A Ph.D. student and two former lawyers — all unaffiliated with Harvard — filed a Title IX complaint with the United States Department of Education, alleging the University had created “a hostile environment against men.”
The complaint — which, if opened for investigation, would join three ongoing probes into Harvard’s Title IX compliance — was filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, according to its authors. The complainants contend that, by maintaining ties with the American Psychological Association, Harvard is endorsing the APA’s new guidelines on the potential harm of “traditional masculinity,” and therefore discriminating against men.
The complaint suggests that the APA revise its guidelines or that Harvard eliminate its relationship with the APA.
The original authors of the undated complaint are Kursat Christoff Pekgoz, who said he is a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California; John Davis, who said he is a lawyer affiliated with the Perses Institute; and James Preston, who is an inactive member of the Washington, D.C. bar. A version of the complaint available on Pekgoz’s personal website as of Tuesday evening omits the two lawyers’ names. None of the authors have direct ties to Harvard.
This is not the first Title IX complaint Pekgoz has filed — last year he leveled a complaint against Yale University with OCR, prompting an investigation into the school’s single-gender programs and scholarships specifically benefitting women. Pekgoz also filed a similar complaint against the University of Southern California. OCR later opened up an investigation into allegations of discrimination against men by USC. None of the resulting investigations have concluded.
Pekgoz has also filed complaints against Georgetown University and Northeastern University, according to his website.
The complaint against Harvard is not currently listed on the Department of Education’s website as an open investigation; the website was last updated Dec. 28, 2018. Harvard also has not received official word of the complaint yet, according to University spokesperson Jonathan Swain.
When asked to confirm whether the complaint had been filed, a spokesperson for the Department of Education wrote in an emailed statement that OCR does not acknowledge complaints unless or until they have been accepted for investigation.
In the meantime, both Pekgoz and Davis said they remain committed to their belief that the APA guidelines are harmful to male students.
“When we read the recently published guidelines, it was clear to us that the ‘guidelines’ represent a pervasive set of ideological distortions among psychologists,” Davis wrote in an emailed statement. “We believe those ideological distortions result from misandry and hostility towards men and boys.”
Pekgoz agreed, noting that he is specifically concerned by what he said was the APA’s “attempt to classify masculinity as a form of mental illness.” He also wrote that Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker has criticized the APA guidelines and that Pinker’s critique was “consistent” with the reasoning behind the complaint.
Pinker — who said he is a fellow of the APA — wrote in an emailed statement that he has not had any contact with the complaint’s authors.
“If there’s specific evidence that Harvard discriminates against men, that has to be taken seriously, but the new report and its silly statements are a red herring,” he wrote, referring to the APA’s new guidelines. He added that Harvard’s ties to the APA are “completely irrelevant.”
“You can’t have psychologists or a psychology department without ties to the APA,” Pinker wrote.
Anyone may file a Title IX complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, regardless of whether or not they themselves are a victim of the alleged discrimination. OCR then determines whether or not it has the legal authority — and sufficient information — to open an investigation.
Colby Bruno, senior counsel with the Victim Rights Law Center, described the complaint as “once or twice removed” from the original intent and reach of Title IX.
“It sounds more to me like they have a problem with the APA, and I’m not sure that would go anywhere,” she said.
“Maybe this wasn’t the best time to file it,” she said.
— Staff writer Iris M. Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.