Gary Urton Stripped of Emeritus Status

An investigation finds the former anthropology professor “engaged in unwelcome sexual conduct and abused power,” among other violations of institutional policies and values

In a June 10 email to affiliates of the anthropology department, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Peabody Museum, Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean Claudine Gay announced that she has stripped former Dumbarton Oaks professor of pre-Colombian studies Gary Urton of his emeritus status after an investigation found he violated FAS policies on “sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and unprofessional conduct.”

After allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Urton appeared in The Harvard Crimson, social media posts, and internal reports to Gay’s office last June, Gay almost immediately placed Urton on administrative leave, pending a full review of the situation. In August, Urton retired.

The review has been completed, and its findings have spurred FAS to sever ties with the former professor.

In her letter yesterday, Gay wrote that the University’s Office for Dispute Resolution arrived at the conclusion that Urton “engaged in unwelcome sexual conduct and abused power with individuals over whom he had professional responsibility.” “Additionally,” Gay wrote, “he engaged in persistent sexual harassment of a member of the community, interfering with that individual’s ability to engage in FAS educational programs and activities.”

Gay further censured Urton for providing “materially misleading information” to the investigatory body—“conduct that had the potential of subverting the integrity of the University’s investigatory processes.”

With the revocation of his emeritus status, Urton is now barred from teaching and advising undergraduate or Graduate School of Arts and Sciences students; availing himself of FAS amenities or resources; and accessing the FAS campus or FAS-sponsored events. Gay noted that President Lawrence S. Bacow agreed to extend the last sanction, barring Urton from the entirety of the University’s campus and all Harvard-sponsored events.

“Dr. Urton exhibited a pattern of behavior that betrayed the trust of our community and violated our fundamental institutional values,” Gay wrote. “The sanctions described above are proportionate to the severity of the behavior observed.”


All in all, it has been a difficult year of reckoning for the University over sexual misconduct. This past February, Bacow conceded that Harvard “failed” then-assistant government professor Terry Karl four decades ago when it disregarded charges of sexual harassment and misconduct she leveled against Jorge Domínguez, the former Madero professor for the study of Mexico.

Other investigations are apparently proceeding. Meanwhile, this past March (following the 2019 placement of Lee professor of economics and professor of education Roland G. Fryer on a two-year administrative leave), Gay announced sanctions against mathematics and biology professor Martin Nowak, whose Program for Evolutionary Dynamics accepted extensive funding from sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Nowak also invited Epstein to visit the PED offices dozens of times—even after Epstein was convicted of sex charges involving a minor in 2008. According to Bacow, Epstein’s unspent donations will go to two organizations that work on behalf of human trafficking and sexual assault victims.

Read more articles by: Juliet Isselbacher

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