Jorge Domínguez to Retire Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations

The announcement comes one week after The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 10 women accused Domínguez of sexual harassment. 

Jorge Domínguez 

Madero professor for the study of Mexico Jorge Domínguez, a member of the department of government in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), will retire from his position at the end of the semester, he wrote today to Jennifer Hochschild, chair of the department. The announcement comes one week after The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 10 women accused Domínguez of sexual harassment at various times across nearly 40 years. FAS dean Michael D. Smith announced on Sunday that Domínguez—who has been director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the University’s first vice provost for international affairs—would be placed on administrative leave indefinitely, “pending a full and fair review of the facts and circumstances regarding allegations that have come to light.”

“I am retiring from my job at Harvard at the end of this semester. It has been a privilege to serve the University,” Domínguez wrote. “I am not teaching this semester. I have stepped down immediately from my role at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies and my other very few remaining academic coordinating roles. You may inform others as you deem best.”

“I want to be very clear that Domínguez’s forthcoming retirement does not change the full and fair process of review that is currently under way,” Smith said in a statement today. “He remains on administrative leave until it is concluded.” The rights and privileges normally provided to retired faculty members would take into account the outcome of this review.

The women accusing Domínguez ranged from undergraduates to faculty members in the government department; in 1983, Domínguez had been found guilty of “serious misconduct” and formally disciplined for sexually harassing Terry Karl, then a junior professor. Over the weekend, a follow-up story in the Chronicle reported that eight additional accusers of Domínguez had come forward. The earliest incident, in 1979, involved Charna Sherman ’80, then an undergraduate government concentrator, who reported that Domínguez had groped and kissed her. Some of the reported incidents occurred in private, others in front of colleagues in the department; Domínguez continued to receive promotions throughout the period.   

By the time members of FAS received Smith’s email on Sunday, the government department has pulled undergraduates and graduate students into meetings about the revelations, where many of those who spoke called for Domínguez’s removal. Government graduate students sent an open letter to the department Tuesday denouncing its response to the allegations. “We went into the meeting hoping for answers. We left disappointed, disillusioned, and, for many of us, angry,” they wrote. “The meeting communicated a message of equivocation, powerlessness, and an unwillingness to commit to addressing this issue or instituting any significant changes within the Department.”

“Due to years of apparent negligence, the University and Government Department have burdened female students with impossible choices and unacceptably onerous responsibilities,” they continued. The letter demands that the department take steps to address sexual harassment and gender inequality, including “ensur[ing] that Jorge Dominguez will no longer be a member of the Government Department,” communicating with newly admitted students about the allegations and how the department will address them, and conducting internal and external reviews of gender disparities and sexual harassment in the department.

Tuesday afternoon, the government department announced it would form a committee to “address concerns about inappropriate power dynamics, gendered interactions, disruptive fear or anxiety, and other constraints on genuine discourse, learning, and free exchange of ideas.”

“We recognize that the combination of the 1980s case, the pattern of allegations spanning decades, the failure of the pattern to come to light, and the important role in your education of effective and professional faculty mentors causes you great concern and has undermined your trust in the department,” the letter to undergraduate concentrators from department chair Jennifer Hochschild, director of undergraduate studies Cheryl Welch, and chair of the faculty concentration committee Danielle Allen reads. 

Last Friday, in a message to the University community, Provost Alan Garber wrote: “The work we do as an academic community brings together people of different ages and backgrounds. Faculty, staff, and students work side by side in settings that vary widely, from 24/7 labs to residential communities. Within this complexity, working conditions and the frequent power asymmetries in working relationships can make it hard for people to know when and how to speak up. And worries that speaking up might have negative repercussions within one’s community or field, in the years to come, can also prevent individuals from making a formal complaint, or speaking at all.” His note encouraged prospective complainants to bring issues forward for formal investigation within University processes; many of the women cited in the Chronicle stories had not previously done so.

FAS has disclosed little about how the investigation of Domínguez will proceed. Tenured faculty members can be removed by the Harvard Corporation for “grave misconduct or neglect of duty,” though this is exceedingly rare, and hasn’t happened in recent memory. In 2011, former psychology professor Marc Hauser resigned from Harvard after being found guilty of academic misconduct. In 1985, government professor Douglas Hibbs resigned over charges of sexual harassment. Domínguez’s decision to retire presumably moots his dismissal but, as noted, neither terminates investigation of the claims raised in the Chronicle story, or others, if brought forward for investigation, nor exhausts decisions on the terms of his retirement benefits.

University President Drew Faust, at Tuesday evening’s FAS meeting, said, “This has been a difficult moment for this community, and I want to start by acknowledging the real sense of hurt, disappointment and upset that has been expressed about the situation and about Harvard’s response—articulated by students, faculty, other members of the extended community, and in an editorial in today’s Crimson. A central commitment of my presidency has been to broaden access at Harvard and to ensure that everyone here fully belongs. This situation, and others, underscores that we have much more to do. But let me repeat what Provost Garber, Dean Smith and I have emphasized: sexual harassment has no place at Harvard and the community can rightly expect that Harvard will do all that it can to address this serious and enduring problem.”

“We need to acknowledge and work to address the cultural and structural realities that permit sexual harassment to occur,” she continued. “We need to acknowledge the profound influence members of the faculty have over junior faculty and students. Real consequences flow from that reality—the difficult place students and junior faculty find themselves in when a mentor crosses boundaries and the reluctance they understandably experience to come forward when concerns arise. All of us in this room share a responsibility to act in ways that acknowledge this imbalance of power.”

Read more articles by Marina N. Bolotnikova
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