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As you sift through concentration requirements, plow through the Q Guide, and search my.harvard for ‘gems’ during early registration for spring courses, be careful. That class you’ve just added to your Crimson Cart might be taught by someone facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.
At a university that seems to consistently prioritize profit and prestige over the safety of its students, a ‘nightmare prof’ can sometimes mean something much worse than harsh grading. This spring, Harvard is allowing two professors who were found to have violated the University’s sexual harassment policies to teach students.
Anthropology and African and African-American Studies professor John L. Comaroff was placed on unpaid administrative leave in 2022 after internal reviews of multiple sexual harassment and professional retaliation allegations. A lawsuit filed against Harvard by three Anthropology graduate students detailed accounts of unwanted kissing, groping, and sexual remarks, in addition to retaliation, by Comaroff during his time at Harvard and the University of Chicago. Still, the professor has denied any wrongdoing.
But a federal judge found evidence that Harvard “engaged in a long-term pattern and practice of indifference to complaints of sexual harassment” against Comaroff and two other senior Anthropology professors. Masses of students, including the three of us, staged a walkout, a rally, and an occupation of University Hall last spring to protest his continued employment. Yet Comaroff remains on the faculty.
Hopi E. Hoekstra, the new dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, recently confirmed that, to her knowledge, Comaroff is still sanctioned, specifying that he is not allowed to teach required courses.
This restriction is the absolute bare minimum. He’s still teaching two African and African American Studies courses this spring. Both require students to personally email him why they would like to take his class — granting Comaroff full discretion over who can be his student. Both courses are also fully remote. After the walkout during the most recent class he taught this spring, it looks as if he may be avoiding the accountability of showing his face on campus.
In the Economics department, professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. is also teaching next semester. In 2018, Fryer was the subject of at least four Harvard investigations; another at the state level was eventually withdrawn. In 2019, Fryer was placed on a two-year administrative leave after an investigation found he had verbally harassed women and fostered a hostile work environment in his former lab, in violation of the University’s sexual harassment policies.
When Fryer returned to teaching in 2021, he wrote an apology letter that was shared with the Economics department. Fryer was then prevented from holding advisory or supervisory positions for another two years. But at this point in time, it’s unclear whether those sanctions are still in place.
Fryer’s name may seem especially familiar to many upperclassmen, for he has previously served as a guest lecturer for the weekly special lecture series in one of the largest courses at Harvard, Economics 10: “Principles of Economics” — sessions that students must attend in-person or rewatch recordings of online.
Meanwhile in the Mathematics and Biology departments, professor Martin A. Nowak was formerly the head of a program that received significant donations from convicted sex offender Jeffrey E. Epstein and granted Epstein unrestrained access to the facility on Harvard’s campus. Nowak was put on paid administrative leave in 2020. In 2021, he was barred from serving as Principal Investigator on grants or taking on new advisees, but he remained able to teach undergraduate courses. These remaining sanctions were fully lifted in March of this year — allowing Nowak to quietly teach a Mathematics course this semester.
And these are three cases of professors publicly found guilty and sanctioned — by a university which has been sued for its Title IX failures.
If Comaroff was still hired at Harvard despite decades of alleged sexual misconduct at the University of Chicago, and Government professor Jorge I. Domínguez, now retired, was allegedly able to sexually harass and assault at least 18 women over the span of nearly 40 years without retribution, it’s easy to imagine that many other abuses may have slipped through the cracks — or been willfully ignored.
Harvard’s functional refusal to fire tenured professors who’ve been found to have violated sexual harassment policies forces students to choose between their education and their safety. We’re supposed to freely pursue academic exploration, take advantage of a transformative experience, and avoid 9 a.m. classes on Fridays — not spend our time Googling whether or not our potential instructor has charges of sexual violence against them.
It’s a shame that the University seems to believe otherwise.
The Harvard administration’s pattern of punishing professors who have violated sexual harassment policies by putting them on temporary leave, and then quietly allowing them to come back relatively unscathed, further endangers younger students who may be unaware of their professors’ checkered histories.
Harvard’s current official procedure for formal complaints of alleged harassment showcase a similarly alarming leniency toward faculty. While the discipline proceedings for a Title IX complaint against a student detail an involved Administrative Board procedure and examples of disciplinary actions, the corresponding procedure for a complaint against a faculty member is less defined, designating the responsibility of discipline solely to the FAS dean or their designee.
This utter lack of transparency exacerbates the problem. As the administration continues to quietly allow professors found guilty of sexual misconduct to return to teaching, we, the students, must protect each other — because Harvard has failed to.
Eunice S. Chon ’26 is a double concentrator in History of Science and Philosophy in Kirkland House. Rachael A. Dziaba ’26, a Crimson Editorial comper, is a Social Studies concentrator in Currier House. Olivia G. Pasquerella ’26, a Crimson Magazine editor, is a joint concentrator in Social Studies and Philosophy in Pforzheimer House. They are organizers with the Harvard Feminist Coalition, formerly known as Our Harvard Can Do Better.
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