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‘The Achilles Heel of Title IX’
University President Lawrence S. Bacow reaffirmed in a letter to a group of Government graduate students that Harvard would not commence an external review of sexual misconduct allegations against Government Professor Emeritus Jorge I. Dominguez until its internal review concludes.
Bacow’s email came in response to a letter from the Government Department Graduate Student Association’s External Review Working Group, which has repeatedly called for an independent investigation of the allegations against Dominguez — levied by at least 20 women and spanning nearly 40 years. In their letter, students demanded a “public” commitment to an external review and a “feasible timeline” for the initiation of such a review.
In his email, Bacow acknowledged that University administrators “have expressed a willingness” to conduct an external review, but reiterated that he believes “how best to orient such an examination” cannot be decided until the University’s Title IX investigation into Dominguez — which has been ongoing for roughly a year — wraps up.
“While I appreciate your concern about the passage of time, our adjudicatory processes seek to be as thorough and fair as possible—and that commitment, which I’m sure you share, invariably means that sometimes it can time [sic] for the work to be completed,” Bacow wrote.
Multiple students said Monday that they found Bacow’s response to their concerns insufficient.
Government Ph.D. candidate Andrew M. Leber said the letter did not clearly indicate a “real plan” for addressing the concerns of graduate students.
“When you have to put this many qualifiers on the statement, it doesn't really convey much sense that the University is taking this seriously or really intends to produce much in the way of tangible results that go beyond the suggestion that we need another institution, or need to hire another lawyer, or need to take another survey,” he said.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on criticisms of the letter.
Allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against Dominguez over a year ago, when the Chronicle of Higher Education published two articles revealing allegations of misconduct by Dominguez dating back nearly four decades.
University affiliates began calling for an external review of the allegations in March 2018, when 15 of Dominguez’s accusers demanded University administrators create an “independent commission” to conduct such a review. They argued the commission was vital to examining the institutional deficiencies that allowed Dominguez to maintain his position as a faculty member even after administrators first learned of harassment allegations in the early 1980s.
Multiple students also said they are grateful that Bacow responded to their outreach. External Review Working Group member and Government Ph.D. candidate Olivia A. Woldemikael wrote in an email that, though she believes the letter “wasn't an invitation for dialogue,” she is nonetheless “grateful” for Bacow’s response.
“We have been repeating our request for an external review since shortly after the reports of Dominguez’s sexual harassment were published in March 2018,” Woldemikael wrote. “Up until this point, it felt like shouting into a void.”
In his letter, Bacow pointed to the University’s recent efforts to establish “a comprehensive infrastructure” designed to create a harassment-free campus, including an ongoing Title IX policy review committee created in 2015 and the formation of an action collaborative this year with other universities dedicated to studying sexual harassment.
A Government department committee tasked with scrutinizing departmental culture has also called for an external review.
Committee member Sarah S. Fellman ’18-’19 said that, in pointing out existing resources, Bacow’s email “dodges the main question.”
“I think the President mentioned a lot of laudable efforts that the University is working on, but those are efforts it should be working on anyway,” Fellman said. “We certainly absolutely should be improving Title IX policy and surveying folks, but that's not what we asked for, and that's not what we need in this circumstance.”
— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.
—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.
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