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Government Department Climate Committee Releases First Report

The offices of Harvard's Government Department are housed in CGIS Knafel.
The offices of Harvard's Government Department are housed in CGIS Knafel. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Angela N. Fu and Lucy Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

The Government department committee tasked with analyzing department culture in the wake of multiple sexual harassment allegations against retired Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez released its first report to department affiliates Monday.

The report details the creation of a new lecture series starting fall 2018 as well as preliminary plans for a departmental climate survey. The document also includes agendas and possible interim steps for the group’s seven subcommittees, as the group prepares for the release of its final report by spring 2019.

Dubbed the Committee on Climate Change, the Government department formed the fifteen-member group in March, days after the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that at least 18 women are accusing Dominguez of sexual misconduct over a period spanning decades.

In the wake of the allegations, many department affiliates said they were frustrated the department had allowed Dominguez to advance, even though he was briefly sanctioned for sexual harassment in the early 1980s.

The committee — chaired by Government professor Steven R. Levitsky and comprising faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates — met twice in April and outlined seven issues to investigate. The group split into seven subcommittees to address issues including reviewing departmental procedures for addressing harassment, improving inclusivity, and diversifying staff and course materials.

Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild.
Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild. By Zorigoo Tugsbayar

Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild said the purpose of the Monday report is “just to get it to the public arena with where we stand in regard to the work we need to do, rather than reporting on the work that's been done.”

Levitsky described the report as a “to-do list” and said the committee released it so that government affiliates could provide feedback.

“We're hoping that the agenda that we've come up with and have begun to work on is more or less in line with the broader community, and we want to get feedback from the community if it's not,” Levitsky said.

One agenda item to come out of the report is a departmental climate survey, which the committee plans to work on with Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research. The survey will likely include “a battery of questions about individuals’ experiences with harassment and reporting harassment” as well as questions about student-faculty interactions and space to provide recommendations for improving the department’s environment, according to the report.

“It will provide a bunch of our subcommittees with really important information about where to go,” Levitsky said. “We can't have a full understanding of where to go in terms of reforms, policy reforms, until we have a better understanding of the nature and extent of the problem.”

Two subcommittees — one focused on promoting an inclusive climate and one on making the Government department less hierarchical — have developed a seminar series, according to the report. The series is set to begin this fall and will feature outside scholars presenting “cutting edge research from across all disciplinary subfields” followed by a social gathering.

The report notes that as department-wide events, the seminars could act as “an opportunity to model inclusive behavior,” and could also provide the opportunity for department affiliates to hear from a diverse group of scholars.

The subcommittee tasked with reviewing the department’s performance on issues of sexual harassment recommended an “internal study of the department’s oversight mechanisms” as well as an “external review.”

The “internal study” would use public historical records to examine the department’s policies established in the past several decade. While the report calls an independent review “essential to moving forward,” both Levitsky and Hochschild said it is uncertain whether such an external review will feasible.

“The thing about an external review is it requires first and foremost funding from the administration, from the FAS or university administration,” Levitsky said.

The University is currently conducting a review of the allegations against Dominguez. Days after the publication of the Chronicle articles, former Dean of FAS Michael D. Smith announced that Dominguez had been put on paid “administrative leave” pending the results of the investigation. Dominguez retired at the end of the spring semester.

While the committee’s report explicitly states their own review “would not investigate facts specific to the Jorge Domínguez case,” Levitsky acknowledged the difficulties of separating Dominguez’s case from the topic of sexual harassment in the department, calling it one of the “trickiest issues.”

“That possibility, that there would be sort of bleeding over into the Dominguez case is one reason why many people are reluctant or skeptical about our ability to do an external investigation,” Levitsky said. “The one problem we're still trying to sort out is how not to intersect with the investigation.”

The committee plans to present a summary of its progress at one of the faculty meetings in the fall and will create public avenues for feedback from department affiliates, including the possibility of a town hall meeting.

Hochschild said she feels “terrific” about the committee’s work so far.

“I think the meetings so far have been substantive, have been thoughtful, have been generally trying to sort out what to do about these complex and controversial issues. They've got to-do lists, they're doing some of their own research,” Hochschild said. “They're moving along.”

Correction: August 31, 2018

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that FAS is conducting a review of the allegations against Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez. In fact, the University is conducting a review of the allegations against Dominguez.

—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22.

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