‘Long-Standing Pattern of Behavior’

Harvard revokes emeritus status and retirement privileges from professor who was found to have harassed women for decades.

May 10, 2019
 
Jorge Domínguez

After determining that a once-respected professor of government used his job to harass women for nearly 40 years, Harvard University banned him from campus and off-campus events and revoked his emeritus status and retirement privileges.

Claudine Gay, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, on Thursday announced the findings and sanctions against Jorge Domínguez, former Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico, Emeritus, and onetime vice provost for international affairs.

Harvard’s Office for Dispute Resolution conducted “a thorough and careful review of all formal allegations” against Domínguez and concluded “that he engaged in unwelcome sexual conduct toward several individuals, on multiple occasions over a period spanning nearly four decades,” Gay said.

The findings “reveal a long-standing pattern of behavior that, at several points, violated policies designed to ensure a safe and nondiscriminatory educational and work environment,” she added. “I am appalled by the report’s findings and heartbroken for those who had to endure the behaviors described.”

The findings weren’t exactly a surprise. A committee of professors, staff members and students said last week that their own review of the case found a “deplorable situation” and a “prolonged institutional failure” in Domínguez’s former department, government.

Domínguez’s behavior was an "open secret" but ignored, the committee wrote in a letter to Harvard’s president, Lawrence Bacow, and other administrators. And the fact that Harvard kept promoting Domínguez signaled that his misconduct didn’t matter, the committee said. It called for an external review of the case to better “analyze what went wrong.”

Domínguez could not immediately be reached for comment, and he has not commented publicly about the committee's findings against him.

Yearlong Inquiries

If Domínguez’s behavior was an open secret inside Harvard, it become an open secret outside Harvard last year, when several women publicly accused him of harassment. The accounts spanned from 1979 to 2015. The women, former junior colleagues and students, said Domínguez repeatedly tried to kiss them, put his hand up their skirts, made inappropriate sexual or threatening comments, and more, despite their objections to his advances.

Harvard reportedly disciplined Domínguez in 1983, but his star continued to rise.

He retired last year, soon after he was implicated in Me Too. Since that time, many on campus have criticized Harvard as being too lenient with harassers.

Gay in her announcement said that “there is always a tension between the privacy of the impacted parties and the needs of the broader community” in such cases. But with Harvard’s investigation complete, she said, sharing the outcome is “vital for the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff.”

Following policies and procedures “has resulted in a set of sanctions that, in effect, removes Jorge Domínguez from our community.”

Sanctions for documented violations of Title IX of the Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination, are determined by the relevant school, Gay explained, and they “should be proportionate to the seriousness of the violations.”

Gay said her own decision-making process also was informed by the belief that “sexual harassment constitutes a form of discrimination that is both personally damaging for those who experience it and is an assault on our faculty’s fundamental commitments to equity and academic excellence.”

She praised those who came forward as part of the investigation, as well as the government department for “affirmative steps taken” to “better understand the concerns being expressed within their community and to engage their faculty, students and staff in defining interventions to strengthen their culture.”

Steve Levitsky, a professor of government who led the joint committee’s review of his department, told The Boston Globe that there remains “a major trust deficit between students and faculty.” Of the Domínguez case, he said, “Either we didn’t know and were incompetent or knew and covered it up,” and, “This weighs heavily on all of us.”

Reforms Ahead

Levitsky’s committee recommended training and reporting-related reforms, among others. Harvard will soon pilot a universitywide anonymous reporting system, according to the Globe.

While the report focused on sexual harassment, it found grave disparities in tenure rates for men and women in the department and a questionable overall climate for women, racial minorities, LGBTQ people and conservatives. Why does that matter? A major 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that harassment is more likely to occur in poor learning and research climates, where incivility and disrespect are tolerated.

Members of Harvard’s United Auto Workers-affiliated graduate student union recently protested the university’s response to sexual misconduct, including Domínguez’s, on campus. The students, who are negotiating their first agreement with the university, want contractual protections against sexual harassment and assault.

Rachel Sandalow-Ash, a second-year law student and research assistant, said Thursday that “Harvard failed to manage this growing crisis on its campus for 42 years. The system is broken.”

Harvard “can't be allowed to police itself,” she said. “We need strong protections against discrimination and harassment in our union contract, including a neutral third-party grievance procedure.”

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