Harvard Law School professor and former Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. announced in January that he would represent Hollywood producer and accused sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein, sparking a wave of student activism and heated debates over the role of the College’s faculty deans. By mid-May, the College announced it would not renew Sullivan and co-faculty dean Stephanie R. Robinson's appointments.
Sullivan has firmly defended his decision to represent Weinstein, who faces charges for rape and sexual abuse. After initial backlash surrounding the case, Sullivan sent an email to Winthrop residents in late January stressing the importance of representing the “unpopular defendant.”
In the months following his comments, scores of students mobilized in protest, organizing rallies, letter campaigns, and a sit-in in Winthrop dining hall to “reclaim” the house.
Students demanded that the College remove Sullivan from his post, citing conflicts between his faculty dean responsibilities — which included handling sexual assault-related matters in Winthrop — and his defense of Weinstein.
In early February, Sullivan announced he and Robinson would appoint Winthrop Resident Dean Linda D.M. Chavers as the “point person” for issues surrounding sexual assault in the house.
The pair of emails did not ultimately assuage student concerns. Later that month, the College tapped former Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 to lead a “climate review” addressing concerns from Winthrop House residents over Sullivan’s decision.
After months of student activism, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced in early May that he would not renew co-faculty deans Sullivan and Robinson after their term ended on June 30. He attributed his decision to dismiss the pair to the “untenable” environment they created in Winthrop.
A day before Khurana’s announcement, an investigation by The Crimson revealed that issues in Winthrop under Sullivan and Robinson’s leadership simmered for years before the Weinstein controversy. More than a dozen Winthrop staff members who worked under Sullivan and Robinson said the pair created a toxic and at times retaliatory work environment. At one point in 2016, more than half of Winthrop tutors made a pact to quit over concerns surrounding Sullivan and Robinson’s leadership, though they ultimately chose to stay.
Robinson — a law lecturer — and Sullivan still maintain their teaching appointments at Harvard Law School. In early May, before Khurana’s announcement, Sullivan left Weinstein’s legal team.
Sullivan and Robinson have since announced plans to challenge Harvard’s decision and launch a campaign centered around free speech and open discourse on campus, releasing a five-minute video statement.
Over the summer, the College appointed Institute of Politics Director Mark D. Gearan ’78 and Mary Herlihy-Gearan as interim faculty deans of Winthrop House through the 2019-2020 academic year. Students said the fall semester in Winthrop — and the Gearans’ stewardship — has been as quiet as the spring was tumultuous.
—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.
Harvard affiliates advocating for divestment from fossil fuel companies and the prison system spent 2019 organizing demonstrations to urge the University to abandon its decades-long stance against their cause.
Despite continued demands from activists, University President Lawrence S. Bacow has maintained previous Harvard presidents’ policy against divestment. The precedent — first publicly stated by former University President Derek C. Bok — argues that Harvard’s nearly $40 billion endowment has never been — and should not be — a mechanism for social change.
Still, Harvard administrators have made rare exceptions to this policy. Harvard divested from companies in South Africa in 1986 and withdrew investments from the tobacco industry in 1990. Most recently, it divested from a company tied to genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region in 2005.
The Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign — launched in 2017 to call for the dismantling of the prison system — intensified its activism this year. In February, HPDC organizers met with Bacow, urging him to divest the school’s endowment from companies with ties to the prison industry and disclose those holdings. Bacow told the organizers he responds to “reason,” not “demands.”
In a separate April meeting with two HPDC organizers, Bacow disclosed that the University’s holdings in companies connected to the prison industry amounted to roughly $18,000. He also said Harvard does not have direct holdings in businesses operating private prisons. Both assertions have been disputed by HPDC, most recently in an October report they released.
Fossil fuel divestment advocates also ramped up organizing in 2019. In March, Divest Harvard — a student group committed to convincing Harvard to divest from fossil fuels — asked Bacow to participate in a public forum about divestment. In April, Bacow made a surprise appearance at a panel on fossil fuel divestment after originally declining the invitation.
The forum included a panel with several professors who have advocated for fossil fuel divestment. Faculty debated a formal proposal demanding the Harvard Corporation divest from fossil fuels at a December faculty meeting — the third faculty meeting of the semester to focus on climate change and divestment.
At those meetings, Bacow has argued Harvard should focus on other strategies, such as research and education, to combat climate change. The faculty will likely vote on the divestment legislation in early 2020.
Administrators’ opposition did not deter student organizers. On Nov. 24, hundreds of protesters stormed the field during the Harvard-Yale Game, staging a sit-in. The demonstration — which called on Harvard and Yale to divest from fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt — continued for over 30 minutes, until police arrested some of the protesters. In early December, a Connecticut judge gave ten Harvard students and alumni community service as a result of their participation in the protest.
The year also saw the two divestment groups join forces to urge the University to withdraw its holdings from the fossil fuel and prison industries. In April, roughly 30 protesters from HPDC and Divest Harvard interrupted a Harvard Kennedy School event that featured Bacow, forcing it to relocate.
—Staff Writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.
Tensions between Harvard and its graduate student union escalated this year as the two sides attempted to negotiate the union’s first contract — a conflict that came to a head when the union went on strike in December.
Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers began bargaining with the University last fall. After spending months holding rallies; broadcasting a slew of advertisements on CNN, MSNBC, and ESPN in April; and occupying University Hall in May, union organizers concluded that, despite their efforts to put pressure on the University, negotiations had reached an impasse.
In late October, HGSU-UAW voted by an overwhelming majority to authorize a strike. In early November, organizers set a deadline of Dec. 3, the last day of classes, for Harvard to agree to the union’s proposals and avert the action. But around a month later — still with no contract in sight — student workers took to the picket lines.
The two sides have found common ground on 18 contract provisions in 29 bargaining sessions, the latest of which took place on Dec. 18, during the strike. But three major areas of contention remain which stand in the way of a contract: compensation, health care, and a third-party grievence procedure proposed by the union to adjudicate claims of harrassment and discrimination.
The strike punctured normalcy on campus during the two weeks before winter break, which coincided with reading period and final exams. Union members and their supporters picketed in Harvard Yard, disrupted package deliveries, and held rallies featuring prominent politicians, such as Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Mass.), Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern.
Harvard administrators have repeatedly criticized the union’s decision to strike, calling it “unwarranted” and harmful to students and faculty. According to labor law experts, Harvard may have violated federal labor law in one of its email communications about the strike after an administrator advised hiring managers to make teaching staff positions contingent upon whether candidates would commit to reporting to work on a position’s start date.
With the strike threatening to continue into the second semester, the University proposed engaging federal mediators in negotiations in late December. HGSU-UAW accepted Harvard’s proposal, and the two sides will bargain with a mediator for the first time on Jan. 7.
—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.
A federal judge ruled in October that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies do not illegally discriminate against Asian American applicants — a decision that came nearly one year after a three-week trial brought national scrutiny to affirmative action policies at Harvard and its peer universities across the country.
Allison D. Burroughs, the judge who presided over the case, wrote in her decision this fall that Harvard’s goal of “ensuring diversity” relies on considering race in its admissions processes and that those policies pass “constitutional muster.”
Though she upheld Harvard’s admissions policies, Burroughs suggested improvements, such as providing admissions officers with implicit bias training and clearer guidelines on how to consider race when reading applications. In a December interview, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said the College is “moving ahead” to implement these suggestions.
Despite Burroughs’ ruling, there will likely be years of litigation ahead for the high-profile suit. Just three days after the ruling, the plaintiff — anti-affirmative action advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions — filed a notice of appeal to the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals. SFFA has contended since 2014 that the College limits the number of Asian American students it accepts through informal quotas and discriminatory application rating systems. SFFA President Edward J. Blum said in a press release that SFFA is prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court, if necessary.
On Harvard’s campus, however, many students and administrators praised Burroughs’ decision. After the ruling was released, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in an email to The Crimson that he was “profoundly grateful” for the decision. Madison A. Trice ’21, who testified in Harvard’s defense at the trial, called the release a “day of celebrating.”
In the lead-up to the fall 2018 trial, Burroughs ordered the public release of thousands of pages of previously confidential admissions-related documents. These filings, which included internal correspondence among University administrators, helped drive international buzz around the lawsuit. They revealed how a review by the University’s own research office concluded that the College’s admissions process yields “negative effects” for Asian American applicants. Documents associated with the case also provided insight into how the Admissions Office rates and judges applications — and how it might favor recruited athletes and children of wealthy donors.
Legal scholars have speculated the Harvard case may serve as a “roadmap” for other affirmative action cases, such as the pending lawsuit SFFA has filed against the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Experts argue the case will drag on for several more years and could have a wide-reaching impact on affirmative action in higher education nationwide. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is actively investigating the use of race in Harvard’s process; it has also opened a concurrent probe directed toward Yale University admissions.
—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harvard’s complex relationship with race and slavery took center stage this year as the University faced lawsuits, demands for reparations, and allegations that administrators have been insensitive when discussing the issues.
A Connecticut woman, Tamara K. Lanier, filed a lawsuit against Harvard in March, alleging that the University profited off of daguerreotypes of her great-great-great grandfather, Renty, and his daughter, Delia, both of whom were enslaved. These photos — housed in Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology — were commissioned in the 19th century by Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz and are believed to be some of the oldest known photos of American slaves.
In response to Lanier’s suit, Peabody Museum director Jane Pickering wrote in December that she hopes to develop initiatives in conjunction with the museum’s Faculty Executive Committee to make the images more accessible to the public.
Improving the accessibility of these photos would help “tell the stories of the enslaved people that they depict,” Pickering wrote. “I believe we can, and should, do more.”
In September, University President Lawrence S. Bacow apologized to staff for comparing the University’s wealthy donors to slaves at an Alumni Affairs and Development meeting. The meeting, held in Sanders Theatre, was attended by hundreds of staff members, some of whom were allegedly upset by the remarks. An anonymous staff member called Bacow’s comments “tone-deaf” in an interview with the Boston Globe.
“I regret that these comments caused offense. That certainly was not my intent,” Bacow wrote in his email to staff.
Soon after his comments, several student organizations argued that Bacow should support divestment of the University’s endowment from the prison system, which they described as a modern continuation of American slavery.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston A. Browne asked Harvard to pay reparations related to the donations of Isaac Royall Jr., a slave trader who operated in Antigua and whose donations created the first endowed law professorship at Harvard.
“Reparation from Harvard would compensate for its development on the backs of our people,” Browne wrote in a letter to Bacow.
In response to the letter, Bacow and Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States Sir Ronald M. Sanders discussed posssible educational partnerships between the University and the island.
At the end of November, Bacow announced a new initiative to research Harvard’s ties to slavery and to host programs and academic opportunities related to the subject. Bacow tapped Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin to lead a faculty committee that will oversee the initiative.
“It is my hope that the work of this new initiative will help the university gain important insights about our past and the enduring legacy of slavery,” Bacow wrote in a November email to Harvard affiliates.
—Staff writer Kavya M. Shah can be reached at email@example.com.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced in May that she has stripped former Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez of his emeritus status and barred him from the FAS campus — marking the conclusion of a months-long investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct levied against him.
The Office of Dispute Resolution found that Dominguez engaged in “unwelcome sexual conduct” toward several individuals multiple times over a decades-long period, Gay wrote in May. Allegations against Dominguez of sexual harassment and assault were first reported in February 2018; nearly two dozen women have since accused him of misconduct. The University opened a Title IX investigation into Dominguez in April 2018.
That same spring, the Government department formed a committee to scrutinize the climate of the department.
In February 2019, the committee recommended that Harvard commission an external review of the University’s response to sexual misconduct allegations against Dominguez, echoing graduate students’ demands. University President Lawrence S. Bacow responded that the University would not initiate an external review until its internal Title IX investigation concluded.
While the Title IX investigation was underway, the Government department committee launched a survey of its affiliates on the climate of the department. The department reported in February that roughly a third of female respondents said their work or study in the department was “limited” by their gender. Roughly a quarter of the respondents indicated there was not a professor or “other person in authority” in the department whom they would feel comfortable speaking to about sexual harassment.
In May, the committee’s final report found that “prolonged institutional failure” allowed Dominguez to continue his abuse for years, earning multiple promotions even as the University was alerted to allegations against him. The report reiterated the department’s demand for an external review of those failings.
Less than a week later — shortly after the internal investigation ended — Bacow announced that the University would start an external review of the circumstances that facilitated Dominguez’s misconduct. In September, he told Government faculty that three academics affiliated with other universities would conduct that review.
A woman accusing Dominguez of sexual misconduct said in November that she and three other women are concerned about the progress of the review. Though Bacow has not specified when the review will end, he said the committee will issue a report to Harvard affiliates at the end of its audit.
—Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.
Harvard’s Athletics Department was thrust into the national spotlight in early April after Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced an “independent review” of head fencing coach Peter Brand after he engaged in a real estate transaction involving the family of current and former members of the team.
Brand sold his Needham, Mass. home to iTalk Global Communications, Inc. co-founder Jie Zhao for approximately $300,000 above its market valuation. Zhao’s younger son was admitted to the College shortly after the sale occurred and currently fences on the varsity team.
Zhao’s older son, who also fenced for Harvard’s team, graduated from the College in 2018. Zhao and Brand are also connected through a series of non-profit financial transactions that occurred at the time Zhao’s older son was admitted to the College.
Gay’s announcement came in the wake of a closely-watched FBI investigation dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.” The investigation charged celebrities and business moguls with bribing universities, fabricating standardized test results, and manipulating schools’ athletic recruitment systems to gain their children admission.
In response to the Athletics Department inquiry, Harvard announced that it planned to conduct trainings for coaches on its conflict of interest policy.
In July, Harvard dismissed Brand after the inquiry found he violated Harvard’s conflict of interest policy, Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise wrote in an email to athletics staff.
In September, the Athletics Department named Daria Schneider — former head coach of the Cornell fencing team — the new head coach of the Harvard men’s and women’s fencing programs.
The following month, Gay announced an internal review of the athletics department, seeking to examine the “student-athlete experience,” the culture of athletic programs, and the structure and operations of the department. The committee consists of top administrators including Scalise and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana.
Gay said that the review was unrelated to the scandals and will not concern the College’s admissions and recruitment practices, and instead was prompted by the upcoming centennial of the founding of the Athletics Department.
In the wake of Harvard’s review, other universities including Yale and Stanford also took measures to audit and investigate their own athletic recruitment processes.
—Staff writer Austin W. Li can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @austinwli.
A report by the Miami Herald in late 2018 which uncovered extensive sexual abuse allegations against Jeffrey Epstein provoked a University-wide reckoning this past year about Harvard’s ties to the disgraced financier and one-time donor.
The Miami Herald report revealed that Epstein had long operated a sex ring out of his Palm Beach, Fla. house, but secured a lenient plea deal in 2007 from former U.S. Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta ’90. Though Epstein managed to spend a mere 13 months in a county jail at the time, he was dealt fresh charges about a decade later, in July 2019. The following month, on August 10, he died by apparent suicide in a Manhattan prison.
Among the more than 2,000 legal documents unsealed the day before Epstein’s death was a 2016 deposition in which Virginia Guiffre named Kennedy School donor Glenn R. Dubin among the prominent men with whom Epstein and his associates allegedly directed her to have sex. Dubin has denied the allegations through a spokesperson.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced in a September email to Harvard affiliates that the University was conducting a review of the financial gifts it received from Epstein.
Bacow wrote that Epstein made multiple donations to the University between 1998 and 2007, totalling approximately $8.9 million — $6.5 million of which went towards Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics.
Bacow added that Harvard would additionally review donations made to the University at Epstein’s “suggestion.”
Epstein “facilitated” — but did not actually fund — a leading gift made by his client Leslie H. Wexner towards a $3.6 million building to house Harvard Hillel, naming it after his longtime associate, former Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Henry A. Rosovsky. Hillel is financially independent from Harvard.
Bacow also wrote in his email that the ongoing review had identified an unspent balance of $186,000 from Epstein, which would be re-directed to organizations that support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault. He further emphasized that all of Epstein’s donations were accepted before his 2008 conviction for soliciting prostitution.
The Hasty Pudding, however, received a $50,000 gift from Gratitude America, an Epstein-affiliated charity, in 2016 — well after the billionaire’s conviction. Until The Crimson reported on the gift in April 2019, the Hasty Pudding had listed Epstein as a 2018 “Guardian of the Sphinx” — a term delineating its top-tier donors. Following an August petition from undergraduate members of Hasty Pudding Theatricals demanding restitution, the institution announced a $50,000 donation to an anti-sex trafficking nonprofit in October.
In 2016, Gratitude America also donated $110,000 to Verse Video Education, a non-profit organization that funds English Professor Elisa F. New’s television show and digital initiative “Poetry in America.”
—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @julietissel.
Shortly after his arrival at Boston Logan International Airport on Aug. 23, U.S. immigration officials deported Ismail B. Ajjawi ’23, a Harvard freshman and Palestinian resident of Tyre, Lebanon. During the ten days he spent waiting to arrive on campus, Ajjawi’s case drew international media attention and highlighted the visa issues that some international students at Harvard face.
Ajjawi told The Crimson in August that he was subject to roughly eight hours of questioning after arriving at the airport, during which a Customs and Border Protection officer left to search his laptop and phone. He wrote that they questioned him about allegedly anti-American political posts made by his friends on social media.
Officials then canceled Ajjawi’s visa and informed him that he would not be allowed to enter the United States. He returned to Lebanon shortly thereafter, where he waited with family and fought for his return.
The U.S. State Department declined to comment on Ajjawi’s case in September; a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson wrote that Ajjawi had been “deemed inadmissible” to the country.
Ajjawi’s deportation sparked outrage among Harvard student groups, several of which organized a petition in support of him that eventually received more than 7,000 signatures. His story also drew support from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow took the opportunity to reiterate his stance on current U.S. immigration policies. In an email to Harvard affiliates, Bacow detailed his own family’s immigrant background and his concern regarding federal policies that have made it difficult for some international students to attend Harvard.
Ajjawi’s lawyer Albert Mokhiber, University staff, and AMIDEAST — a non-profit organization that awarded Ajjawi a scholarship to study in the U.S. — worked with federal officials to ensure his matriculation. Ten days after U.S. border officials turned him away, Ajjawi arrived on campus in time for the start of classes.
Ajjawi is not the only Harvard undergraduate to face immigration challenges. Some international students have also reported visa delays that can affect their ability to arrive on campus each semester, study abroad, and work over the summer.
—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at email@example.com.
Amid the departure of multiple tenure-track professors this year, student and alumni activists intensified calls for the University to create a formal ethnic studies program at Harvard, marking the latest campaign in a nearly five-decade push.
In early 2019, Harvard Graduate School of Education associate professor Natasha K. Warikoo and assistant professor of History Genevieve A. Clutario announced their departures, prompting activists to protest and write to University President Lawrence S. Bacow.
Soon after, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced she was recruiting three professors who study ethnicity. At least two of the three recruits accepted offers to join the faculty in Fall 2019. By June, Gay announced she would hire three to four more senior faculty who specialize in Asian American, Latinx, and Muslim American studies.
Gay has said repeatedly that FAS must hire more faculty before establishing a new ethnic studies concentration. The College offers an Ethnic Studies track within the History and Literature concentration and an Ethnicity, Migration, Rights secondary field, but activists have called such offerings insufficient, citing other institutions’ more robust programs.
On Nov. 27, the University denied tenure to associate professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Lorgia García Peña. Activists — some of whom had launched a letter-writing campaign in support of the tenure case in April — immediately decried the decision, citing García Peña’s Latinx studies scholarship, mentorship of students of color, and role in growing ethnic studies at Harvard.
The denial led activists to intensify their tactics, occupying University Hall and the Admissions and Financial Aid Office and interrupting a faculty meeting.
Hundreds of students also penned an open letter to administrators demanding they reverse the decision and open an investigation for “procedural errors, prejudice, and discrimination” in the tenure case.
The open letter connected García Peña’s tenure case to two other incidents, including a note left at her office that challenged her right to be at Harvard and an interaction between her students and Harvard University Police in Harvard Yard.
Hundreds of ethnic studies scholars within and outside Harvard have also signed letters condemning the decision to deny García Peña tenure.
On Dec. 9, in the wake of the protests, Gay emailed FAS affiliates declaring an “institutional commitment” to ethnic studies, stating that she would support faculty who wanted to create an undergraduate concentration in the discipline.
—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.