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In 1983, then-assistant Government professor Terry L. Karl accused fellow Government professor Jorge I. Domínguez of sexually harassing her.
On Thursday — nearly four decades later — University President Lawrence S. Bacow apologized to Karl in a letter accompanying the final report by an external committee tasked with determining what had allowed Domínguez to climb Harvard’s ranks despite multiple allegations of harassment over several decades.
“Harvard failed her,” Bacow wrote.
“I also apologize to those whose subsequent sexual harassment might have been avoided if Harvard had taken timely and appropriate actions,” he added.
Following the report’s publication and Bacow’s letter Thursday, Karl and another woman whom Domínguez harassed, Charna E. Sherman ’80, told The Crimson they were pleased Bacow apologized, but felt deeper systematic changes are still needed at Harvard to protect women from harassment in the future.
“As much as this apology and President Bacow’s words mean to me personally, and as st[r]ongly as I believe that they are due to so many other women, I fear that the changes that need to be made to redress systemic harassment and discrimination at Harvard and other universities still lie in the future,” Karl wrote in an emailed statement.
“Our advocacy to make changes not only at Harvard but also in Title IX and the US Dept of Education has only just begun,” she added.
Despite Harvard’s acknowledgment of its failings in her case, Karl wrote that “this is not what usually happens.”
“Make no mistake: I am the exception,” Karl wrote. “The overwhelming number of women usually lose their jobs, their confidence, and sometimes their self-respect.”
“Complacency towards harassment and abuse is so widespread that I cannot in good conscience advise other women to participate in any of Harvard’s current Title IX processes concerning misconduct by tenured faculty,” wrote Karl, who received an advance copy of the report from Bacow Thursday morning, along with a note thanking her for her persistence in demanding justice.
Sherman, a former Government concentrator who said she experienced harassment while working with Domínguez in the late 1970s, said the harassment experienced by Karl and many other women “might never had happened” had the University taken Sherman’s initial complaint in 1979 “more seriously.”
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on Karl’s and Sherman’s responses to the report.
Two Government Ph.D. students — part of a group that spent years advocating for the external review — also said Thursday they supported the report’s recommendations, though they remained skeptical that the proposals would be implemented.
Sophie E. Hill said she was relieved that the report was published into the public record, as she and other members of the Government Department Graduate Student Association’s External Review Working Group began advocating for an external review in March 2018.
“We had this feeling that there had been collective amnesia about Domínguez,” Hill said. “There were so many faculty that told us they had no idea about any of the allegations.”
Nevertheless, Hill said she wished the report credited Karl and other survivors for their advocacy towards an external review of sexual harassment culture.
“The first people to ask for an external review was not the Government department; it was Terry Karl,” she said. “Some of the other women who came forward, they asked for it a long time before, and we as grad students tried to pick that up and amplify that.”
Reva Dhingra, another member of the working group, said although it is important that the report acknowledges the “toxic hierarchies of power” which allowed sexual harassment allegations against Domínguez to go unheard, she still believes “people don’t feel comfortable” reporting harassment to Title IX.
“This is where I didn’t agree with the report: it spent a huge chunk discussing how much reporting mechanisms have improved at Harvard,” Dhingra said. “But you have people at this university who are consistently seeing that these processes are not sufficient.”
The external review — commissioned in 2019 by Bacow to investigate the circumstances that allowed repeated acts of sexual harassment by Dominguez over four decades — found that “pronounced power disparities” and “inadequate reporting mechanisms” may have inhibited a more effective response.
Government professor Steven R. Levitsky, who chaired a departmental climate review following the allegations that ultimately recommended the University launch a further, independent probe, wrote in an emailed statement that he is glad the report was undertaken by an external panel and made public.
“I learned much from it—far more than I would have had the review been done internally,” he wrote. “This is a critical step toward holding us—Harvard and the Government Department—to account for our decades-long failure.”
Government chair Jeffry A. Frieden wrote in a statement that he plans to spend the coming weeks working with colleagues “to explore how we can best learn from the report.”
“I believe that our most important task in this regard is to establish an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect among all members of our community,” he wrote. “I recognize that we have a distance to travel before we achieve that goal. I do hope that the External Review Committee report will help us move in the right direction.”
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