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Group Begins Reviewing University Title IX Policies

Interim Dean of the College Donald H. Pfister shares his thoughts on the importance of building a supportive community within the world of academia during a panel last fall.
Interim Dean of the College Donald H. Pfister shares his thoughts on the importance of building a supportive community within the world of academia during a panel last fall.
By Andrew M. Duehren, Crimson Staff Writer

A group of Harvard professors and students from across the University has begun meeting to review Harvard’s Title IX policies and potentially recommend changes.

The committee— led by former interim Dean of the College and current professor Donald H. Pfister— has thus far studied Harvard’s existing approach to sexual misconduct on campus, Pfister said. Although the committee has no mandated goal or report, according to Pfister, it will recommend policy recommendations when necessary. The committee meets once a month, Pfister said.

Former interim dean of the College Donald H. Pfister.
Former interim dean of the College Donald H. Pfister. By Connie Yan

“We’re not charged a specific end point, but rather to be a kind of ongoing group that is monitoring and thinking about these issues,” he said. “If we find a place where policies need to be modified, we would come up with suggestions about it.”

The committee begins its work as Harvard’s Title IX policies and procedures, overhauled in July 2014, continue to be the subject of scrutiny. Professors at Harvard Law School have publicly and privately criticized the University’s approach to the issue, charging in an open letter in the Boston Globe that the Harvard's process for investigating sexual harassment is stacked against the accused. After prolonged pushback, the school eventually adopted a separate set of procedures that broke from the Harvard's centralized model. The federal government, meanwhile, continues to investigate Harvard College’s compliance with anti-sex discrimination law Title IX.

Beyond debates about policy, sexual assault became a central focus on campus last semester, after administrators released the results of Harvard's sexual conduct climate survey. The survey found that 31 percent of senior undergraduate female respondents at the College reported they had experienced some kind of sexual assault during their time at the College. In the aftermath, University President Drew G. Faust called the results “deeply disturbing” and said Harvard’s response to the issue was “completely insufficient.”

Pfister said that the committee is reviewing data from the survey and cases that have gone through the Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution, the centralized office that leads investigations into sexual misconduct at every Harvard school except the Law School.

The members of the committee come from almost every Harvard school. In addition to Pfister, the committee includes: Jean M. Cunningham, an associate dean at the Business School; Christine A. Desan, a Law professor who signed the letter in the Globe; David E. Golan ’75, the dean of graduate education at the Medical School; Sonia Hernández-Díaz, a professor at the School of Public Health; Mark D. Jordan, a professor at the Divinity School; Pamela A. Mason, a lecturer at the Graduate School of Education; Margaret E. Newell, deputy provost; Felix Oberholzer-Gee, a Business School professor; Julia M. Rogers, a graduate student; Tommie Shelby, an African and African American Studies professor; Blair Storie Johnson, a graduate student; Sarah E. Wald, the dean’s chief of staff at the Kennedy School and a lecturer there; and Langston Ward ’17.

Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

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CollegeCentral AdministrationCollege AdministrationHarvard Law SchoolSexual AssaultTitle IX