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Former Anthropology Professor Plans To Sue University

Alleges Harvard Acted Illegally When Not Granting Her Tenure

Former Associate Professor of Anthropology Kimberly Theidon.
Former Associate Professor of Anthropology Kimberly Theidon.
By Steven R. Watros, Crimson Staff Writer

Kimberly Theidon, a former associate professor who previously alleged Harvard violated Title IX in denying her tenure in May 2013, has withdrawn her complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination with intent to file a lawsuit against the University, her lawyer said Tuesday.

Theidon’s original complaint alleged that the University’s tenure decision was made to punish her for exercising free speech protected under Title IX. Her lawyer, Philip J. Gordon, said that complaint was a formality necessary to pursue legal action.

“Filing at the state fair employment agency is required prior to filing a state employment discrimination or retaliation claim or a federal Title VII employment discrimination claim,” Gordon wrote in a follow-up email on Wednesday.

He said that Theidon and her legal team have yet to determine where they will file the lawsuit. Though the specific allegation has not yet been finalized, he said the team would “very likely accuse the University of violating Title IX and violating Title VII.”

Theidon held the title John J. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, an endowed position, before her contract expired in June. The contract’s expiration ended her formal relationship with the University.

Theidon alleges Harvard was eager to cut ties with her because she had evidence of the University’s lack of compliance with Title IX. She said she had been given indication that she was a strong tenure candidate, though the tenure review process is strictly confidential.

Especially influential in the University’s decision, she alleges, was consideration of comments she posted in March 2013 in response to a Crimson article about sexual assault at Harvard. In her comments, Theidon offered a defense of the anonymous sexual assault victims quoted in the story and argued with commenters who self-identified as “men’s rights” activists.

Theidon told The Crimson in April that before commenting, she learned that women interviewed for the article had seen the comments attacking their claims of sexual assault, leaving them feeling “violated all over again.”

This action, combined with other instances of advocacy, such as providing counsel to a student who told her that a male faculty member had sexually harassed her, led the University to deny her tenure two months later, she alleges.

University spokesperson Jeff Neal on Wednesday reiterated the University’s earlier statements that its tenure decision was based purely on academic merit.

“Dr. Theidon’s central claims that inappropriate judgments affected her tenure decision continue to be flatly wrong,” Neal wrote. “There is no merit whatsoever to her allegations of discrimination or retaliation. Any advocacy on Dr. Theidon’s part on behalf of victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault was not known, let alone considered, as part of the University’s decision on her tenure case.”

Theidon challenged the University’s initial tenure decision, filing an appeal in August 2013. During the spring semester, she was notified that the decision had been upheld in an investigatory process she said she believes had “zero transparency.” She said the investigation delivered no justification or explanation for the decision.

“She was told that it would be futile to file her appeal. And it was,” Gordon said, calling the decision a “rubber stamp” on the University's original decision.

Theidon filed a complaint with MCAD in late March, before she learned of the verdict on her appeal. On July 9, Theidon and her lawyers withdrew the complaint to prepare for legal action.

Gordon said that exactly when Theidon’s case will move forward has yet to be determined.

In the meantime, Theidon is working in Washington, D.C., through a fellowship with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she is writing a book entitled “Speaking of Silences: Gender, Violence and Reparations” as well as a series of articles based on her work in Colombia.

When the fellowship ends in 2015, Theidon will move back to the Boston area, this time as a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Democracy. Theidon will very likely enter the university in a tenure-track position, Gordon said.

“One way in which [academics denied tenure] are damaged…is they move to another institution. And they don’t move with tenure, because they don’t have tenure,” he said.

Theidon maintained that her action against the University is meant not only to vindicate her own allegations, but to end the “pattern of retaliation against faculty who speak up” at Harvard and at other universities.

—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.

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Professor Files Charge Alleging University Violated Title IX in Denying Her Tenure