It was November 5, 1981. Karl had been at Harvard University for less than a year. She was an assistant professor of government, and Jorge Domínguez was her senior colleague. He had tenure; she didn’t. Domínguez would soon be president of the Latin American Studies Association; she studied Latin America. He sat on the editorial boards of prestigious journals like
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It was November 5, 1981. Karl had been at Harvard University for less than a year. She was an assistant professor of government, and Jorge Domínguez was her senior colleague. He had tenure; she didn’t. Domínguez would soon be president of the Latin American Studies Association; she studied Latin America. He sat on the editorial boards of prestigious journals like American Political Science Review and Social Science Quarterly. He was already a name in the field, while she was still establishing hers. He could be helpful to her — or not.
For two years, according to Karl, Domínguez made numerous sexual advances, disregarding both verbal and written pleas to stop. It eventually led her to file a complaint, and Domínguez was found guilty by the university of “serious misconduct.” Domínguez was removed from administrative responsibilities for three years and told that any future misconduct could trigger his dismissal. Karl considered his punishment a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, she decided that she couldn’t remain at the same university as Domínguez considering what he’d done, and what she feared he might do.
She left. He stayed.
While few details of the case were made public, the fact that Domínguez had been reprimanded was reported by The Harvard Crimson and The Boston Globe. Domínguez himself has long refused to comment, citing an agreement he signed with Karl (though he said recently in an interview with The Chronicle that he has “sought to behave honorably in all my relationships.”) Because those initial accounts were vague, there was chatter at the university and beyond that what had happened was an affair gone sour, or perhaps a misunderstanding. In truth, the story of Domínguez’s behavior, as documented in the stacks of letters, legal memos, and notes that Karl kept tucked away in a box in her garage for years, is more troubling than those rumors. It also sheds light on Harvard’s handling of this case, on the signal that sent to other women on campus, and on how the still-new concept of sexual harassment was viewed at the time, nearly a decade before Anita Hill made it a national conversation.
Karl’s departure from Harvard threatened to ruin her promising academic career. It already seemed to her that she had wasted precious time filing grievances rather than finishing her book. As she searched for positions at other universities, she had to contend with whispers of scandal. In the end, Karl accepted an offer from Stanford University, earned tenure, and finished that book. While she’s given talks about sexual harassment over the years, she did her best to put the ugly episode at Harvard behind her.
Then, last November, Karl got an email from a woman she didn’t know. Nienke Grossman had her own story about Domínguez, as did another woman, Suzanna Challen. “Oh my God,” Karl remembers thinking, “I knew he was going to keep doing it.”
Those who knew her during her graduate-school days marveled at her energy, called her a star. “She was indomitable,” says Robert Keohane, a professor of international affairs at Princeton University who was on her dissertation committee at Stanford. So her mentors weren’t surprised when she beat out fellow up-and-coming scholars for a coveted position at Harvard.
When she arrived at the university in the spring of 1981, she was immediately paired with Jorge Domínguez, the senior Latin American scholar in the government department. A dean told her how lucky she was to work with him. Domínguez was genuinely helpful as she settled in on a campus where she knew no one. He found an apartment for her. He took her to lunch. He popped by her office to check on her. He was friendly and available.
The first time she questioned his behavior was when he criticized her for wearing a pantsuit to the office. She should wear skirts, he said, lest people think she was allied with the Center for European Studies, which he considered left-leaning. It was an odd comment, but she shrugged it off. She assumed his intentions were good.
Karl’s first semester at Harvard went well. Her course evaluations were excellent, she remembers. When Domínguez came by her office one day that summer, he wrapped her in his arms and tried to kiss her. She pulled away, though she didn’t make a scene. She didn’t want to offend him. Domínguez offered a parting suggestion: Don’t spend too much time on students, he said, because teaching is not what Harvard rewards.
She mentioned the hug and kiss to some friends, but didn’t report him to administrators. She hoped it was an aberration.
That fall, Harvard hosted a dinner that included, as a guest, the former president of Venezuela, Rafael Caldera. Karl had done research in Venezuela, and had gotten to know Caldera. When she arrived at the dinner, Domínguez greeted her then turned to Caldera and said, “Conoce a Terry. Ella es mi esclava.”
Translation: “You know Terry. She is my slave.”
Karl didn’t know how to respond. It seemed clear to her that Domínguez was attempting to diminish her standing in the presence of an important source. (According to Karl, Caldera would later warn her privately to stay away from Domínguez.)
Domínguez asked for a ride home that night, as he often did. She had come to dread those requests, but it was hard to say no. In the car, she confronted him about the comment. He told her he was surprised that she was offended. That’s when he kissed her and slid his hand up her skirt, telling her he would be the next department chairman, decide her promotion, review her book. Karl froze. She had never even heard the term “sexual harassment,” but she knew what was going on. “I’m feeling like somebody is asking for sexual favors in return for a good review,” she says.
She pushed his hand away. Then she drove him home.
The following spring, Karl attended the annual meeting of the Latin American Scholars Association in Washington, D.C. Domínguez had just been named the association’s president, and he told her that he planned to throw cocktail parties in his hotel suite. She should come, he said, and get to know Latin Americanists from other universities. Meet, greet, make connections.
She arrived at his suite one night — it was enormous, she remembers — but there were no other guests. He asked her to sit next to him. She declined. He told her he needed a hug (“He always needed a hug,” she says). He tried to kiss her, suggested she stay the night with him. Again, she froze. She didn’t kiss him back. She insists she never kissed him back. When she had broken free, she made a hasty, awkward exit.
Later, she would scold herself for being naïve, for not recognizing what seemed, in retrospect, like an obvious ploy. She also told herself she could handle it. “You try to minimize it,” she says. “OK, this just happened in the hotel, and I’m going to lunch with him and I’m going to say ‘Don’t ever do this again’ and it’s going to be OK. You tell yourself over and over, ‘It’s going to be OK.’”
Karl did go to lunch with Domínguez. And she did attempt to make plain that while she valued him as a colleague, she didn’t want a sexual relationship with him. Maybe this time, she thought, the message would get through.
From then on she avoided him as best she could, but they were soon thrown together at a Harvard event. Afterward, Domínguez said he needed to talk to her about a graduate student. Karl didn’t feel safe in the same room with him, so she suggested they talk while walking back from the event. That afternoon, as they passed through a wooded area of the campus, Domínguez looked at her with what she described in a letter to the dean as a “hostile and peculiar” expression.
“This would be a nice place for a rape,” he said.
“There is no nice place for a rape,” she replied.
Considering his previous behavior, Karl took the statement as a threat. “At this point, I became physically afraid of him,” she would later write when describing the incident in a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She was determined never to be alone with him again.
Karl believes the stress she suffered as a result of Domínguez’s harassment was harming her already fragile health. By December 1982, the disks in her lower back had ruptured, and she needed surgery. About five days before her operation, she was in so much pain she could no longer sit up to type, and was forced to recline in her office chair. She was lying back in that chair, dictating letters of recommendation to her secretary, when Domínguez walked into her office. After her secretary left the room, she says, Domínguez touched her thigh, tried to kiss her. She told him to go.
When the secretary returned, Karl was shaking. Nearly the same scene occurred after the surgery. While she was recuperating at home, Domínguez showed up with a bouquet of flowers. When the friend who was staying with her left the room, Karl says he tried to hold her hand and to kiss her. He also reminded her that he was the odds-on favorite to be the next chairman of their department.
Karl sought advice outside Harvard. She eventually contacted Mary Rowe, the ombudsperson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT was ahead of its peers in trying to combat sexual harassment, and was among the first institutions to use the term. Karl wrote a letter to Domínguez in January 1983, which she shared with Harvard administrators. In it she spelled out Domínguez’s behavior and explained how she interpreted it: “You discussed my promotion, my book and my career at the same time that you were trying to kiss and embrace me, a situation which could only make me feel threatened and anxious,” she wrote. “Since you are my senior colleague as well as my direct supervisor in many ways, your introduction of sexuality into our relationship was intimidating.”
Domínguez wrote back a few days later: “I am profoundly distressed that I may have caused you any pain or anxiety at any moment, especially so at this time.” He implied that his memory of events differed from hers, writing that he had “my own version of the same trajectory.” He did not, however, deny trying to kiss and embrace her, or referring to her as his slave. One line seemed like an admission to Karl: “Henceforth,” he wrote, “I will simply shake your hand.”
He didn’t keep that promise, according to Karl. In April, she agreed to give him a ride home after a conference at Harvard and once again she found herself fending off unwanted physical contact — this time, she says, he put his hand on her knee. She struggled to avoid him on campus. “I have called a couple of times to talk but cannot seem to find you in,” he wrote in a letter sent in April, one of many missives. She stayed away from the office, and she didn’t reply to his letters.
Sexual harassment was still a relatively new concept in the early 1980s. A federal court recognized it as discrimination in education for the first time in a case that was brought in 1977, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission established criteria for defining it in 1980, the year before Karl arrived at Harvard. By the time of Karl’s complaint, Harvard appears to have admonished only two other professors for sexual harassment — the poet Derek Walcott in 1982 and another professor in the government department, Martin L. Kilson, in 1979. An undergraduate had accused Walcott of giving her a C in his class after she declined his advances, while Kilson was told by administrators to write an apology letter to an undergraduate who said he had tried to kiss her. (In 1985, another government professor, Douglas Hibbs, resigned from Harvard after a sexual-harassment complaint was made by an MIT student enrolled in a joint seminar. The New York Times reported that it was “the first time in the university’s 348-year history that a professor had left the faculty after charges of sexual misconduct were made.”)
No doubt prompted in part by those episodes, Henry Rosovsky, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard, sent a letter in April of 1983 to professors explaining some discussions the faculty council had been having on sexual harassment. He warned them not to send unintentionally demeaning messages to women in their classes by, for example, posting slides of nude women “humorously or whimsically” or making a point of calling on women to answer questions about marriage or family. He also addressed relationships between faculty members and students and explained students’ options for filing a sexual-harassment complaint: “Amorous relationships that might be appropriate in other circumstances are always wrong when they occur between any teacher or officer of the university and any student for whom he or she has a professional responsibility,” Rosovsky wrote.
The letter did not address the harassment of faculty members by other faculty members. And while it referred to “formal procedures” for students reporting harassment, there was no mention of the options for a faculty member. Karl assumed she had registered a complaint by repeatedly informing higher-ups. “I thought I was telling the university the whole time,” she says.
She then took a major step. Karl hired a lawyer and filed a complaint with the EEOC. She also wrote a letter to Rosovsky, the dean, describing Domínguez’s behavior as “erratic” and “an expression of deep hostility.” She asked the university to create a policy and grievance procedures that would make women feel more protected when they came forward. In July, she wrote another letter to Rosovsky saying she was worried about a “lack of clear and tested procedures.” She says she’d never been told what her rights were or assured that she would be protected from retaliation.
One reason she wanted such procedures is that she knew she wasn’t the only one who had complained about Domínguez. Sylvia Maxfield, a graduate student in the department, had filed a complaint alleging that he had made comments about her appearance that made her feel uneasy (after an investigation, the university found that he had “behaved inappropriately” toward Maxfield). In addition, an undergraduate student had told Karl that Domínguez had grabbed her and hugged her during a meeting in his office. (That former student confirmed the story in a recent interview, but asked not to be identified.)
Another junior faculty member in the department, Ethel Klein, also had a disturbing encounter with Domínguez. Klein said that Domínguez had, under the guise of comforting her, hugged her and pressed his crotch against her. “He came to tell me I didn’t get promoted, and while he’s holding me he’s got a hard-on,” says Klein, who left Harvard for Columbia and is now a campaign strategist. She called Karl immediately after the encounter. “She was so grossed out and upset,” Karl remembers. Klein complained to a Harvard administrator, telling him about the hug and the erection. He told her, according to Klein, that when Domínguez “has to communicate bad news to someone he cares about, he gets emotional.”
Domínguez said in a recent interview that he had never heard Klein’s account. “I may well have hugged her, because I was trying to comfort her,” he said, but added that he’d be “horrified if anything like this happened.”
At the end of July 1983, Karl and Domínguez signed an agreement, one she hoped would offer some measure of protection. Domínguez promised to “conduct himself in the future at all times in a fashion respectful” of Karl. In August, Rosovsky wrote in a letter to Karl that Domínguez’s “repeated sexual advances and certain other deprecating actions” amounted to a “serious abuse of authority — for which he is fully responsible.” Along with being temporarily removed from administrative responsibilities, he was also forbidden from reviewing Karl’s work or taking part in discussions about her promotion. As for Karl, she was given three semesters of paid leave, and her tenure clock was put on hold for two years. In addition, Rosovsky said that administrators would talk more about sexual-harassment procedures and that the faculty council might address it.
As far as Harvard was concerned, this matter was settled. “I look forward to closing the books on this unfortunate episode,” Rosovsky wrote to Karl, “as I know you do.”
But the books weren’t closed yet. Karl was hearing rumors that made her worried about her reputation. In October Domínguez met with a number of graduate students, including Philip Oxhorn, now a professor of political science at McGill University. Oxhorn recalls that Domínguez told the students what happened was “a love affair gone bad, and that he was as much a victim as Terry, if not more so.” Another graduate student who was at that meeting, Cynthia Sanborn, now research vice president at the University of the Pacific, in Peru, later described it in a letter to Rosovsky: "[Domínguez] clearly implied that his harassment of the junior professor in this case was actually a ‘misunderstanding,’ and if he could only tell us his side of the story we would see things differently,” she wrote.
That same month, Domínguez wrote a letter to the same graduate students, expressing his hope that they would continue to work with him, despite the harassment finding. “I cannot erase, though I would wish to do so, some of the past,” he wrote.
For her part, Karl wanted nothing more to do with Domínguez, but it seemed she couldn’t get away from him. They still attended the same department meetings at Harvard. She still saw him all the time on campus. “He was omnipresent,” she says. Karl’s lawyer wrote to Rosovsky in December to say that Karl was not really insulated from Domínguez. Rosovsky responded, saying that he did not think additional sanctions against Domínguez were appropriate. “It was specifically not our intention to lock Domínguez away,” Rosovsky wrote.
Karl took her case to Derek Bok, the university’s president, meeting with him for an hour. In January 1984, Bok wrote a letter to her parents, who had contacted him out of concern for the way their daughter had been treated. “It is a source of great personal embarrassment to me that such things should have occurred at Harvard and that a tenured member of our faculty should have behaved in this manner,” he wrote. Asked to comment recently, Bok said that while the understanding of sexual harassment has evolved significantly since then, it would be wrong to assert that Harvard was entirely insensitive to the issue in the 1980s.
Bok may have been apologetic, but Harvard’s attempts to deal with the problem struck Karl as inadequate, even laughable. Two male professors were appointed as “counsellors on professional conduct” in the government department to receive future reports of sexual harassment. The department’s chairman, John Montgomery, wrote in a letter that he would have preferred to appoint women to those positions, but that all the female faculty members were “on leave or already overcommitted.” A fellow government professor suggested that, if she felt uncomfortable attending meetings with Domínguez, she could be assigned on-campus escorts — an idea Karl dismissed as ridiculous.
The case had reverberations throughout the field, and some colleagues rushed to her defense: A dozen Latin American-studies scholars from various universities wrote to Bok and Rosovsky in February 1984 about Karl’s case, saying they could not recommend that any of their students attend Harvard until there was “absolute assurance that they will not face undue risk of harassment.” In a response to the scholars, Rosovsky wrote that their letter “displays a degree of moral arrogance that is unusual even by the unfortunate standards prevailing in the academic profession. It pretends to a detailed and objective knowledge of what happened here that you plainly do not have.” When contacted recently, Rosovsky declined to discuss any individual cases of harassment, though he said that “it may be handled better today.”
At the same time, Harvard students were pushing for better procedures regarding sexual harassment. A survey of women at the university published in 1984 showed that sexual harassment was widespread: 49 percent of nontenured faculty, 41 percent of graduate students, and 34 percent of undergraduates said they had been harassed. That year the faculty council considered creating a central office to handle sexual-harassment complaints, but the proposal was abandoned in May of 1984, according to reports in the Crimson. Instead, the university set up training so that more officials could handle complaints and created a committee to educate the campus community about sexual harassment.
(Harvard now has a central Title IX office, opened in 2013, to handle complaints for the whole university and Title IX coordinators at individual colleges. The university also has an Office of Sexual Assault and Prevention, which is focused on advocacy for victims.)
Karl began to feel that, despite acknowledging that her complaint was justified, Harvard wasn’t really taking the issue of harassment seriously, and she didn’t believe that Domínguez was no longer a threat. The private expressions of concern did nothing to remedy the situation. In January 1984, not knowing that in two years she would begin a long career at Stanford, Karl sat down at her typewriter to start a journal. “I can’t stand this any longer,” she wrote. “It is ruining everything about being a professor, a Latin Americanist, and it is clear that I must get out of Harvard.”
Grossman remembers arriving at Domínguez’s office and sitting down at a table after his secretary had left. Domínguez closed the door, she said, and sat down next to her. He asked her interesting and challenging questions about the reading. Each time she responded correctly, he touched her: First on her arm, then her back, and then he grabbed her thigh.
The next day, she wrote in her diary that “alarm bells started going off in my head.” She tried to ignore the touching, while “squirming away,” but didn’t truly process the incident until later when she told the story to her friend, Cheryl Gray, who remembers talking about it with Grossman at the time. Grossman wrote that she also discussed it with her freshman dorm adviser, who told her that professors are instructed not to touch their students and encouraged her to talk to a sexual-harassment counselor, which she did, without naming Domínguez.
But Grossman’s story never got past the counselor. Grossman says she was told in the meeting with the counselor that she could write a letter, which would have her name on it and would go in Domínguez’s file. She was vaguely aware that Domínguez had been involved in a harassment incident that took place in the 1980s. As far as she knew, he hadn’t been punished. Why would the university do anything with her complaint, which she considered relatively minor, if they had kept Domínguez after an earlier incident?
On top of that, the counselor had said that if Grossman revealed the name of the department, she could guess the professor she was talking about. “I remember being shocked,” Grossman said. She thought, “Wow, this school knows about a lot of this behavior.”
Grossman decided not to write a letter. Instead, she dropped his class. She did not pursue a Ph.D. in government, but went to Harvard Law School and is now a law professor at the University of Baltimore. Gray and Grossman have stayed close over the past 20 years and talk about that incident occasionally. Gray says that her friend wondered whether what happened to her might be happening to other students and worried that she should have reported it.
Last fall, when stories about Harvey Weinstein and widespread sexual abuse in Hollywood and other industries prompted the #MeToo movement, Grossman Googled “Jorge Domínguez” and “sexual harassment.” She saw articles that referred to the incident in the 1980s, but also found a Facebook post written by Suzanna Challen about an incident that took place in 2006. She decided to contact Challen.
Challen was a graduate student in Harvard’s government department preparing for her general exams when she went to Domínguez’s office for a meeting. He was the chair of her general exam committee and her choice to eventually chair her dissertation committee. At the end of the meeting, Challen said, Domínguez asked her to give him a hug. She thought it was out of place, but she agreed. When they embraced, he slid his hand down her back and rested it on her butt. She was upset. But her general exams were only a few weeks away, so she didn’t want to change the committee or confront the person who would decide whether or not she would progress through the program. She consulted with several classmates from her cohort about what to do. She also mentioned the incident in an email to a professor she had worked closely with at New York University, where she had earned her undergraduate degree. Four of her former classmates remember being told about it at the time.
After her general exams, Challen pretended nothing had happened. When Domínguez was named vice provost for international affairs, she sent him an email congratulating him, but when he asked to set up another meeting so they could talk about possible dissertation topics, she put it off. She returned home to Texas for the summer and thought things over.
Eventually, Challen came to the conclusion that she could never work with Domínguez again. Like Grossman, she’d heard that he was involved in a sexual-harassment case in the 1980s. By then, the rumor was that the woman who’d accused him at the time had been wearing a camera — something Challen learned much later wasn’t true. She remembers thinking about whether she’d be willing to wear a camera, but decided that she did not want to put herself in a situation where this could happen again. And it never did. She decided not to report anything, but avoided Domínguez. A different professor, whom at first she didn’t know as well, chaired her dissertation committee, and she earned her Ph.D. in 2011.
Challen said she talked to other graduate students whose dissertation committees Domínguez had chaired, including some women, who told her they’d had no problems with him. Domínguez had a reputation for helping students and younger faculty members, some of his former colleagues and students said. He was the professor who would read a dissertation and give a detailed critique or introduce a junior professor to an important publisher, according to Yoshiko M. Herrera, a faculty member in Harvard’s government department from 1999 to 2007. “He’s been a force for good for a number of people,” says Herrera, now a political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “It’s also true, at least in my case, that the advice he gave me is not appropriate.”
Herrera said that while she was an assistant professor at Harvard, she had a third-year review where she was encouraged to publish more. Several of her colleagues offered advice, including Domínguez, who at a meeting at a restaurant bar in Cambridge, gave her helpful suggestions on which journals to submit her work to.
But at the end of the meeting, she said, he placed his hand on top of hers and told her that at this time, what she really needed was a lover. Surprised, Herrera said that it was getting late and left the bar. She didn’t tell anyone other than her boyfriend, but made the decision to avoid meeting with Domínguez privately. “It’s not like it has to be detrimental if somebody makes a pass at somebody, but it erodes that sense that they belong there for professional reasons,” she said. “That’s why it’s worse than just an unwelcome, innocent proposition.”
Herrera didn’t share the story with any Harvard administrators. Like Grossman, she wonders if she should have said something more.
None of these incidents involved the kind of sustained harassment endured by Terry Karl. But the repercussions were still significant, creating anxiety and altering academic careers. Two other women spoke to The Chronicle on the condition of anonymity because they are still early in their careers. They said, separately, that Domínguez had touched them — one on the knee, the other on the lower back — when they were graduate students in the 2000s. They were told, in one case before her incident and in the other case after, that he had been disciplined for misconduct many years earlier. Both former students said they then decided to drop a project in order to avoid working with him. One of the students recounted how, in a closed-door meeting in Domínguez’s office, he sat close to her and put his hand on her knee. “It made my hair stand up,” she said. “It was creepy as hell.”
In all, The Chronicle spoke with 10 women, including Karl, who say Domínguez treated them in ways that made them uncomfortable.
When confronted with the complaints from multiple women about his behavior, Domínguez said he was surprised and saddened. “I try to communicate both respectfully and effectively. I do not go around making sexual advances,” he said. He may well have hugged an anxious student, he said, but that he never meant to touch anyone in a way that caused them distress. “At worst it was inadvertent, certainly not intentional,” he said. “Any behavior like that, I would regret it under any circumstances.” As for Herrera’s story, he said he didn’t remember that conversation, but he recalls talking to her in general about scholarly publishing. “It is entirely possible I might have put my hand on top of her hand, but I don’t remember the comment,” he said. “But, boy, I wouldn’t want to offend her, and if I did, that’s just awful.”
He didn’t specifically dispute any of the women’s accounts, saying that he didn’t believe it would be right to do so through a reporter, and that he didn’t remember the actions described. “There may have been a terrible misinterpretation of whatever I might have been doing,” he said. “I can’t imagine trying to hurt or injure someone I might have been helping.”
After learning that she wasn’t the only one with a story about Domínguez, Grossman contacted Harvard’s Title IX office last November. With her encouragement, Challen did the same. In an effort to find out if there were more stories, Grossman posted a message on the Harvard ’99 Facebook page and got the name of a third woman, who spoke to The Chronicle on the condition that her name be withheld. The third woman, who graduated in 1997, said she had chosen Domínguez as her undergraduate thesis adviser.
She met with him in his office regularly during her senior year, and after each meeting, she said, he asked for a hug. “It was this full-body hug,” she said. “A hug that made me feel uncomfortable.” She spoke with a graduate-student adviser affiliated with her residence hall about the incident who told her that if she reported it she might have to pick a different thesis adviser — something she decided not to do.
Grossman and Challen were each told by a Title IX officer how to file a formal complaint and were told that an informal fact-finding investigation would be conducted. After speaking with Grossman, the 1997 graduate said she also shared her story with the Title IX office. In a January email, the Title IX officer told Grossman and Challen that current graduate students had been contacted, and that the chair of the government department, Jennifer Hochschild, had been informed about the investigation “before and after winter break” and that “she hadn’t heard of issues beyond the one in the 1980s but would ask people in her network.”
However, in a recent interview with The Chronicle, Hochschild said she didn’t remember being told that three women had come forward with new stories, though she had communicated with the office around the same time about a different case that did not involve sexual harassment. As for being asked to reach out to “people in her network,” Hochschild said simply, “That did not happen.”
In a statement, a Harvard spokeswoman said the university takes “seriously the concerns raised by former members of our community about Prof. Domínguez’s conduct.” She also encouraged anyone “who has experienced inappropriate behavior to come forward.”
Grossman and Challen have not filed formal complaints so far. They got the impression from their interactions with the Title IX office that it was conducting multiple investigations involving ongoing harassment — something that didn’t make them feel reassured. They had also contacted Karl back in November and got a fuller account of her story. Like her, they say they want to ensure that what happened to them, or something worse, won’t happen to others. “I have a daughter who’s 9,” Grossman says. “When she goes to college, I want her to be able to go to class and feel comfortable and not be worried about some professor grabbing her leg.”
She worked hard to keep what happened at Harvard from defining her. Karl served as director of Stanford’s Center for Latin American Studies for more than a decade. Her 1997 book, The Paradox of Plenty, about how a country’s natural resources can actually stifle its progress, remains widely influential. Lately, Karl, who is officially emeritus, has been working as an expert witness in massacre trials going on in El Salvador, Spain, and Colombia. On the walls of her office hang teaching awards along with an honorary doctorate from the University of San Francisco in honor of her human-rights work, which has included helping hundreds of refugees gain asylum. A small carved sign on her desk reads “You Make The World Better.”
After leaving Harvard, she continued to write and speak about sexual harassment, though without mentioning Domínguez by name or delving into the details. In a 1991 column in support of Anita Hill, she argued that filing a complaint often “pits a person against an institution that is predisposed to defend the accused.” Of her own harassment, she wrote that she had been “forced to choose between pleasing this man or losing everything I had worked for.” She has avoided Domínguez over the years, though they remain in the same professional orbit. Sometimes, when colleagues collaborated with Domínguez, they would later explain their reasons to her, as if asking for absolution. Whenever she received notes like that, she didn’t reply.
Meanwhile Domínguez steadily climbed the ladder at Harvard. In 1995, he was selected as director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, a post previously occupied by scholarly heavyweights like Samuel Huntington and Robert Putnam. In 2006, he was made vice provost for international affairs, and, in 2014, he and Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, traveled to Mexico City together as part of the university’s international outreach. In 2016, a dissertation prize was set up in Domínguez’s honor at the university’s Latin American-studies center. Originally the prize, and the $54,000 raised to support it, was to be given through the Latin American Studies Association, but when some who knew about Domínguez’s behavior, including Philip Oxhorn, caught wind of the plan, they worked behind the scenes to scuttle it. “This was not a man who deserved that kind of recognition,” Oxhorn says.
Harvard, apparently, had no such qualms.
Karl believes Harvard administrators played down her many complaints, attempting to mollify her rather than dealing with a difficult situation head-on. Harvard refused, as some universities still do, to publicly name the person responsible. They also let him stay, and promoted him, which sent a signal that Karl believes discouraged others from coming forward. If they hadn’t done that, “then these women who experienced harassment in the 1990s and 2000s, it wouldn’t have happened, or they would have known that someone would be punished if they were harassed,” she says. “That’s the great enabling. It’s why the silence is so terrible.”
She wishes administrators had heeded her calls for stronger action and better reporting procedures, but looking back, Karl thinks she did as much as she reasonably could to sound the alarm. “The silence was not mine,” she says. “It was Harvard’s.”