Harvard to Commission External Review of Circumstances Surrounding ‘Dominguez Situation’


UPDATED: May 9, 2019 at 12:59 p.m.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in a Thursday letter to Government Professor Steven R. Levitsky, who led the Government Department’s Committee on Climate Change, that the University will initiate an external review of the circumstances that led to a failure to provide a safe work environment for Government department affiliates.

Bacow’s letter comes on the heels of the conclusion of an investigation into ousted Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez, who faced allegations of sexual misconduct from more than 20 women over the course of four decades.

In response to the allegations — which were first reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education in February 2018 — the Government department created a climate change committee tasked with scrutinizing departmental culture, led by Levitsky. In its final report released last week, the committee concluded that there had been a “prolonged institutional failure” in the department and across the University that facilitated Dominguez’s abuse and echoed calls from students and faculty in the department calling for an independent review.


In his Thursday letter, Bacow consented to initiating such a review, which he wrote will use “the Dominguez situation” as a “guide” but will focus mainly on investigating the environment that allowed Dominguez’s misconduct to continue for four decades.

Specifically, Bacow wrote that the review will examine what characteristics of the University’s “organization or culture” might inhibit those who have experienced or are aware of reporting sexual misconduct from doing so, and impede an “effective response” to reports of misconduct. The review will also consider how Harvard can ensure that promotions are awarded “with a proper understanding” of reports or allegations of sexual misconduct.

The University first took action against Dominguez for sexual misconduct in the early 1980s, after Assistant Professor Terry L. Karl and a Government graduate student accused him of various acts of sexual harassment. Though the Faculty of Arts and Sciences initially removed him from his administrative positions, just two years later Dominguez was appointed as chair of both a Government department committee and an FAS-wide committee. He later served as director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and as the University’s first Vice Provost for International Affairs. As recently as fall 2017, he taught a freshman seminar.

In the wake of the revelations in early 2018 of Dominguez’s repeated abuse, 15 of Dominguez’s accusers demanded that University administrators create an “independent commission” to conduct an external review, calling Harvard “ill-equipped” to conduct a “full and fair” investigation into Dominguez.

Government department affiliates have also repeatedly called on the University to initiate such a review. Over a hundred graduate students signed a letter addressed to Bacow in March 2018 calling explicitly for an independent review. Members of the department’s climate change committee also asked University leaders for an external review in an October memo — a demand that also appeared in the April report.

“The Committee therefore asks the administration to invite a credible outside expert (or experts) to evaluate how departmental, FAS, and university-wide procedures, practices, and norms may have contributed to our collective failure to provide a safe and productive work environment for all members of our community,” the report read.

In response to demands from Government department affiliates, Bacow had stated he would wait until the Title IX investigation concluded to ensure the University's “adjudicatory processes” were as “thorough and fair” as possible.

On Thursday morning, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced in an email to Harvard affiliates that the investigation into Dominguez had concluded and that he would be stripped of his emeritus status and barred from Harvard-sponsored events.

In his Thursday letter to Levitsky, which came just minutes after Gay’s announcement, Bacow wrote that since the investigation into Dominguez has concluded, the University would move forward with the external review.

“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 wrote.

Government Department Chair Jennifer R. Hochschild — whom Bacow copied on the email, along with multiple University and FAS administrators — said in an interview Thursday that she is “pleased” that the review will follow the “questions and guidelines” requested by the department’s climate change committee.

“It’s very gratifying to me individually, to my colleagues on the faculty, to our undergraduate and graduate students, to everyone in the Government department, that the external review will get underway, that President Bacow announced it immediately,” she said. “Clearly, this is something that he and others have been thinking about for a long time.”

Bacow wrote that the University has not decided who will lead the external review and that he plans to update Levitsky on the review’s progress.

Hochschild said though the department has not officially discussed its stance on who should conduct the review, she believes that such an individual should be “very familiar” with the distinct structure of a university, have sufficient “stature” in order to “command respect” from affected parties, and be an expert on gender-based harassment.

“I’m deeply relieved that this very, very, very long history will hopefully be put to rest in a way that gives some comfort, some recognition to the people who suffered for a long time in egregious ways,” she said.

— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.