Following Harvard's decision to enact sanctions against professor John Comaroff — who has received misconduct allegations — 38 Harvard faculty members signed an open letter questioning the results of the investigation.
Comaroff, a professor of African and African American Studies and Anthropology, was placed on unpaid leave last month by Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay after allegations of “unwanted touching, verbal sexual harassment, and professional retaliation," The Harvard Crimson reported. The letter sent by faculty members poses a series of questions about the investigations and sanctions against Comaroff.
“We the undersigned know John Comaroff to be an excellent colleague, advisor and committed university citizen who has for five decades trained and advised hundreds of Ph.D. students of diverse backgrounds, who have subsequently become leaders in universities across the world. We are dismayed by Harvard’s sanctions against him and concerned about its effects on our ability to advise our own students,” the letter said.
In a response sent to the signatories of the letter, Gay defended the Comaroff sanctions, claiming that the professors did not have “complete findings from the school's investigations,” the Crimson reported.
In a press release, lawyers representing Comaroff wrote that following an investigation into the allegations, Title IX investigators found John Comaroff “responsible solely for verbal sexual harassment.”
The incident of verbal sexual harassment in question — which was reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education — occurred when Comaroff allegedly warned a student that she would face sexual assault if she traveled to certain parts of Africa as a result of her same-sex relationship. The signees of the letter questioned whether this warning should have been construed as sexual harassment, seeking clarification.
In addition to the Title IX investigation, which was conducted by Harvard’s Office of Dispute Resolution, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences opened their own investigation, which Comaroff’s lawyers and signees also called into question, the Crimson reported.
In January 2019, Penn’s Title IX Officer and Associate Vice President of Equity Michele Rovinsky-Mayer proposed a policy to “centralize sexual misconduct investigations into one office” and educate students so that they know what to do in the event of sexual misconduct.
Following a survey where 25.9% of undergraduate women and 7.3% of undergraduate men at Penn reported having experienced unwanted sexual contact since entering college, Rovinsky-Mayer said that she had considered how to make the Title IX office more responsive to individuals who wished to report sexual misconduct.
“I want to make sure that people understand the process and that we’re as transparent as possible about the process so that they’re less fearful of coming forward,” Rovinsky-Mayer told The Daily Pennsylvanian at the time.
Once an individual comes forward with a complaint, the Title IX office determines which policy it falls under, then helps the individual understand what will come next and offers support throughout the process.