After allegations of sexual and professional misconduct resulting in two years of administrative leave, Harvard University professor John L. Comaroff returned to teaching this semester.
Several students opposing his return walked out of his class while dozens of others congregated on campus to protest his professorship, according to the Harvard Crimson.
News of Comaroff's return to teaching sparked a petition in which students demand that “Harvard clarify its process for deciding what sanctions to impose on professors who violate sexual harassment policies, ‘up to and including the revocation of tenure,’” according to the Harvard Crimson. The petition has more than 250 signatures.
The course he’s currently teaching, African and African American Studies 190X: “The Anthropology of Law: classical, contemporary, comparative, and critical perspectives," is an elective course.
Comaroff was placed on paid leave in August 2020 after the Crimson reported that at least three students in the Anthropology Department had contacted Harvard’s Title IX Office regarding allegations of “unwanted touching, verbal sexual harassment, and professional retaliation.”
He was then placed on unpaid leave in January 2022 after an investigation by Harvard found that he had in fact violated the school’s sexual harassment and professional conduct policies. He was barred from teaching any required courses and taking on any more graduate student advisees through the 2022-23 academic year.
Following the results of the investigation, nearly 40 Harvard faculty members signed an open letter questioning the results of the investigations in early February. Within a week, all but four of the faculty members retracted their support for Comaroff, saying they lacked all the necessary information before.
Three graduate students filed a lawsuit against Harvard in February 2022, alleging that the school ignored years of sexual harassment and retaliation by Comaroff. They filed an amended suit in May. Harvard filed a motion to dismiss nine of ten counts in the lawsuit in July. However, the Department of Justice recently filed an amicus brief stating that Harvard may still be liable for the allegations.
At Penn, law professor Amy Wax's repeated racist statements have also sparked conversation related to potential sanctions for tenured professors. Recently, Penn Law School Dean Ted Ruger requested that the Faculty Senate impose a “major sanction” against her after convening a hearing board to fully review Wax’s misconduct.