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Concrete Steps to Change Government Department’s Climate

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 The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Since the surfacing of numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against Government Professor Emeritus Jorge I. Dominguez this past spring, the Government Department has found itself playing a large role in Harvard’s community-wide involvement with the #MeToo movement. The results of the department’s climate survey, released last week, are perhaps the first tangible outcome of its efforts to frankly and openly engage with its shortcomings in creating an inclusive and safe environment for all of its affiliates.

While we are heartened to see that the department has begun to follow through in its efforts to create internal change, the numbers these efforts reveal are troubling. The survey, conducted in October, demonstrates that a third of female respondents to the survey have experienced limitations due to their gender, with 26 percent of female graduate students reporting discrimination. Moreover, nine respondents reported that they have experienced harassment from “somebody associated with the Government Department.”

The department’s strides in uncovering this information cannot remain in the realm of statistics. Concrete action must follow.

Through the survey, the department has begun to recognize its lack of transparency, equality, and accountability. A variety of measures are being designed or proposed to respond to instances of harassment and to build a more representative committee. We are particularly excited by the potential for an ombudsman who would be able to counsel affiliates and respond to misconduct complaints. Compared to the speaker events and socials the department has been hosting so far, this position would be a more concrete step in the department’s work toward creating a more inclusive environment. We hope that the Government department will follow through on their proposals and create the necessary institutional support and resources for the role.

We hope to see the department pursue a number of other tangible goals, especially as it moves towards its April meeting to present proposals to the entire faculty. For example, the department should encourage the enforcement of greater consequences toward those who engage in discrimination in order to prevent further incidents of the likes of Dominguez from happening. This could also be done through a strengthening of the department’s relationships with women student groups in order to directly solicit recommendations from them to improve the climate for female concentrators.

For this meeting, the department should also aim to create a more diverse set of faculty members. Hiring more tenure-track faculty members of different backgrounds would especially benefit graduate students, who work more closely with tenured faculty and also tend to experience more harassment.

While the efforts of the department to analyze the extent of harassment and discrimination are commendable, there is more that needs to be done in regards to an impetus of this survey — the Dominguez investigation. We are skeptical of the internal Title IX Dominguez investigation, much as it was critiqued by 15 accusers of Dominguez in a letter to then-Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith. The signatories of the letter argued that the structure of Title IX investigations fail to provide a “full and fair” account of the long term abuses of which Dominguez has been accused.

The department should continue to strongly advocate for an external investigation, as the 15 accusers themselves have. Currently, the University administration does not plan on taking “public steps” to sponsor an external review until the Dominguez investigation is complete. Given the general sluggishness of these kinds of proceedings — and so far the Dominguez case has been no different — it is unclear when an external investigation will begin. For this reason, we urge the department to use its institutional clout to more aggressively advocate for an external review.

As the survey results were released only a week ago, the department will no doubt need more time to consider and respond to these findings. Though they have taken the right initial step, we hope that they will continue to strive to make the Government Department an inclusive and discrimination-free space for everyone.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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