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Dominguez Accusers Criticize Harvard’s External Review During Panel

The Government Graduate Student Association Working Group hosted a panel called "Making #MeToo Count: Achieving Institutional Change at Harvard" on Monday.
The Government Graduate Student Association Working Group hosted a panel called "Making #MeToo Count: Achieving Institutional Change at Harvard" on Monday. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By James S. Bikales and Kevin R. Chen, Crimson Staff Writers

Four women who have accused former Government professor Jorge I. Domínguez of sexual misconduct criticized Harvard’s external review of the circumstances that enabled the misconduct during a panel Monday.

The women — former Government assistant professor Terry L. Karl, former Government Ph.D. candidate Suzanna E. Challen, former Government concentrator Nienke C. Grossman ’99, and former Government concentrator Charna E. Sherman ’80 — shared their experiences in a Government Department auditorium filled with more than 100 people.

They were joined by Harvard Law School student Sejal Singh and civil rights attorney Debra S. Katz, who represented Christine Blasey Ford after Ford accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 2018.

In 2018, 18 women — including the four panelists — brought allegations of sexual misconduct against Domínguez spanning four decades.

Karl — whose allegations prompted the Chronicle of Higher Education investigation that first made public Domínguez’s misconduct public — said the panel marked her first return to Harvard’s campus in three and a half decades. She requested an “apology” from Harvard and a “confession” that the University failed to protect her and other women harassed by Domínguez.

Multiple panelists criticized Harvard’s continued promotion of Domínguez even as multiple people brought complaints about his behavior to its attention over the years.

Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay stripped Domínguez of his emeritus status and banned from campus following the conclusion of the Title IX investigation in May 2019. The same day, University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced that the University would initiate an external review of the circumstances that led to a failure to provide a safe work environment for Government department affiliates — a measure the women and graduate students in the department had called for since the allegations became public.

The four women met with the external review committee before Monday’s discussion. Grossman said during the panel that she feels there is a “worrisome lack of transparency” about the committee’s method and goals.

“Who are they meeting with? Are they considering best practices or research in designing their approach? What form will the findings take? Will they be public? Has Harvard committed to responding to these recommendations?” Grossman said. “Today we met with the external review committee, and they did not answer these questions.”

In a Sept. 6 email to Government professor Steven R. Levitsky, Bacow wrote that he charged the committee with using the Domínguez case to “frame the review,” rather than conducting a “re-investigation of the allegations” against Domínguez.

Sherman wrote in an email after the panel that, in her meeting with the committee, she “directly challenged” the premise that it would be able to accomplish its mission without a “full record of the past,” including re-examining complaints against Domínguez.

“I think it’s fair to say the Committee disagreed,” Sherman wrote.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement that the external review is “ongoing” and working to collect information through conversations and in writing.

“The committee and the University are committed to ensuring this review is a robust examination of factors that may undermine the ability to prevent or address incidents of sexual harassment and assault,” Swain wrote.

At the end of the panel, the women called on Harvard to adopt a third-party grievance procedure for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. The panel was co-hosted by the Government Graduate Student Association and Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers, which has made sexual harassment protections a central goal in its contract negotiations with the University.

The union has proposed that student workers be given an option to raise complaints through a union grievance procedure — a dispute resolution mechanism outside of internal Harvard channels that could eventually lead to third-party arbitration in some cases. The University, on the other hand, has insisted that these complaints be handled through Title IX and its Office for Dispute Resolution, and through internal discrimination procedures.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

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