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Harvard Anthropology Prof. John Comaroff Placed on Leave Following Sexual Harassment, Professional Misconduct Inquiries

Professor John L. Comaroff has taught at Harvard since 2012.
Professor John L. Comaroff has taught at Harvard since 2012. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Ariel H. Kim and Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Anthropology and African and African-American Studies professor John L. Comaroff was placed on unpaid administrative leave Thursday after University investigations found that he violated the school’s sexual harassment and professional conduct policies.

Comaroff, who has taught at Harvard since 2012, will be barred from teaching required courses and taking on any additional graduate student advisees through the next academic year, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay announced in an email to Anthropology and AAAS affiliates Thursday morning.

Comaroff was placed on paid administrative leave in August 2020 after an investigation by The Crimson found that at least three female students were in contact with the University’s Title IX Office regarding allegations of unwanted touching, verbal sexual harassment, and professional retaliation by Comaroff.

Reviews conducted by Harvard’s Office of Dispute Resolution and the FAS found that Comaroff “engaged in verbal conduct that violated the FAS Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy and the FAS Professional Conduct Policy,” Gay wrote Thursday.

“The findings of these reviews support the conclusion that Professor Comaroff’s conduct has violated the fundamental norms of our community,” Gay wrote. “In my role as FAS Dean, I have determined that sanctions are warranted and proportionate to the severity of the behavior.”

In a statement Thursday, Comaroff denied the allegations of misconduct.

“I categorically deny all the accusations against me and object strongly to the University’s failure to accord me a fair process and to respect my academic judgment,” he wrote.

A press release issued by Comaroff’s legal team said that in a separate inquiry stemming from Title IX complaints, investigators found Comaroff responsible for one incident of verbal sexual harassment “arising from a brief conversation during an office hour advising session.” But the release said that investigators found “no sexual or romantic intention.”

“Upon receipt of these results, Harvard opened a second, kangaroo court process – lacking the most elemental aspects of due process and artificially limited to a defective record – to reexamine conduct already thoroughly investigated in the Title IX process,” the release said of the FAS inquiry.

“This process resulted in an illegitimate finding that Professor Comaroff was responsible for alleged unprofessional (but entirely non-sexual) conduct in another office hours advising session,” it added. “Even in the latter proceedings, the factfinder concluded that the alleged harm ‘may not have been intended.’”

Comaroff will not be allowed to chair any dissertation committees, according to Gay. Comaroff’s current graduate student advisees must have at least one other co-advisor or may also choose to switch advisors with support provided by Harvard, Gay wrote.

Gay added that after the next academic year, she will decide “whether to restore some or all of these privileges.”

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.

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