Skip to main content

Report of the External Review Committee to Review Sexual Harassment

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

In 2019, following reporting of nearly four decades of sexual harassment perpetrated by Jorge Domínguez, then a professor in the Department of Government in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Dean Claudine Gay publicly announced sanctions that, in effect, removed Domínguez from the University. The Department subsequently undertook a thorough assessment of its climate and requested that I initiate an external review to identify factors at Harvard that have inhibited reports of sexual harassment and misconduct, impeded effective response to reported misconduct, and prevented or limited consideration of alleged and reported misconduct in personnel decisions. I write today to share the final report of the committee charged with that critical work.

I am incredibly grateful to Susan Hockfield, Professor of Neuroscience and President Emerita at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for leading the effort, and to Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University, and Vicki Magley, Professor of Psychology at the University of Connecticut, for serving as members of the committee. Their task was extraordinarily complex, and they brought to it remarkable expertise and experience, as well as deep understanding of the nature of universities. Harvard—and all of higher education—will be better for their efforts.

While the University has advanced on several fronts to assure a working and teaching environment free from harassment and discrimination, the review and the recommendations make clear that we have more work to do. Robust policies and procedures now in place are of little value if they are not widely understood and adopted. Everyone at Harvard should know how they can help to create a safe and healthy community, and anyone who has experienced or witnessed unwelcome conduct should find the experience of exploring available resources and making informed decisions straightforward and helpful. To those ends, the University accepts the committee’s recommendations, and I have asked the Title IX Office to accelerate existing plans, described here in more detail by Deputy Provost Peggy Newell, to amplify and expand its critical work on behalf of the University. 

At the same time, a lack of University-wide consistency around the processes used to vet individuals for leadership positions—and of personnel files to inform such decisions—needlessly increases the risk of repeating grave mistakes. We should not let our historic decentralization perpetuate structures that privilege autonomy over accountability. In the coming months, I will be taking up these issues with the members of the Academic Council with the expectation that we will make significant headway by the end of the calendar year. Our respect for knowledge and our commitment to pursuing truth must infuse every aspect of our work.

The final recommendation of the committee is that the University “accelerate progress towards a culture intolerant of sexual and gender-based harassment.” That critical step forward cannot be taken until we acknowledge past failures. On behalf of the Harvard community, I apologize to Dr. Terry Karl for the University’s failure to assure that Domínguez met the conditions of his 1983 sanction. Harvard failed her. She deserved better, and she and others suffered greatly as a result. I also apologize to those whose subsequent sexual harassment might have been avoided if Harvard had taken timely and appropriate actions. We all owe Dr. Karl a debt of gratitude for doing the right thing, especially when it was difficult, and for being persistent in her efforts to demand justice. I deeply regret that she—and so many other members of our community—were made to feel that we turned our backs on them. Everyone deserves a fair process, and no one should ever again have to go to the same lengths to be heard.

Culture is—and always will be—rooted in our care for one another. We must hold those who harass, and those who discriminate, to task for their actions. My hope for Harvard, however, is that we will find a way to prevent unwelcome behavior by standing up and speaking out for what is right. Individuals who demean and exploit others defy the values we hold dear and must find neither comfort nor cover in our community.

Lawrence S. Bacow