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Harvard Dean of Faculty Hoekstra Confirms Anthropology Prof. John Comaroff Still Sanctioned

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Hopi E. Hoekstra said there are still sanctions on embattled professor John L. Comaroff prohibiting him from teaching required undergraduate courses.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Hopi E. Hoekstra said there are still sanctions on embattled professor John L. Comaroff prohibiting him from teaching required undergraduate courses. By Julian J. Giordano
By Rahem D. Hamid and Elias J. Schisgall, Crimson Staff Writers

John L. Comaroff — the Harvard professor accused of sexual harassment and professional retaliation — is still prohibited from teaching required College courses, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra said in an interview last week.

“To my knowledge, there are still sanctions in place,” Hoekstra said, specifying that Comaroff is “not permitted to teach required undergraduate courses” and noting that she did not make the decision to continue his sanctions.

Besides noting that Comaroff was on leave, Hoekstra did not comment further on the professor. Ruth K. O’Meara-Costello ’02, one of Comaroff’s lawyers, confirmed in an email that he is on medical leave.

In January 2022, Comaroff was sanctioned by then-FAS Dean Claudine Gay — now serving as Harvard’s president — for violating FAS’ sexual harassment and professional conduct policies. Gay announced he would be barred from teaching required courses or taking on new graduate students.

Gay wrote then that she would determine at the end of the following academic year on whether or not to lift the sanctions. That decision would have come at the end of the 2022-23 academic year, when Gay was wrapping up her tenure as FAS dean and transitioning to the presidency.

In a follow-up email, FAS spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment on whether the prohibition on Comaroff taking on new graduate students was also still in effect or how long the sanctions would last. He did not specify why the decision was made to renew the sanctions.

In May 2020, an eight-month investigation by The Crimson revealed that at least three female graduate students had contacted Harvard’s Title IX office with complaints against Comaroff, a professor of African and African American Studies and Anthropology.

Following The Crimson’s reporting, Gay placed Comaroff on paid administrative leave, then on one semester of unpaid leave.

Comaroff’s return to teaching in the fall 2022 semester sparked a student walkout and protest. Protests continued through the spring 2023 semester, with students calling for Comaroff to resign and for the school to fire him. Harvard firing tenured professors is exceedingly rare.

Those protests also called for Harvard to take stronger action to prevent sexual misconduct and power-based harassment on campus. The University is also facing a lawsuit filed by three Anthropology graduate students who allege that Harvard ignored years of sexual harassment complaints against Comaroff.

Hoekstra, in the interview, acknowledged that “we, certainly, as faculty are responsible for setting culture.”

“That’s something that is really important to me that we set that right culture,” Hoekstra added. “Especially in the academy, which is hierarchical by nature, I think we have to be especially vigilant and have a particular responsibility to speak up and drive the changes that we want to see in this institution.”

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at rahem.hamid@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @eschisgall.

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