Department Measures to Address Harassment Revelations

February 4, 2021

Message from the Chair of the Department of Government

In February of 2018, members of the Department of Government were stunned by revelations of decades of sexual harassment by Professor of Government Jorge Domínguez. It was well known that Domínguez had in 1983 been found by the University to have sexually harassed Professor Terry Karl, but I was horrified to find that his behavior had continued.

The revelations about a pattern of sexual harassment that continued for so long raised serious questions about the atmosphere in the Department of Government. It was clear that something was seriously wrong with the Department's climate. The crisis brought to the fore the feeling among many graduate students (and junior faculty) that they could not trust the Department and its leadership to act professionally, or even humanely, to address serious problems.

In the immediate aftermath of the revelations, the Department, then led by Chair Jennifer Hochschild, established a Climate Change Committee (CCC) to try to understand how this pattern of abuse had persisted for decades, and to recommend changes to improve the Department’s culture. Early on there was also a strong feeling that an external review committee was needed. An October 2018 letter endorsed by the full Department faculty called for the establishment of such a committee to assess the University’s institutional performance in the Domínguez case. A large group of graduate students similarly sent a letter to the University administration with this request.

I am glad to see that the report has now been completed and released, and I look forward to reading it. Over the coming weeks, I plan to work with my colleagues and with all members of the Department of Government community to explore how we can best learn from the report. I sincerely hope that the report will help the Department address remaining issues with our climate.

It may be useful for me to provide a summary of the Department’s actions in response to the Domínguez revelations. A timeline that helps clarify the chronology of the process is available here (all documents and links mentioned here are also listed below). As mentioned, the Department established a Climate Change Committee in March 2018. This committee was chaired by Professor Steven Levitsky, and had fifteen members, including faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates. It in turn set up seven sub-committees, which worked for over a year with the participation of dozens of other members of the Department community. The Committee submitted its report and recommendations in April 2019; the Committee report and recommendations are here. All of the recommendations were accepted by the Department’s faculty, and they have been implemented (in some cases with revisions due to the ongoing pandemic). I have reported to the Department community on our progress in implementing the recommendations of the CCC; these two reports are here and here, with the latter including appended reports on the activities of the Title IX Liaison and on the plans for a Standing Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (see below).

As part of an attempt to understand conditions in the Department, a detailed survey on departmental climate, designed by a committee of students and faculty with expertise in survey research and in consultation with staff at Harvard Institutional Research, was undertaken in October 2018. The results of the survey were processed and analyzed, and discussed in a final report issued in February 2019, available here. The Department is committed to a similar climate survey every other year; this year’s survey is in preparation.

One of the more important innovations recommended by the Committee was the establishment of a Title IX Liaison. The purpose of the position is to ensure that all members of the Department community have a dedicated point of contact for information and resources about issues related to sexual and gender-based discrimination. The current Title IX Liaison is Professor Iain Johnston; the position and material related to it can be found on the “Title IX” page of the Department of Government website, here.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommended the establishment of a Standing Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, “dedicated to ensuring that the Department of Government, in its policies, regulations, and ethos, honors the principles put forth by the CCC.” Upon the recommendations of a task force set up for this purpose, this Standing Committee was established in Summer and Fall 2020,. The committee, chaired by Professor Melani Cammett, has faculty, staff, graduate student, and undergraduate members. More information about the EDI Standing Committee, including its charge and membership, is available here.

I should mention that an important milestone in the case was a public forum held on campus on February 3, 2020. At that forum (video here, Crimson article here, Harvard Magazine article here), four of the women who first came forward with stories about sexual harassment by Jorge Domínguez spoke on campus about their experiences and their views of Harvard’s response. Their eloquent and moving testimony bore witness to the lasting scars left by the harassment, and to the need for significant efforts to rectify institutional failings.

On February 20, 2020, I sent a letter to the Department community, saying in part:

I cannot speak for the University, or for all of my colleagues. However, everything I have seen…leads me to the conclusion that the Department bears some responsibility for the persistence of the problem….[W]e have tried to address this conclusion with a thorough-going review of the climate in the Department. Nonetheless, this does not take away from the debt I feel the Department owes to the women whose lives and careers were affected, sometimes profoundly, by the sexual harassment they experienced.

I for one am deeply sorry that so many women were subjected to sexually inappropriate and degrading behavior by one of our colleagues, and that the Department was unable to provide them with the safe and secure environment necessary for a productive academic experience. I believe that the victims of sexual harassment in the Department of Government deserve our thanks for their courage and persistence in pursuit of justice for themselves and fair treatment for all.

The full message is available here.

I look forward to reading the report of the External Review Committee. I am sure that it will provide my colleagues and me with much to think about, and much to act upon. I am committed to the goal of making the Department of Government a welcoming environment for all its members, dedicated to providing the best possible opportunities for teaching, learning, and research. I believe that our most important task in this regard is to establish an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect among all members of our community. I recognize that we have a distance to travel before we achieve that goal. I do hope that the External Review Committee report will help us move in the right direction.


                                                            Jeffry Frieden, Professor and Chair

                                                            Department of Government


P.S. (2/16/2021) I have added to the documents below a report written in 1983 by the late Sidney Verba of the Department of Government, titled "Unwanted Attention: Report on a Sexual Harassment Survey." Its messages and recommendations are still highly relevant today, and it is sad that they were not taken to heart -- and remembered -- in the years after the report was submitted to the Faculty Council.


Sources on the Domínguez revelations and the response of the Department of Government

Timeline of Department of Government actions in aftermath of Domínguez revelations

Chronicle of Higher Education articles on the Domínguez case:

            February 27, 2018

            March 4, 2018

Final report on Climate survey, February 2019

Final report and recommendations of the Climate Change Committee and its seven sub-committees, April 2019

Message from Dean Claudine Gay on Outcome of Title IX Investigation, May 9, 2019

Video of forum held on February 3, 2020 with four victims of sexual harassment in the Department of Government

Chair’s message February 2020

Interim report by department chair on progress with implementation of Climate Change Committee recommendations, October 2019

Second report by department chair on progress with implementation of Climate Change Committee recommendations, June 2020

Title IX Liaison section of Department of Government website

Sidney Verba, with Joseph DiNunzio and Christina Spaulding, "Unwanted Attention: Report on a Sexual Harassment Survey." Report to the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University September, 1983.