Harvard Professor Is Put on Unpaid Leave After University Finds He Violated Sex-Harassment Rules
John L. Comaroff, a professor of anthropology and of African and African American studies at Harvard University, has been placed on unpaid leave for the spring semester following an investigation that found he had violated the college’s sexual-harassment and professional-conduct policies, a Harvard dean announced on Thursday. In her message to Comaroff’s departments, Claudine Gay, the dean, said that investigations “support the conclusion that Professor Comaroff’s conduct has violated the fundamental norms of our community.” The news was first
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John L. Comaroff, a professor of anthropology and of African and African American studies at Harvard University, has been placed on unpaid leave for the spring semester following an investigation that found he had violated the college’s sexual-harassment and professional-conduct policies, a Harvard dean announced on Thursday. In her message to Comaroff’s departments, Claudine Gay, the dean, said that investigations “support the conclusion that Professor Comaroff’s conduct has violated the fundamental norms of our community.” The news was first reported on Thursday by The Harvard Crimson.
In 2020, Harvard put Comaroff on paid leave, citing allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation, which Comaroff denied. In the summer of that year, three graduate students in Harvard’s anthropology department who had shared information with Harvard’s Title IX office about Comaroff told their stories to The Chronicle.
Gay wrote on Thursday that Harvard’s Office of Dispute Resolution and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the university’s liberal-arts college, had investigated his conduct. She wrote that the professor’s verbal conduct had been found to violate the policies.
In addition to a semester of unpaid leave, Comaroff will not be allowed to teach required courses through the 2022-23 academic year, nor will he be allowed to take on new graduate students as advisees during that time. He will not serve as chair of dissertation committees or advise graduate students who do not have a second co-adviser. Gay wrote that at the end of the 2022-23 academic year, she will “decide whether to restore some or all of these privileges.”
Comaroff’s lawyers released a statement saying the decision was an attack on academic freedom. “I categorically deny all the accusations against me and object strongly to the university’s failure to accord me a fair process and to respect my academic judgment,” Comaroff said in the statement.
Comaroff’s lawyers alleged that after Title IX investigators found him responsible for “verbal sexual harassment,” Harvard then “opened a second, kangaroo-court process — lacking the most elemental aspects of due process.” The second process, they wrote, “resulted in an illegitimate finding that Professor Comaroff was responsible for alleged unprofessional (but entirely non-sexual) conduct.”
“The factfinder concluded,” the lawyers said, “that the alleged harm ‘may not have been intended.’”
When asked about the second process, Rachael Dane, a Harvard spokesperson, said that “when allegations are made, we review those allegations under the specific policies to which they apply.” Gay’s message said that Comaroff had violated two policies: the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ policy on sexual and gender-based harassment and its professional-conduct policy.
In 2020 two graduate students, Amulya Mandava and Margaret Czerwienski, described to The Chronicle a conversation between Comaroff and Mandava in which, they said, he had made threats of retaliation against them for speaking openly with other students about alleged sexual contact between Comaroff and students. A third graduate student, Lilia Kilburn, alleged sexual misconduct, including that the scholar had kissed her and touched her inappropriately.
Comaroff, who is in his 70s and is a major figure in his field, denied those claims. His lawyers said in their news release that the Title IX investigators had found that though Comaroff was responsible for sexual harassment, the evidence did not support allegations that he had made sexual contact with a student. They wrote that “students regrettably took offense at appropriate advice” that Comaroff had given during his office hours. Harvard declined to share details about the investigation.
On Thursday, Mandava, Czerwienski, and Kilburn said only that they were disappointed with the results.
“Once again, we’re profoundly disappointed with Harvard’s response to this situation,” they wrote in a joint statement to The Chronicle. “We are processing this information and considering our next steps.”