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Harvard Provost Garber ‘Deeply Disappointed’ With AAU Survey Results

Senior members of Harvard's central administration, including University Provost Alan M. Garber '76, work in Massachusetts Hall.
Senior members of Harvard's central administration, including University Provost Alan M. Garber '76, work in Massachusetts Hall. By Sydney R. Mason
By Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writer

University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 said in an interview Thursday he is “deeply disappointed” by the lack of progress the University has made in combating sexual misconduct after a recent climate survey found Harvard’s incident rate remained unchanged after four years.

Administered nationwide in April, the Association of American Universities surveyed 33 schools and collected data from 180,000 students, with slightly more than 8,300 Harvard students participating.

The survey found roughly 33 percent of undergraduate women at Harvard reported having experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact, up from 31 percent of senior undergraduate women in 2015 who reported experiencing some form of sexual assault.

Garber said he is “grateful” for the AAU for administering the survey and called the data “immensely valuable,” but also acknowledged that the results are concerning.

“These issues are of deep, deep concern to us, “ Garber said. “I am deeply disappointed by the lack of dramatic progress in areas of such deep concern.”

After the survey’s first iteration in 2015, the University set out to reform its Title IX programming. In 2017, administrators split the Title IX Office in two, separating those who handle sexual misconduct complaints and those who provide Title IX training and resources. The University has also institutionalized mandatory training for students, faculty, and staff.

As the rate of those who reported experiencing some form of sexual misconduct remained stagnant, 50 percent of undergraduate women and 75 percent of undergraduate men said they felt it was very or extremely likely that a campus official would take their Title IX report seriously.

Garber said that though the data is disappointing, it does not dictate how the University should change its policies.

“I have to point out that the AAU survey and most surveys of its type are designed to capture, to give us a snapshot, of different points in time of what's going on in this arena,” he said. “They are not really designed to tell us what approaches to intervention will be most effective.”

Garber also pointed out that the survey may not reflect more recent initiatives, including recently instituted bystander training. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in an interview earlier this month that he would look to pilot new forms of bystander training with the Office of Sexaul Assault Prevention and Response.

“The thing that you should keep in mind when interpreting the results is that we haven't had bystander training in place for all that long. And it may be that it will take some years to see dramatic change in some of these measures,” Garber said. “And I don't say that as an excuse. I say that to point out that we shouldn't lose faith that some of these interventions might work even if we don't see the evidence just yet.”

Other University officials have also shared their disappointment with the results.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in an email to Harvard affiliates announcing the survey results that they were “profoundly disturbing” and the issue was not something that just leadership should deal with, but rather it is an issue for people across the University.

“We must do better,” he wrote.

Garber invoked Bacow’s comments in the Thursday interview and said it is on everyone at Harvard to try and “change culture.” He said he is working with administrators examine the data and propose new initiatives going forward.

“The Title IX office, the deans, and many other people throughout the university, are in the midst of analyzing and digesting the AAU survey results with an eye toward improving every aspect of how we approach this extremely important problem,” Garber said.

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

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