Harvard finds long pattern of ‘unwelcome sexual conduct’ by former professor
For the first time in recent memory, Harvard University has stripped a top academic of the privileges granted to retired faculty after a yearlong investigation found a pattern of sexual misconduct by him spanning four decades.
Jorge Dominguez, a onetime vice provost and noted Cuban scholar who climbed the ranks of leadership at Harvard despite several complaints and allegations of sexual harassment, has also been barred from campus and from off-campus events, the university said Thursday.
Harvard’s internal investigation found that Dominguez, who retired suddenly last year, engaged in a pattern of “unwelcome sexual conduct” and policy violations with several individuals on multiple occasions.
“I am appalled by the report’s findings and heartbroken for those who had to endure the behaviors described,” Claudine Gay, Harvard’s dean for the faculty of arts and sciences, wrote in a message to the community announcing the end of the investigation.
Gay did not specify the misconduct found by the investigation, nor did she say whether staff or faculty neglected to act on previous complaints about the professor’s behavior.
University officials could not recall a faculty member ever being deprived of emeritus status, which includes access to research assistants, office space, and the ability to advise students.
Neither Dominguez nor his lawyer returned calls for comment.
The case has been a lightning rod on campus and served as a clarion call for the university to address sexual harassment complaints against professors and do more to protect undergraduate and graduate students. Over the past year students have demanded an external review of how Harvard handles such allegations, and the graduate students union has made more-robust sexual harassment protections a central request in its first contract negotiations with the university.
On Thursday, Harvard president Lawrence Bacow announced in a letter to some faculty that the university would conduct an external review. That review will consider what organizational characteristics or culture at Harvard discourage people from reporting misconduct and whether there are barriers to effectively dealing with allegations. The investigation will also try to ensure that college officials are aware of any misconduct complaints against faculty being considered for promotion.
But the review will not be specific to the Dominguez case, Bacow said.
“This external review will be informed by the findings of the now complete Office for Dispute Resolution investigation, but it will not be a review of that investigation itself,” Bacow said.
The allegations against Dominguez surfaced in the spring of 2018 as part of the #MeToo movement. Several women detailed their experiences with Dominguez that stretched from 1979 to 2015, in articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The women alleged that Dominguez grabbed their knees, pressed his crotch into them, and touched their buttocks when he hugged them. Two women said they complained formally about Dominguez’s behavior, and he was disciplined by Harvard in 1983.
Terry Karl was a junior professor at Harvard when she complained about Dominguez, which led to the 1983 finding by the university that the professor had engaged in “serious misconduct.” Karl said Thursday’s news was “bittersweet.”
Dominguez’s behavior pushed her to leave Harvard, but the university told her at the time that the professor would be fired if more complaints ever came to light. It took her five years to find another job, Karl said; meanwhile Dominguez continued his career at Harvard even while his behavior was an open secret. Nearly two dozen women have come forward with allegations that Dominguez acted inappropriately with them, according to published reports.
Karl, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, said she is grateful for Harvard’s actions on Thursday, “but I do have to ask why it took 40 years. . . . There is a lot of loss. There is a lot of loss of female talent. The best teachers. The most committed students.”
Last week, an internal report by Harvard’s government department — where Dominguez was a member — found that the former professor’s behavior was known among many in the department. Students warned each other to wear heavy clothing and avoid late-afternoon appointments with Dominguez, the report found. That report called it a “deplorable situation” and cited “prolonged institutional failure.”
The report also found other problems in the government department, including a lack of women in senior positions and an unwelcoming environment for women, minorities, members of the gay and lesbian community, and political conservatives.
The committee observed that only two women in the government department in the past 25 years have been recommended for tenure, compared to 14 men. The reasons varied, from women moving because of a spouse’s job to younger female professors feeling uncertain about their chances of tenure at Harvard and leaving for positions at other universities.
The committee recommended better mentoring of young faculty; hiring professors to teach race and gender politics classes, which are in high demand but scarce on campus; and more-robust recruiting of diverse faculty.
But several students said sexual harassment was not a problem isolated to Harvard’s government department. They said they hoped the external review would lead to recommendations that made students across Harvard feel safer.
Bacow has said he will inform faculty about who will be conducting the external investigation and the parameters of their inquiry in the coming weeks.
Sarah Fellman, who is graduating this month and participated in the government department’s internal review, said the university must ensure that the outside investigators are independent and that their results will be made public.
“I’m excited that I am graduating from a campus that Jorge Dominguez will never ever step foot on,” Fellman said. “What we really want to make sure is that no one is able to do what Dominguez was able to do.”