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Bacow Responds to DeVos's Proposed Title IX Rules, Releases Policy Report

Picture of Bacow at Inauguration
University President Lawrence S. Bacow poses for a photo at his inauguration in October 2018.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow released a long-awaited report reviewing the University's Title IX policies and addressed concerns over how Harvard will adapt its policies to new proposed government rules in an email to students Thursday.

Last month, United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released proposed revisions to rules for enforcing Title IX, an anti-sex discrimination law that guides universities’ approach to handling sexual assault. If codified in their current form at the end of a public comment period, DeVos's guidelines would necessitate changes to Harvard’s current policies and procedures.

Bacow wrote in his email that the University is “carefully reviewing” the proposal. He said administrators would share Harvard’s concerns with higher education associations planning to submit comment, indicating that the University will not offer its own comment. He also acknowledged student concern over the proposed changes.

“I write today to assure you that I will not rest until Harvard has done all that it can to prevent sexual and gender-based harassment and assault, and to encourage people to share their concerns with confidence in the institution’s ability to act on them,” Bacow wrote.

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Students from anti-sexual harassment group Our Harvard Can Do Better joined a rally in Boston’s City Hall Plaza Thursday to deliver a letter to DeVos opposing the proposed rules. The group previously called on Harvard to submit comment regarding the rules.

In his email Thursday, Bacow also included a report from the University’s Title IX Policy Review Committee, which formed under former University President Drew G. Faust in 2015. The group — chaired by Professor Donald H. Pfister — began work with an updated charge from Faust in March after decades-old allegations of sexual harassment against Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez surfaced in February.

Eighteen women publicly accused Dominguez of sexual harassing them between 1979 and 2015. In a subsequent communication to the review committee updating its mission, Faust wrote about needing to earn the trust of community members and to recognize the power dynamics inherent in academic life.

“We need to acknowledge the profound influence members of the faculty have over junior faculty and students,” she wrote.

The resulting report, which the committee sent to Bacow in October, includes 10 primary recommendations. The report suggests increasing communication between Title IX administrators and students, sharing more information about Title IX complaints with students and other University affiliates, increasing transparency around potential consequences for misconduct, addressing “gray zones” of misconduct, creating new avenues for reporting policy violations, and setting clear standards for behavior and relationships.

“We must empower people to educate themselves about the issues and to understand the role that bystanders can play in intervening and preventing harassment,” Bacow wrote in his email. “We must create the conditions where people feel secure in disclosing harassment when it does happen and to seek resolution.”

In his email, Bacow also linked to a separate letter he sent to the committee yesterday outlining steps he has taken since receiving its recommendations. Bacow wrote that he had accepted all of the group’s suggestions. He wrote that he has asked the Title IX Office to develop electronic complaint filing and electronic disclosure systems, instructed the Office of the General Counsel to work with schools to develop policies for “gray area” conduct, and explored expanding confidential peer reporting services to Harvard's graduate schools.

Bacow wrote that the Title IX Office and the Office for Dispute Resolution — which investigates formal Title IX complaints independently from the Title IX Office — will release their annual joint report on sexual misconduct incident rates and prevention efforts next week.

Soon after Bacow sent his email, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Claudine Gay followed with a separate email focused on similar issues.

Gay wrote that it is important to collect good data about campus climate surrounding sexual misconduct, to recognize power imbalances between senior and junior faculty that can lead to harassment, and to address conduct that does not fall under Title IX policies but is damaging nonetheless.

“We must set about the challenge of preventing sexual and gender-based harassment and discrimination with the urgency, seriousness, and resourcefulness we would bring to bear on any threat to our mission of academic excellence,” she wrote.

The University is scheduled to take part in a sexual misconduct climate survey in the spring, four years after it participated in similar survey that found that thirty-one percent of senior undergraduate women said they had experienced some form of sexual assault while enrolled at the College.

—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at jamie.halper@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.

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