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Bacow Says Kavanaugh Chose to Leave Harvard Law School On His Own

Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh speaking at Harvard Law School's bicentennial celebration in Oct. 2017.
Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh speaking at Harvard Law School's bicentennial celebration in Oct. 2017. By Courtesy of Martha Stewart
By Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writer

Facing mounting pressure to leave his post as a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School amid allegations of sexual assault, Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh decided on his own not to return to teach at the school this winter, University President Lawrence S. Bacow confirmed Tuesday.

Bacow spoke about Kavanaugh at the monthly meeting of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, less than 24 hours after the Law School announced that Kavanaugh will not teach his course slated for Jan. 2019.

“My understanding is that Kavanaugh decided not to teach this next January and that decision is year-to-year,” Bacow said. “I don’t know more of how that decision was made.”

The brief comments marked Bacow’s first public statement regarding Kavanaugh since President Donald Trump nominated the judge to fill the vacant seat left by former Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in July — and since at least three women stepped forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Bacow broached the subject in response to a question posed by Department of Romance Languages and Literatures professor Virginie Greene.

Greene asked Bacow to explain how Kavanaugh came to terminate his teaching role at Harvard. She also inquired whether Bacow had discussed Kavanaugh with Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 or other Law School higher-ups after students spent several days protesting the nominee — and after some alumni demanded the Law School “rescind” the judge’s lectureship.

Despite the demonstrations, the University appears to have taken no action to end Kavanaugh’s employment. A Law School administrator sent an email to students late Monday night informing them that Kavanaugh had “indicated that he can no longer commit to teaching” his class on the Supreme Court in Jan. 2019 and that the course therefore “will not be offered.”  The embattled nominee has taught at the Law School as a visiting lecturer since 2008.

In a speech that lasted for several minutes Tuesday, Greene criticized repeated refusals by Law School administrators — including and especially Manning — to comment on Kavanaugh’s employment status. Manning wrote in an email to students last week that he was unable to talk about Kavanaugh because of a Law School policy forbidding discussion of “personnel matters.”

“Really, this enormous thing happening right now in the country around the issues of sexual assault and misconduct, [and] truth and justice has to be filed in the drawer ‘personnel matters’?” Greene said.

Bacow responded by noting that each of Harvard’s schools “takes responsibility” for faculty hiring and firing decisions.

“Just as that judgment would be made in FAS for who teaches and when, that decision is made within the Law School,” he said. “There are times in which we are limited in what we can say.”

“Those dealing with sensitive issues are limited in their response out of respect of due diligence,” he later added.

Kavanaugh — who was supposed to teach a Law School class titled “The Supreme Court Since 2005” — initially seemed certain to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. But that was before at least two women alleged he had sexually assaulted them decades ago, complicating his confirmation process.

Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto psychology professor, was the first woman to come forward, telling the Washington Post that Kavanaugh tried to rape her at a party both attended while in high school. Ford said Kavanaugh pushed her onto a bed, tried to remove her clothes, and pressed his body into hers. She repeated these allegations Thursday in a high-stakes and nationally televised hearing in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

Following Ford’s interview with the Post, a second woman — Deborah Ramirez — went public with her own story, telling the New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself and pushed his penis in her face at a party both attended at Yale College. A third woman, Julie Swetnick, later issued a sworn statement asserting that she saw Kavanaugh engage in “inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women during the early 1980s.”

Kavanaugh has repeatedly and strongly denied all of these allegations, saying in Thursday’s hearing that the accusations form part of a Democratic attempt to block his confirmation.

The F.B.I. is currently investigating the allegations against Kavanaugh and will issue a report this week — perhaps as early as Wednesday, the New York Times reported. Senators plan to vote on Trump’s controversial nominee after reviewing that report.

Though Kavanaugh is no longer affiliated with the Law School, Harvard Law students are still working to prevent him from reaching the nation’s highest court. Students will hold phone banks this week to urge voters in key states to call their Senators to ask them to vote “No” on the judge.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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