Fifteen women who accused Professor Jorge I. Dominguez of sexual harassment sent a letter to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith Thursday arguing Harvard is “ill-equipped” to investigate Dominguez and demanding the University take new steps to ensure a “full and fair” review.
University President Drew G. Faust, Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, and Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild received copies of the letter.
The authors of the letter wrote that, based on their interactions with the Title IX Office, Harvard is incapable of conducting its avowed “full and fair” investigation into the allegations against Dominguez. The women call for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Dominguez’s alleged history of sexual misconduct and lay out seven criteria needed to ensure a full review of the case.
In late February and early March, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that at least 18 women are accusing Dominguez of repeated sexual harassment across the past four decades.
Shortly after the publication of these articles, Smith announced FAS would review the allegations against Dominguez and also announced administrators were placing Dominguez on paid “administrative leave.” The following day, Dominguez announced he would retire from his teaching position at the end of the school year and would step down from all administrative positions immediately.
Six women signed the letter with their names, while the remaining nine chose to remain anonymous, though they noted their connection to Harvard. Four of the women were undergraduates in the Government department, and three received Government Ph.D.s from Harvard. Two—Yoshiko M. Herrera and Terry L. Karl—were Government professors. Three women identified only as Harvard staffers also signed the document.
The signatories requested that the University Title IX office reach out “proactively” to women who worked with Dominguez.
University spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven wrote in an emailed statement earlier this month that FAS has begun outreach to “students and post-docs who have worked closely with Prof. Dominguez.”
Several women, however, said this is not enough.
Harvard has shown it is incapable of investigating these stories, that its procedures and policies do not work.
Herrera, a former associate professor of Government, said in an interview she thinks Harvard needs to expand its outreach to include former junior faculty who may have come into contact with Dominguez. She also said the University needs to look beyond people who “worked closely” with Dominguez.
“By only looking for people he closely worked with, you're not going to get all of the people who he might have harassed because some of those people would have specifically decided not to work closely with him,” Herrera said.
She added the University has not reached out to her in an “institutional or official” manner, meaning no University or FAS administrators have contacted her to date. She said she has, however, been in touch with Hochschild.
Nienke C. Grossman ’99, a former Government concentrator who also signed the letter, said it is important Harvard begin reaching out to people instead of waiting for them to contact the University.
“You can't just rely on people reaching out to you if you want a complete record, or a reasonably complete record,” Grossman said. “By reaching out to people, Harvard is showing the community that it takes this seriously and that it cares.”
Karl, another signatory of the letter and the main subject of the original Chronicle article, wrote in an emailed statement Thursday that she contacted Faust the day the first Chronicle article was published. Karl wrote an email to Faust asserting she possesses documents that are “directly relevant to the choice of appropriate sanctions” for Dominguez.
In an email obtained by The Crimson, an employee in Faust’s office responded to Karl and wrote she had given Karl’s name to the Title IX Office. The employee added Title IX officials would contact Karl if the staffers “need further information from you.”
Karl said she has not received any communication from the Title IX Office about her documents in the weeks since this email exchange.
In the letter Thursday, the women also wrote they submitted a list of 10 questions to the Title IX Office following the Chronicle articles. The women repeatedly noted it took 10 days for the office to respond to these questions.
Suzanna E. Challen, a former government Ph.D. student and one of three women who reached out to the Title IX Office about Dominguez in Nov. 2017, said Title IX officials told the women in Jan. 2018 that the office did not plan to take further action regarding their case.
“In January 2018, the Title IX Officer told us he would take no further action in investigating our reports unless we filed formal complaints due to ‘multiple situations with ongoing harassment,’” the letter reads.
A University spokesperson for Title IX did not comment on specific criticisms of the office.
In the letter, the women wrote they would “like for Harvard University to commit to conducting an investigation that meets the following requirements” before detailing seven criteria.
If you want to look at this system, you can't have the system itself doing the looking.
The seven suggestions include the proposal that Harvard conduct an independent investigation, in addition to an official Title IX investigation, to determine “what conditions gave rise to this situation and what can be done to prevent this from happening again.”
Dominguez was sanctioned for sexual harassment in 1983, after Karl came forward with accusations of harassment, but was not stripped of his position and continued to rise though Harvard’s ranks.
Karl said she thinks Harvard is “experiencing a massive system failure.”
“There are at least 20 women between 1979 and quite recently that have said they have been harassed by this individual,” Karl said. “That means that Harvard has shown it is incapable of investigating these stories, that its procedures and policies do not work, and that it would behoove the institution greatly to hire an outside agency that is experienced in issues of sex discrimination and sexual harassment because if you do not understand these issues, then you cannot investigate them.”
Charna E. Sherman ’80, a former Government concentrator who said she experienced harassment while working with Dominguez in the late ’70s, also said the investigation needs to be independent, given the fact that Dominguez’s behavior persisted over several decades.
“If you want to look at this system, you can't have the system itself doing the looking,” Sherman said. “We need a thorough investigation, it needs to be independent, and there needs to be commitment in advance that it be public."
The letter also asks the University to “not investigate complainants or witnesses for retaliation for sharing information acquired during the Title IX process.”
"There is a clause of confidentiality which would basically make it possible for witnesses or complainants, meaning the women who are participating in the process, to be investigated for retaliation if we speak about any information we learn as part of the Title IX process,” Challen said. “That's not something that we feel comfortable agreeing to.”
The women’s other suggestions include allocating more resources to the Title IX Office and making public the final report of any investigation Harvard undertakes.
Grossman, who has been in contact with the Title IX Office since last November along with Challen, said the office informed them Monday it had prepared a complaint with a list of potential complainants or witnesses. The office told them they could file a complaint themselves or serve as witnesses.
“I very much would like to file a complaint,” Grossman said. “But I want to see first how the University responds because the process needs to be a process that is full and fair, as the University has said it wants to do.”
Challen said she believes the Title IX Office needs support from Harvard at this moment in particular.
"I think it's important for the University to adequately put resources behind its Title IX Office right now,” Challen said. “It's my understanding that there's more complaints as a result of the publicity, combined with the #MeToo movement more generally."
Since the establishment of the central Title IX Office in 2014, the University has seen an increase every year in the number of reports of sexual misconduct across Harvard. As of Dec. 2017, complaints had spiked by 20 percent in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal that sparked the #MeToo movement.
The women wrote that they are addressing Smith specifically because they believe he has the ability to dictate the terms of the investigation.
Smith could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Cowenhoven wrote in an emailed statement that “the University is committed to a full and fair review of the allegations surrounding Jorge Dominguez in accordance with our Title IX policy and procedures.”
—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.
—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22