Feb. 18, 2022 – Statement from Nicole Merhill, Director, Office for Gender Equity and the University’s Title IX Coordinator:
Two years ago, we formed a Student Advisory Committee, with the goal of seeking input on educational initiatives and resources addressing sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct. My hope, with the formation of this Committee, was that we would hear honest perspectives from our students on how we could better serve the Harvard community. Earlier this week, the Committee convened and courageously raised their concerns regarding the impact of a statement I issued last week regarding the University’s processes and practices, specifically regarding the confidentiality of material provided during the course of investigations conducted by the Office for Dispute Resolution (ODR).
At the time, Office for Gender Equity (OGE) staff, as well as many others across the University, were hearing from community members about their concerns about the confidential nature of their health and mental health records. These concerns included some indicating their hesitancy to seek out resources, including counseling resources. My intention was to assure our community members that they could safely continue to access community resources.
I’ve since learned, however, that my statement has contributed to further concerns around trust and for that I want to apologize.
I am grateful for the members of OGE’s Student Advisory Committee for bringing these concerns forward and for the important discussions the committee members have had with OGE staff regarding this, and other matters intended to better meet the needs of our community. This sincere and thoughtful conversation is exactly why OGE created the Student Advisory Committee.
To the broader Harvard community, please know that I remain committed to improving upon the resources and supports provided to individuals impacted by sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct. I look forward to continued engagement with our community, including the thoughtful work of our Advisory Committee. It is a long and difficult road to change culture and climate, yet I remain confident that by working together we can, together, effect change.
Feb. 10, 2022 – Statement from University spokesperson:
Harvard University acknowledged the complaints made by these three students regarding Professor John Comaroff, which is why thorough reviews were conducted by Harvard’s Office for Dispute Resolution (ODR) and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). The reviews concluded that Professor Comaroff engaged in verbal conduct that violated the FAS Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy and the FAS Professional Conduct Policy. Sanctions for that conduct were issued by the FAS on January 20, 2022 and included, among other things, an unpaid administrative leave for the spring semester and limiting Professor Comaroff’s teaching and advising activities through at least the 2022-23 academic year.
Harvard University disputes the allegations of the lawsuit brought by Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, which are in no way a fair or accurate representation of the thoughtful steps taken by the University in response to concerns that were brought forward, the thorough reviews conducted, and the results of those reviews.
Feb. 10, 2022 – Statement from Nicole Merhill, Director, Office for Gender Equity and the University’s Title IX Coordinator:
As the Director of the Office for Gender Equity and the University’s Title IX Coordinator, I am deeply familiar with the University’s processes and practices, and the University’s commitment to adhering to our Title IX processes, including those related to the confidentiality of material provided during investigations. Representations that do not describe fairly or accurately the University’s processes with regard to obtaining and maintaining material during an investigatory process are extremely troubling to me because they may have a potential chilling effect on our community members’ confidence in the investigatory process and their ability to access counseling and other resources.
- Harvard’s Office for Dispute Resolution (ODR) does not contact a party’s medical care provider except when a party has indicated that the provider has relevant information that the party wants ODR to consider. In that situation, ODR receives information from that care provider only with the party’s consent. We scrupulously follow this practice.
- HIPAA privacy obligations apply to medical care providers, not the ODR. ODR relies on medical care providers to obtain the necessary HIPAA-compliant authorizations for the release of medical information to ODR. Harvard of course is concerned with treating medical information with appropriate confidentiality, sensitivity, and care. When the ODR obtains such information it is disclosed as part of the review process only with the knowledge of the affected party.
- Parties to an ODR process are informed that all documents, including medical records (as described above), obtained by ODR will be shared with both parties to the investigation (see below). A party may not supply information of any kind to be considered in the process if it cannot be shared with an opposing party.
- Parties are notified of this requirement, that information will be shared, during interviews and in writing. See Question 25 in ODR FAQs. Excerpted here:
- “Will both parties have access to the materials that ODR uses in reaching its conclusions?
Yes. During the course of the investigation, both the complainant and the respondent will have the opportunity to respond to all information used by the Investigative Team in reaching its conclusions. They will also have the opportunity to provide the Investigative Team with any additional information that they have. This information, like other information received from the complainant and respondent during the investigatory process, will be shared with the other. In addition, each party will have the opportunity to review and comment on the draft investigative report, and the Investigative Team will evaluate the comments before issuing a final report.”
- Throughout the process, draft reports, which are also shared with both sides, identify documents ODR has reviewed.
- If either party has documents that it does not wish the other party to see, ODR will not require a party to submit those documents. Rather, ODR will simply not obtain or consider those documents.