Administrators responded positively to a memo suggesting Harvard commission an external review of the University’s response to accusations of sexual harassment against Government Professor Emeritus Jorge I. Dominguez, according to a report released Wednesday morning.
The report details progress the Government Department committee responsible for scrutinizing departmental culture has made since August, when it last updated affiliates on its status. The committee’s seven subcommittees have worked on issues including the proposed external review, inclusivity efforts, and departmental response to harassment, according to the report.
The department formed the 15-member group — dubbed the Committee on Climate Change — in March 2018, days after more than 20 women publicly accused Dominguez of incidents of sexual misconduct spanning multiple decades. In the wake of the allegations, the University opened a Title IX investigation into Dominguez, which is ongoing.
Committee members wrote in the progress report that faculty members drafted a memo calling on administrators to sponsor an external review by an independent investigative firm of “Harvard’s collective failure to respond to problems of alleged sexual harassment.”
The subcommittee tasked with evaluating the feasibility of an external review met with administrators and received a “positive response” to the memo, though administrators will not take “public steps” toward sponsoring an external review until the University completes its investigation of Dominguez, according to the report.
Another subcommittee considering possible mechanisms to encourage reporting of misconduct in the future suggested creating an ombudsman or harassment officer — who could be reached through an anonymous tip line — to respond to complaints.
Government Professor Steven R. Levitsky, who chairs the full committee, said he has met with Title IX Officer Nicole M. Merhill multiple times to learn about the possible “parameters” and authority of such a position.
“It was super clear in the Dominguez case that there was just a huge gulf between our community and the Title IX machinery and people didn’t know the procedures, they didn’t really trust the procedures,” he said.
Fifteen of the women who publicly accused Dominguez of sexual harassment wrote a letter to former Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith and other administrators in March 2018 arguing that a Title IX investigation would not lead to a “full and fair” review of the allegations. The women specifically took issue with the fact that participants in a Title IX investigation cannot share information obtained through the course of the probe, and they argued that a fair investigation would require independence from the University.
Levitsky said the establishment of an ombudsman position within the department could specifically help to address “gray areas,” cases that do not rise to the level of severity that would merit a Title IX investigation, but may still be “hurtful.”
“There’s a lot of reporting and communication and responsiveness that could potentially happen that falls short of Title IX and that’s a part that an ombudsperson could potentially play,” he said.
Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild released the progress report concurrently with the results of a department-wide climate survey conducted by the committee, which showed that roughly a third of female government students felt “limited” in their work or study due to their gender.
Subcommittees have already implemented several of the proposals outlined in the report, Hochschild said in an interview Wednesday.
Last semester, the committee began a new speaker series and held regular social events aimed at “breaking down barriers” between different groups within the department, according to Hochschild. And in January, the department met with experts from the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Improved Mentoring Experiences for a day-long workshop on improving departmental mentorship systems.
Committee members will present their recommendations to the entire Government department faculty in April for a vote on certain proposals; many proposals can be implemented by the subcommittees themselves. The committee will likely wrap up its efforts by early May, coinciding with the release of a final report, according to Hochschild.
She said she would not rule out the possibility of creating a “new, reconstituted” committee this fall to address any further issues, but said she hopes the current iteration will produce tangible improvements in departmental culture and processes.
“The goal is to set in place a variety of structures, procedures, consciousness, training, whatever, this year, which will then be in place into the future,” she said.
Levitsky said he believes the current committee has adequate resources to finish its work, noting that the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has been “very supportive” in allocating funding for already implemented proposals.