of how the conflicts were resolved.
Once again, Harvard's elaborate system for dealing with sexual harassment has failed to recognize a probable cause and effect link between its own significant omissions and its lack of credibility within the community.
The Coordinating Committee acknowledges that victims of sexual harassment may hesitate to seek help. The faculty can only overcome an apparent lack of trust and confidence by demonstrating and publicizing its responsiveness. In practical terms, that means acknowledging real problems and reporting that offenders have been disciplined appropriately.
Harvard's track record in this department does little to allay the doubts and fears of those in need of help. When a Government professor was found to have committed an "abuse of authority" in 1983, then Dean of the Faculty Henry Rosovsky refused to make public the details of his punitive action. Students and faculty members protested that Rosovsky's reticence fostered the appearance of tolerance for sexual misconduct. The professor returned to the Harvard classroom this fall after a one-year leave of absence.
Last year, Harvard announced that another Government professor had resigned in the wake of sexual harassment charges. But officials refused to say whether the professor's resignation resulted from Harvard disciplinary proceedings, once again leaving the administration's response in doubt.
The authors of the current report rightly note a delicate trade-off between the interest of the community and the privacy of individuals when sexual harassment is at issue. What they fail to recognize is that the trade-off is not an all-or-nothing affair.
The protection of privacy in no way precludes an annual disclosure of the number of cases in which disciplinary action was taken and the nature of the punishments. In the absence of any serious problems, such a disclosure would be harmless indeed. In the absence of a disclosure, reservations about the University's responsiveness will persist, and thus victims will continue to suffer in silence.