More than 50 percent of Harvard faculty who responded to The Crimson’s annual survey of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences indicated they felt Harvard should not have allowed professor John L. Comaroff — who has been publicly accused of sexual harassment and professional retaliation — back into the classroom.
The results come amid campus activism calling for the embattled African and African American Studies and Anthropology professor to resign. Allegations against Comaroff are also at the center of an active federal lawsuit against Harvard by three Ph.D. candidates in Anthropology, who allege the school mishandled years of complaints against the professor.
Comaroff has repeatedly denied all allegations that have been made against him.
The Crimson distributed its survey to more than 1,300 members of the FAS and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, including tenured and tenure-track professors, non-tenure-track lecturers, and preceptors. The survey collected demographic information and opinions on a range of topics, including Harvard’s academic atmosphere, life as a professor, and political issues.
The anonymous 124-question survey received 386 responses, including 234 fully-completed responses and 152 partially-completed responses. It was open to new responses between March 23 and April 14. Responses were not adjusted for selection bias.
The first installment of The Crimson’s survey centers around faculty views on the controversy surrounding Comaroff, as well as Harvard’s Title IX policies and procedures and departmental culture surrounding sexual harassment.
Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the survey findings or individual faculty responses.
Around 41 percent of respondents said they “strongly” agreed that Comaroff should not have been able to return to teaching courses, with about 13 percent saying they “somewhat” agreed. Nearly 15 percent of faculty respondents said they somewhat or strongly disagreed, with more than 31 percent saying they neither agreed or disagreed.
Non-tenure-track faculty reported higher rates of objections than tenured and tenure-track faculty to Comaroff’s return to the classroom, at about 62 percent and 46 percent, respectively. Female-identifying respondents also reported higher rates of objections to his return than male-identifying respondents, at about 67 percent to 44 percent, respectively.
Allegations against Comaroff were first made public by The Crimson in 2020, where an eight-month investigation found that at least three students had contacted Harvard’s Title IX Office with complaints about the professor’s behavior.
After two internal investigations launched after The Crimson’s reporting found that Comaroff violated Harvard’s sexual harassment and professional conduct policies, FAS Dean and President-elect Claudine Gay placed Comaroff on a semester of unpaid administrative leave, after initially placing him on paid administrative leave.
In an emailed statement, Ruth K. O’Meara-Costello ’02, an attorney for Comaroff, wrote that the survey results are “entirely misleading.”
“The Harvard community has not been provided with any of the factual findings of the Office for Dispute Resolution’s investigation and therefore has no basis to make responsible judgments about those findings or about the appropriateness of sanctions,” O’Meara-Costello wrote.
“Public discussion of the case has been heavily distorted by the media campaign surrounding the lawsuit against Harvard, by the Crimson’s consistently slanted editorializing, and by the vocal protests of a minority of students advocating punishment without due process,” she added.
In an emailed statement, Cara J. Chang ’24, The Crimson’s president, defended the newspaper’s coverage.
“The Crimson strives to bring our readers fair, accurate, and objective coverage, upholding the highest standards of journalistic ethics,” Chang wrote. “Our reporters and editors have done their due diligence throughout our coverage of Professor John L. Comaroff, and we stand by our reporting.”
When asked to expand on their answers in a free-response question, several faculty respondents criticized Harvard’s response to the allegations against Comaroff, with one alleging the school is “not committed to holding abusive faculty accountable.”
Another reported that they were “personally severely harassed and bullied” due to fallout from Harvard’s “severe mishandling” of the allegations.
Many respondents said they did not have enough information to judge whether Harvard’s response was too severe or too lenient, with one writing that this was “the limitation of a non-transparent system.”
Others objected to recent calls for harsher sanctions against Comaroff.
“He wasn’t found guilty. Either we agree to the system in place or not but we cannot agree with it only when it produces results we like,” one respondent wrote. “This is not [serious] and not just.”
Faculty respondents also weighed in on the University’s Title IX policies and practices more generally.
Approximately 36 percent of surveyed faculty somewhat or strongly disagreed that the University’s Office for Gender Equity and Office for Dispute Resolution were adequately equipped to handle sex and gender-based discrimination issues on campus, a 5 percentage point decrease from last year. Just over 31 percent of surveyed faculty agreed that the Office for Gender Equity and ODR were adequately prepared.
“The University is doing much better now than in the past, and still has much room for improvement,” one faculty member wrote.
But others slammed the University. One faculty member called Harvard’s policies “abominable, patriarchal and shameful,” and another wrote that Harvard’s “motivations are not about justice or reconciliation but instead the protection of themselves and the corporation.”
Just over 31 percent of surveyed faculty said they knew someone in their department — excluding themselves — who was sexually harassed, up from just under 26 percent last year. Of those who knew someone who was sexually harassed, roughly equal percentages were men and women — 49 percent and 44 percent, respectively.
Like last year, faculty in Social Sciences knew of someone who was sexually harassed in their department more than in other divisions: 51 percent of respondents in the Social Sciences division said they knew someone who had been sexually harassed, followed by 30 percent of faculty in the Science division, 29 percent in SEAS, and 24 percent in the Arts and Humanities.
Roughly 7 percent of faculty said they themselves had been sexually harassed, while 88 percent said they had not been — which resemble last year’s percentages, when 7.9 percent of surveyed faculty said they had been sexually harassed.
The Crimson’s annual faculty survey for 2023 was conducted via Qualtrics, an online survey platform. The survey was open from March 23, 2023, to April 14, 2023.
A link to the anonymous survey was sent to 1,310 FAS and SEAS faculty members through emails sourced in February 2021 from Harvard directory information and updated in subsequent years. The pool included individuals on Harvard’s Connections database with FAS affiliations, including tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty.
In total, 386 faculty replied, with 234 filling the survey completely and 152 partially completing the survey.
To check for response bias, The Crimson compared respondents’ self-reported demographic data with publicly available data on FAS faculty demographics for the 2021-22 academic year. Survey respondents’ demographic data generally match these publicly available data.
In The Crimson’s survey, 47 percent of respondents identified themselves as male and 45 percent as female, with 2 percent selecting “genderqueer/non-binary,” 1 percent for “other,” and 5 percent for “prefer not to say.” According to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ 2022 Report, 39 percent of FAS faculty as a whole are female.
53 percent of respondents to The Crimson’s survey were tenured or tenure-track faculty and 47 percent were non-tenure-track faculty. According to the FAS data, 58 percent of faculty are tenure-track and 38 percent are non-tenure-track.
31 percent of survey respondents reported their ethnic or racial background as something other than white or Caucasian, with 9 percent opting not to report their race. According to the FAS data, 27 percent of faculty are non-white.
—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.