All but four of the 38 Harvard University faculty members who wrote an open letter questioning the results of professor John Comaroff's Title IX investigation signed a new letter retracting their support.
Staff members said in the retraction letter that they had lacked information about the case, and did not anticipate the impact their letter would have on Harvard students. Another professor wrote a separate email two days later also retracting his support while three professors declined to sign the retraction, maintaining that the initial letter was a suitable response to the university’s actions.
Comaroff, an Anthropology and African and African-American Studies professor, was placed on unpaid leave in late January after being found in violation of sexual harassment and professional conduct policies, per university investigation.
The professors released the retraction letter after three graduate students filed a federal lawsuit against the university on Feb. 8 for ignoring and mishandling previous allegations against Comaroff. More than 70 other Harvard faculty members published a response in The Harvard Crimson speaking out against the initial letter.
Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay also sent a response to the signatories of the letter on Feb. 3 which referenced “the obvious dangers of an asymmetry of information” that can occur when speaking about the details of a case that have not been made public.
Faculty said in their original open letter that they thought Comaroff was an “excellent colleague,” and that they were confused by the grounds upon which the allegations were levied, asking for clarification from the university about which part of Comaroff’s behavior violated the university’s guidelines.
In order to increase transparency at Penn, a Sexual Misconduct Policy implemented in 2019 combines four policies regarding sexual harassment, consensual relationships, violence and stalking, and retaliation. It also designates the Title IX Office as the contact for all complaints instead of allowing claims to be reported to the deans of the accuser’s school.
In light of the lawsuit against Comaroff, Harvard professors noted the lack of transparency at how sexual assault allegations are handled by the university.
“Our concerns were transparency, process and university procedures, which go beyond the merits of any individual case,” the authors of the retraction letter wrote.