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Bacow Confident in Harvard’s ‘Process Improvements’ Following Domínguez Report

University President Lawrence S. Bacow said Harvard has been putting processes in place to improve its procedures for vetting University leadership candidates during a Wednesday interview.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow said Harvard has been putting processes in place to improve its procedures for vetting University leadership candidates during a Wednesday interview. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Jasper G. Goodman and Kelsey J. Griffin, Crimson Staff Writers

University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in a Wednesday interview Harvard has been “putting processes in place” to improve its procedures for vetting University leadership candidates after an external review found a Government professor was repeatedly promoted despite a record of sexual harassment.

The report, released in February, detailed how a “permissive culture” toward gender-based harassment at Harvard allowed former Government Professor Jorge I. Domínguez to sexually harass women over three decades at the University, while being promoted to several high-profile posts. Domínguez was barred from Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences campus and stripped of his emeritus status in 2019 following his retirement.

The report attributed Domíngeuz’s ability to escape accountability for decades in part to the University’s decentralized structure. It recommended the creation of a centralized personnel record database and standardized vetting procedures.

“We have moved forward with a number of process improvements to ensure that we don’t make that mistake again,” Bacow said Wednesday.

Bacow told The Crimson in February that Harvard would move to create a system for centralized access to personnel records to prevent past disclosures of harassment from being missed during leadership promotion processes.

He said Wednesday that the school has “put together processes in the short-term to address these issues” when considering candidates for its recent appointments, but has not yet formalized its central personnel database.

“People have been vetted across multiple schools and multiple administrative units to ensure that we have not overlooked something that may have been recorded in one part of the University that was not necessarily recorded in another,” he said.

Bacow explained the current vetting process requires University leaders to manually examine records in various offices across Harvard, but he suggested a future centralized system would be more “automated.” Still, he expressed confidence in the procedural improvements enacted since the external report.

“We are in a position now so that, the same issue, were it to arise now, might be a little bit cumbersome, but we would still avoid the unfortunate outcome that occurred previously,” he said.

The report also recommended the University improve gender diversity among its faculty. A report issued earlier this year found that 28 percent of tenured faculty at Harvard are women.

“We’ve made substantial progress on gender diversity over the last 10, 15 years,” Bacow said. “A very high proportion of the appointments that we’ve made since 2007 have moved us towards gender balance.”

Since 2011, the percentage of tenured faculty who are women has increased by 6 percent. The percentage of non-tenured female faculty has increased from 37 percent to 42 percent over the same time period. Women remain most underrepresented in engineering and physical science, where only 14 percent and 18 percent, respectively, of tenured faculty members are female.

“Faculty turns over slowly, so if you just look at the overall composition of the faculty, it appears to be changing slower than if you look at the new appointments that we’ve made over the course of the last 15 or 20 years,” Bacow said.

“We certainly have far more women in senior academic positions I think probably than we’ve had in the history of the University,” he added.

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

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