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More than a Quarter of Surveyed Faculty Know Someone in their Department Who Experienced Sexual Harassment

The first installment of The Crimson's survey of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences explores the faculty's views on sexual harassment at Harvard, workplace culture, and the Comaroff controversy.
The first installment of The Crimson's survey of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences explores the faculty's views on sexual harassment at Harvard, workplace culture, and the Comaroff controversy. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Ariel H. Kim and Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writers

More than a quarter of respondents to The Crimson’s annual survey of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences said they know someone else in their department who has experienced sexual harassment in a Harvard workplace setting.

Just over 8 percent of surveyed faculty indicated they have experienced sexual harassment themselves in a Harvard workplace.

The Crimson distributed its survey to more than 1,100 members of the FAS and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, polling tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure track faculty on their demographics, academic life, and viewpoints on various issues, including Harvard governance.

The 111-question survey garnered 476 responses, including 333 that were complete and 143 that were partially filled out. The anonymous survey, a link to which was emailed to nearly every member of the FAS, was open from April 11 to 26. The Crimson did not adjust the data for possible selection bias.

The survey results come following a semester of controversy regarding Harvard’s handling of sexual harassment. In January, the FAS sanctioned professor John L. Comaroff after a pair of University investigations found that he violated the FAS’ sexual harassment and professional misconduct policies. The allegations of misconduct against Comaroff sparked national outrage after three graduate students in the Anthropology Department filed a federal lawsuit against the school for its handling of their complaints.

The first installment of The Crimson’s survey explores the faculty’s views on sexual harassment at Harvard, workplace culture, and the Comaroff controversy.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain and FAS spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven declined to comment for this story.

Sanctions Against Comaroff

FAS Dean Claudine Gay placed Comaroff on unpaid leave in January after investigations found that he violated multiple Harvard policies. Following the sanctions, nearly 40 professors — including some of Harvard’s most prominent scholars — signed a letter questioning the results of Harvard's investigations.

The next week, three Harvard graduate students filed a lawsuit against the University alleging that it ignored years of sexual harassment and retaliation by Comaroff, who denies the allegations of misconduct. Just a few days after the suit was filed, nearly all the professors who had signed onto the letter supporting Comaroff retracted their support for the statement.

More than 50 percent of surveyed faculty indicated that they somewhat or strongly agreed that the sanctions levied against Comaroff were appropriate. In contrast, around 10 percent somewhat or strongly disagreed.

In response to an open-ended question asking for feedback on Harvard’s response to the allegations against Comaroff, some faculty reported frustration about how the school handled the investigations and subsequent sanctions.

One faculty member called the University’s response “insufficient” and “opaque,” adding that “it seems like Harvard has just been trying to deflect, deflect, deflect.”

Other faculty members who provided written responses took aim at their colleagues’ letter questioning the University’s decision to sanction Comaroff. One called the letter “embarrassing for the University.”

Comaroff has repeatedly denied the allegations of misconduct. In a statement Friday, Comaroff’s lawyers — Ruth K. O’Meara-Costello ’02, Janet E. Halley, and Norman S. Zalkind — wrote that they believe faculty opinions are “influenced heavily” by the federal lawsuit filed by the three graduate students in February against Harvard.

“We note that the lawsuit’s claims are unproven, and its most serious allegations were found, in Harvard’s multiple investigations, to be unsupported by the evidence,” Comaroff’s lawyers wrote. “We believe faculty opinions will change as more information becomes publicly known.”

Departmental Environment

Just under 20 percent of surveyed faculty indicated that they do not “believe their department promotes an environment where students, faculty, and staff feel comfortable coming forward about instances of sexual harassment.” Around 64 percent of respondents indicated the opposite, and more than 16 percent preferred not to say.

Among the around 8 percent of surveyed faculty who said they have experienced sexual harassment in a Harvard workplace setting, responses differed by gender and academic division.

About 14 percent of female respondents reported that they have experienced sexual harassment in a Harvard workplace setting, compared to 2 percent of male respondents. Additionally, 23.5 percent of respondents who preferred not to disclose their gender also reported having experienced sexual harassment at Harvard.

Across the divisions, nearly 12 percent of Sciences faculty, 7 percent of Social Sciences faculty, and 6 percent of Arts and Humanities indicated they have experienced sexual harassment themselves in a Harvard workplace setting. There was not a representative sample size of faculty respondents in SEAS.

Similar percentages of ladder and non-ladder faculty reported having experienced sexual harassment in a Harvard workplace setting — 8.6 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.

While nearly 26 percent of surveyed faculty indicated that they knew someone in their department who has experienced sexual harassment in a Harvard workplace setting, responses varied by academic division.

Out of all the academic divisions under the FAS, the Social Sciences division had the highest percentage of surveyed faculty — 33.7 percent — who knew someone in their department who has experienced sexual harassment at Harvard.

Among surveyed Sciences faculty, 27.1 percent knew someone in their department who had experienced sexual harassment while working at Harvard. Among Arts and Humanities faculty surveyed 21.9 percent indicated the same. There was not a representative sample size of faculty respondents in SEAS.

Responses also varied by gender. Among female respondents, 32.4 percent indicated that they knew someone in their department who has experienced sexual harassment in a Harvard workplace setting, while only 22.6 percent of male respondents indicated the same. Around 7 percent of female and 8.5 percent of male respondents preferred not to say.

In an interview last week, Gay said Harvard’s culture surrounding sexual harassment has improved during her time at the school, but acknowledged there is more work to be done.

“Together with the culture change, we also need to make sure that we’ve got robust policies and procedures that are able to address these behaviors and misconduct when they do happen,” she said. “Over time, certainly in the years that I’ve been here at Harvard — 16, 17 years — I’ve seen steady improvement in that aspect of our work and our interventions on these issues, and I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to evolve and get better over time.”

Harvard’s Policies

An external review published in a February 2021 report found that a “permissive culture regarding sexual harassment” at Harvard allowed former Government professor Jorge I. Domínguez to rise through the school’s ranks despite sexually harassing students and colleagues for nearly four decades.

Around 41 percent of surveyed faculty indicated that they either somewhat or strongly disagree with the assessment that Harvard’s Title IX Office and Office for Dispute Resolution are adequately equipped to deal with issues of sex and gender-based discrimination on campus.

“The Title IX office and ODR seem more invested in protecting the university from liability than in protecting members of our community from harm,” one faculty member wrote in response to an open-ended question.

Around 53 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that Harvard should allow members of the graduate student union to have access to a third-party grievance procedure for cases of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Sixty-one percent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — should revoke a faculty member’s tenure if they are found guilty of sexual misconduct by the Office for Dispute Resolution.

In 2021, Harvard formed an Office of Gender Equity, combining its Title IX Office with the Office for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. The newly-formed OGE revamped its sexual misconduct and gender-based training process and other online resources.

A set of Harvard working groups tasked with overhauling the University’s bullying, discrimination, and sexual harassment polices issued draft recommendations last month that call for a new definition of consent.

Methodology

For its 2022 Faculty Survey, The Crimson collected electronic responses through Qualtrics, an online survey platform, from April 11 to 26, 2022. A link to the anonymous survey was sent to 1,182 FAS and SEAS faculty members through emails sourced in March 2022 from Harvard directory information. The pool included individuals on Harvard’s Connections database with FAS affiliations, including tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure track faculty.

Of those faculty, 492 faculty members accessed the link, and 476 participants answered at least one question. A total of 333 participants fully completed the survey.

To check for potential response bias, The Crimson compared respondent demographics with publicly available information on faculty demographics provided by the University — information regarding gender, race and ethnicity, SEAS affiliation, and ladder versus non-ladder status. Overall, the respondents to the survey were in line with the demographics of the broader faculty.

Of survey respondents, 42 percent identified themselves as women, and 25 percent identified themselves as faculty of color. Based on data in the 2021 FAS Dean’s Annual Report, women and faculty of color make up 39 and 26 percent of FAS faculty, respectively.

According to the report, 42 percent of the FAS are senior non-ladder, non-ladder, or visiting faculty. Among the respondents to The Crimson’s faculty survey, 49 percent indicated that they are non-ladder faculty.

Of faculty who were sent the link to the survey, 140 — or 12 percent — are affiliated with SEAS. In comparison, of respondents who indicated their divisional affiliation on the survey, 7 percent reported an affiliation with SEAS.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com.

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

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