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Dissent: David Kane is Harvard’s Institutional Failure

By Tommy Barone and Christina M. Xiao
Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

Just one short year after he left Harvard mired in scandal, David D. Kane was back and then gone once again.

Kane, once a preceptor for Government 50: “Data” at Harvard, left the University in fall 2020 after allegations arose that he had authored a series of racist blog posts under a pseudonym and his contract was not renewed. Barely a year later, Kane was poised to make his return to teaching at nearby Simmons University earlier this fall until students, with the help of excellent student journalism from the Simmons Voice, discovered his checkered past. Protests ensued, and Kane’s class was canceled due to plummeting enrollment. His contract will not be renewed.

This Editorial Board has spoken before on the strength of the allegations against Kane, condemning the unacceptable harm his alleged posts caused Black students. Now, as then, we remain displeased with the failure of universities to properly vet instructors before hiring them. In this matter, however, we choose to write in dissent to emphasize that university hiring procedures do not exist in a vacuum; rather, they are another point in a continuum of failed practices that, year after year, tolerate foul misconduct by professors while forcing students to bear the consequences alone.

This latest episode in the David Kane saga speaks to a culture of negligence in higher education around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion that extends far beyond the hiring process. There is a long, ugly history of Harvard and other universities failing to decisively address misconduct by professors. This latest instance shows vividly how such dereliction of duty, particularly by an institution with the power and prestige to make change, allows the rot to fester across academia.

When Simmons hired Kane, they failed to protect their students by failing to conduct a background check thorough enough to turn up the well-publicized controversy surrounding EphBlog. Universities must carefully investigate the instructors they hire — student safety demands it. Harvard’s own failures to do so reek of negligence: For example, a new lawsuit claims that Harvard was warned of allegations of sexual misconduct against John L. Comaroff but went ahead in hiring him as a professor of Anthropology regardless. Lo and behold, he now faces numerous accusations of the same kind. In the matter at hand, just one Google search would have been enough to avoid exposing Simmons’ students to Kane. To that extent, Simmons failed.

But the blame for Kane’s return and the harm it caused lies primarily with Harvard. The very first time misconduct harmful to students occurs, the administration should respond forcefully. When the misconduct is as severe as Kane’s was alleged to be, the instructor should be fired. Information on the fireable offenses should be provided when potential future employers ask for employment records or references. There is no argument for universities to keep information on this sort of misconduct from future employers who could use that information in making their own hiring decisions. As a highly influential figure in academia, Harvard has immense power here to prevent noxious instructors from spreading their vitriol to other institutions. They didn’t with Kane, and Simmons students paid the price.

As students at Harvard, we know that our institution commands power. We want Harvard to use that power to prevent every possibility of future abuse of students by instructors. As a leader among its peer universities, Harvard can and should prevent harm.

Instead, deep institutional negligence means that right now such harm regularly begins at Harvard or is propagated through it. Our University fails to create decisive, forceful, thorough structures to deal with misconduct, sweeping incidents under the rug and allowing bad apples to fester at our University and now at others.

We want prevention at the moment that misconduct occurs — not one career appointment later. No more situations like those of Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Jorge I. Domínguez, or John L. Comaroff, where reports of harmful misconduct built and built before the administration stepped in. It does not escape us that, as we write this, two of those three men continue to teach students. It also does not escape us that a lawsuit by three graduate students against Harvard alleging gross negligence in Title IX arbitration rages on, now with support from the Department of Justice.

Harvard should use its reputation amongst universities to remove rot as soon as it’s discovered. The longer it fails to do so, the deeper the blight of misconduct will fester and spread. Students, for want of a Google search, will continue to suffer.

Tommy Barone ’25, an Associate Editorial Editor, lives in Currier House. Christina M. Xiao ’24, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a joint concentrator in Computer Science and Government in Eliot House.

Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

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