A woman accusing former Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez of sexual misconduct said she and three other women are “concerned” with the progress of Harvard’s external review into the circumstances that allowed Dominguez to perpetrate misconduct over four decades at the University.
Eileen Finan — a lawyer for the Office of the General Counsel — reached out in September to former Government Ph.D. candidate Suzanna E. Challen, former Government assistant professor Terry L. Karl, and former Government concentrators Nienke C. Grossman ’99 and Charna E. Sherman ’80. They, along with 14 other women, first publicly levied accusations against Dominguez in spring 2018, prompting a Title IX investigation into Dominguez and then the ongoing external review.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow commissioned the external review in May after the Title IX investigation found Dominguez engaged in unwelcome sexual conduct toward several people multiple times over a decades-long period. Bacow said the external review would not focus on the allegations against Dominguez but rather the “organization or culture” that might have prevented victims and bystanders from coming forward.
In September, Finan contacted a lawyer who represents the four women to arrange a meeting between them and the three academics conducting the external review, according to Challen.
The four women offered to fly to New York to meet with the committee in October, but Finan declined, according to Challen. As of last week, Challen said, Finan and Deputy Provost Margaret E. Newell have offered the women two additional dates to meet — one during the committee members’ internal planning time and another on the day they will visit Harvard’s campus.
Challen said she and the other women are concerned that the lack of available meeting time suggests that the committee will not adequately prioritize the review.
“I expect that the committee will meet with us, but my concern is just in the lack of time being allocated to this,” Challen said. “I really would like to see the investigators prioritize this in their schedule and make a commitment to conduct as many campus visits as necessary to meet with interested participants in this process.”
The reviewers will only visit campus once this semester, according to Challen. She said she and the other three women are “especially concerned” about accepting a meeting during the campus visit, which will take place Dec. 11.
“That's the day they're going to be meeting with graduate students, people in the Gov department, people in the Weatherhead Center, other students who are concerned about sexual harassment,” Challen said. “There's an opportunity for them to hear from a lot of people when they visit campus, so we certainly don't want to crowd out their time that day.”
“It sends a message of disinterest to have only one campus visit in the remainder of this calendar year and only to offer a 4:30 in the afternoon slot or for us to come to that one campus visit,” she added.
Karl and Grossman did not respond to a request for comment, and Sherman declined to comment, deferring to Challen.
Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement that the review is ongoing and “remains a priority” for the University.
“The committee continues to work to engage members of the Harvard community through in-person meetings, as well as collecting information and perspectives through phone conversations and in writing,” he wrote. “The committee and the University are committed to ensuring this review is a robust examination of factors detailed in the committee's charge that may undermine the ability to prevent or address incidents of sexual harassment.”
Challen and the other three women have previously raised concerns about Harvard’s handling of its investigation into Dominguez.
In May — after Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced she would bar Dominguez from campus and strip him of his emeritus status — the same four women and their lawyers said Harvard “stonewalled” them out of the investigation, declining to accept information on their terms about their allegations.
Sophie Hill, a graduate student who serves on an informal committee within the Government department called the “External Review Working Group,” said the women’s frustrations with the external review reflect what she believes to be the University's lack of transparency in its review.
“There's just a lot of unanswered questions,” she said. “When trust is this low, that's just not the right thing to do.”
Hill said that some graduate students would like the opportunity to submit input to the external review committee, rather than speak in person, but she has not received word about whether she will be able to do so.
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