In 1986, a group of professors writing for the journal Current Anthropology found that the country’s most elite anthropology programs, including Harvard’s, operated based on a “hierarchy of prestige” dominated by powerful tenured faculty.
Nearly 35 years later, it is in part that very hierarchy that has allowed three of Harvard’s senior Anthropology faculty — former department chairs Theodore C. Bestor and Gary Urton and professor John L. Comaroff — to weather allegations of sexual harassment, including some leveled by students, according to people with knowledge of the matter and documents obtained by The Crimson.
In 2018, a Harvard investigation found Bestor committed two counts of sexual misconduct during an interaction with a female professor at a 2017 conference at UCLA. Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences disciplined Bestor for the incident, but allowed him to return to work before completing required sanctions.
Even before that allegation, several faculty and Harvard officials had been aware since at least 2013 of multiple complaints that Bestor had engaged in inappropriate conduct, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Crimson.
In March 2016, one of Urton’s former students emailed an FAS sexual harassment officer to ask about “the process for submitting a complaint concerning a faculty member.” In both the former student’s conversations with that employee and an affidavit later filed in federal court, she alleged Urton pressured her into “unwelcome sex” before writing her a recommendation letter, though she never filed a formal charge against him.
Three current female students told The Crimson this month that they are actively in communication with Harvard’s Title IX office regarding allegations against Comaroff. Last November, the department asked Comaroff not to use his office in the Tozzer Anthropology Building and removed him from an Anthropology course he was scheduled to teach, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Crimson.
Bestor, 68, who studies modern Japan; Urton, 73, who specializes in pre-Columbian archaeology; and Comaroff, 75, who studies postcolonial Africa, are all tenured professors in the department. Urton and Bestor are both scheduled to teach undergraduates and graduate students in the coming academic year. Comaroff, meanwhile, is scheduled to advise Anthropology graduate students and teach undergraduate courses in African and African American Studies, though he has no undergraduate Anthropology courses listed in the preliminary course catalog.
In a May 19 statement to The Crimson, Urton wrote that he had never violated FAS policies on sexual harassment and that, due to confidentiality rules, he could issue nothing but a blanket denial of allegations against him.
Bestor wrote in a May 21 statement that he took full responsibility for the incident at UCLA in 2017, which he wrote was caused in part by a “serious problem with alcohol” that he has since taken steps to treat. He denied the other allegations leveled against him by former students.
In a May 26 emailed statement, Comaroff denied ever having engaged in sexual misconduct or retaliated against a student.
“I have not behaved inappropriately toward any Harvard student, nor ever engaged in professional retaliation. I am at a loss as to why such things should be alleged, let alone reported in The Crimson in the absence of any due process, if there is to be one,” he wrote. “For the record, I have not been banished from the Department of Anthropology, my office, or my teaching, nor informed of any formal charges.”
Urton, Bestor, and Comaroff are just three among many Anthropology faculty at Harvard. But dozens of people who passed through the department over the last two decades told The Crimson that the problems women face there stretch beyond the allegations against individual professors.
Those individuals — including current students, graduates, former faculty, and other affiliates — said a department dedicated to the study of human culture failed to notice that its own culture placed women at a disadvantage.
An internal department report compiled by a student committee last year documented how those disparities affected female students’ outcomes. Since 1990, female archaeology students have taken longer to complete their Ph.Ds, withdrawn at higher rates, published fewer articles by graduation, and undertaken a disproportionate workload as teaching fellows, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Crimson.
Anthropology is a tight-knit field, students in the department said, one where advisors can either open doors for young anthropologists or close them forever.
Because of that dynamic, women who were made uncomfortable by faculty in the department said they faced a persistent dilemma. Report, and risk their career aspirations in anthropology. Continue, and face greater obstacles than their male counterparts.
Several of those interviewed said hiring practices like the ones outlined in the 1986 study on the “hierarchy of prestige” remain at the root of the problems female students face in the Harvard Anthropology department, pointing particularly to a lack of female faculty. Just three of 21 tenured faculty who hold appointments in the department are female. Within its archaeology wing, there are no tenured female faculty. Across FAS’s social sciences division, 32 percent of tenured professors are women, according to a 2020 Harvard report.
In response to The Crimson’s reporting, Anthropology department chair Ajantha Subramanian, who took over from Urton as chair in 2018, and interim chair Rowan K. Flad, who is filling in for Subramanian as she takes leave through July, provided a 3,400-word statement on the department’s efforts in recent years to become “more diverse, responsive, and equitable.”
“These include ongoing measures to prioritize diversity in faculty hiring, to ensure a high rate of success in internal tenure promotions, to institute mechanisms for students to address their concerns, and to create new forums for intellectual and social engagement,” they wrote.
The chairs declined to comment on individual allegations of sexual harassment in the department, referring those questions to FAS administrators.
“We want to underscore the seriousness with which we take all such allegations and our strong commitment to addressing them using every means at our disposal to create a department climate that is free from harassment and sexual misconduct,” Subramanian and Flad wrote.
FAS spokesperson Rachael Dane also declined to comment on specific allegations against faculty.
“The Faculty of Arts and Sciences takes incidences of sexual misconduct and harassment involving our Faculty very seriously and believes the full spectrum of unwelcome behavior must be addressed,” Dane wrote in an emailed statement, responding to the 2017 allegations against Bestor. She made a similar statement regarding the current allegations against Comaroff.
Dane declined to comment in response to the allegations against Urton and the 2013 allegations against Bestor.
The following account is based on emails, affidavits filed in federal court, and other documents obtained by The Crimson, and on interviews conducted over the past eight months with 72 individuals, including 41 current and former graduate students in the department and five former faculty members. Many spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they said they feared retaliation and damage to their career prospects, even years after they had left Harvard.
When the professor reported Bestor had assaulted her at the 2017 conference, it was not the first time Anthropology faculty and University officials heard complaints that he had sexually harassed women. At least two other women have accused Bestor of sexual misconduct since the early 2010s, and multiple people have raised concerns about him to the Title IX office, according to documents obtained by The Crimson and individuals with direct knowledge of the complaint.
Harvard administrators first learned of student concerns regarding Bestor as early as 2013. According to several current and former graduate students, allegations against him are the most widely known instances of alleged sexual misconduct in the department.
After reading a late night email in 2013 that brought back memories of Bestor’s “longstanding pattern” of harassment, one student told four Anthropology faculty members about inappropriate physical contact and email messages she had received from him, according to a 2014 affidavit the student filed under seal in federal court.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, she estimated in an interview that she had around 10 interactions with Bestor which she found uncomfortable or inappropriate, including harassing emails and unwelcome kissing, over a roughly seven-year period.
One of the professors she spoke with — Urton, the then-department chair — assured her that he was in contact with the University’s lawyers and ombudsman about her concerns.
Urton wrote in his statement that the court case in which the allegations against Bestor surfaced — a gender discrimination lawsuit brought against Harvard by former associate Anthropology professor Kimberly S. Theidon — had been decided in the University’s favor.
Urton also noted that the judge found he had adequately responded to the allegations against Bestor. United States District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin wrote in his 2018 opinion that Urton had “handled the matter promptly” and to the “satisfaction” of the reporting party.
The student wrote in the 2014 affidavit that the conduct had stopped, and that she had been able to “maintain a cordial relationship” with Bestor, though she chose to distance herself from him.
“I remain concerned that my complaint could adversely affect his future recommendations about me and my work,” she wrote. “I did not, and do not, want my complaint to adversely affect his career in any way. I made the complaint solely because I wanted the offensive conduct to stop, both for my own sake and for the sake of future graduate students at Harvard.”
In his emailed statement, Bestor wrote that he did not send inappropriate late night emails to students or make inappropriate physical contact with students. He wrote that he was never contacted by anyone in the department or Harvard about any Title IX or Office for Dispute Resolution complaint related to the 2013 allegations in the affidavit.
Five students said in interviews that they were aware of a second student since 2013 who said Bestor had sexually harassed her.
Heidi H. Lockwood, a professor at Southern Connecticut State University who advocates on behalf of women subject to sexual misconduct at universities, wrote in an email that she is personally aware of multiple allegations against Bestor.
“The complainants have declined to file formal complaints due to the perception that Bestor wields significant power within the field of anthropology,” she wrote. “They are afraid that filing a complaint -- or even saying negative things about Bestor to others in the field -- would make it difficult or impossible to get a job. In the case of at least one alumna of the program, this appears to have been a justifiable fear.”
Harvard officials also appear to have been aware that fear of reprisal discouraged people with allegations against Bestor from reporting, Lockwood wrote. She spoke with Harvard Title IX officer Seth Avakian on July 18, 2017 about allegations against Bestor.
During their conversation, according to Lockwood, Avakian said multiple students had contacted the Title IX office with concerns about Bestor, but declined to file formal complaints. Lockwood also recounted the conversation to a third party in a July 19, 2017 email provided to The Crimson.
“As an explanation for the refusal to file formal complaints, [Avakian] pointed out that although Harvard can prohibit retaliation on campus, the Title IX Office has no way to protect complainants from retaliation within a discipline or a field,” Lockwood wrote in her statement to The Crimson.
Bestor wrote that he was unaware anyone had discussed concerns about him with the Title IX office prior to 2017.
“The only complaint made against me that I am aware of in my 33-year teaching career is a single complaint made in 2017 that ODR investigated and which was based on a one-time, isolated incident that was fueled by alcohol, as the complainant herself recognized,” Bestor wrote.
In that incident, the professor from another university reported to UCLA’s Title IX office in May 2017 that, while he was inebriated, Bestor made inappropriate statements to her at a dinner banquet for Japan studies professors at UCLA earlier that month. The woman — one of Bestor’s former advisees who had relied on him for reference letters throughout her career — also reported that Bestor attempted to hug and kiss her at the dinner, according to another sworn affidavit filed in Theidon’s case in 2019.
“I have taken full responsibility for my conduct from the moment of first learning of the complaint,” Bestor wrote in his statement. “This event was a one-time, isolated incident that occurred because of a medical condition I have that contributed to my becoming intoxicated at the event.”
Bestor wrote that he suffers from Type 2 diabetes. On the day of the incident, he was unable to return to his hotel to take his insulin and medication.
“The combination of not having access to my medication, the unseasonably hot day, too little food and too much champagne at the reception all contributed to my becoming intoxicated,” Bestor wrote. “My condition only got worse at dinner where there was an abundance of wine, causing me to become extremely intoxicated.”
“The incident, which I deeply regret and for which I accepted full responsibility, made me finally recognize that I had a serious problem with alcohol,” he wrote. “I realized that I needed to take action so that such an incident would never occur again. I went through alcohol detoxification and I can proudly report that I have now completed two years of sobriety.”
UCLA referred the Title IX complaint to Harvard, according to the affidavit. Despite Bestor’s employment at the University, Harvard’s Title IX office declined to investigate the incident on jurisdictional grounds. The complainant wrote in the affidavit that Harvard initiated an investigation by its Office for Dispute Resolution in November 2017, only after she appealed the initial refusal in a letter to then-University President Drew G. Faust.
Dane, the Harvard spokesperson, wrote that FAS takes incidents of sexual misconduct and harassment involving faculty “very seriously.” She noted that when misconduct complaints fall outside the University’s jurisdiction, FAS may determine a need to refer the case to ODR for investigation.
In March 2018, Harvard notified the complainant that ODR’s investigation had substantiated one verbal and one physical count of faculty misconduct of a sexual nature against Bestor, according to the affidavit.
Dane confirmed FAS disciplined Bestor in March 2018, but declined to specify the sanctions.
According to the complainant’s affidavit, FAS required, among other measures, that Bestor not contact her, that he step down as director of the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, that Harvard investigate Bestor’s conduct with other students, that Bestor write letters apologizing to witnesses in the investigation, and that Bestor not return to work until he completed the sanctions.
Harvard, however, allowed Bestor to return to work before completing the sanctions, according to the affidavit. He started teaching two classes in January 2019, but had not yet sent all of the required apology letters.
In February 2019, the complainant wrote to Senior Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs Kwok W. Yu to ask about the status of the apology letters. Yu replied that, due to an “oversight” on the University’s part, Bestor had returned to work without sending the letters to the witnesses, and that they had subsequently been delivered, according to the affidavit.
Another attendee of the dinner banquet, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential processes, said they received an apology letter from Bestor in mid-February 2019, more than a month after Bestor had returned to teaching.
Bestor confirmed in his statement that Harvard “sternly sanctioned” him for aspects of his behavior that violated University policy, and noted that he has now completed all of the sanctions after being delayed by illness.
“In this same time period, in June and July 2018, I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer and began radiation and other treatments (which I continue to this day),” Bestor wrote. “As a result, the letters of apology to others in attendance at the dinner were delayed in being sent.”
“I am in compliance with all of the requirements that Harvard imposed, I have accepted all the sanctions placed against me, and I consider this matter closed,” he added.
Over the years, Harvard and the Anthropology department’s response to repeated allegations against Bestor caused concern among those familiar with the case. Students said they were reluctant to raise their concerns formally, fearing that doing so could hurt their career prospects. More than four years passed between the 2013 allegation and the ODR investigation, during which Bestor continued to advise graduate students.
Other Anthropology faculty who were the subjects of complaints, however, have not faced formal discipline.
When the 2013 allegation against Bestor surfaced, the task of handling it fell to the department’s then-chair, Urton. At the time, Urton was engaged in an affair with one of his former students that began when she asked Urton to write her a recommendation letter, according to another sealed affidavit filed in the Theidon case.
Later, in 2016, the woman told an FAS sexual harassment officer that Urton had pressured her into “unwelcome sex” in exchange for helping her advance her career.
Urton first made sexual advances toward the woman in October 2011, when she was a student in one of his Extension School classes, according to her affidavit. She said she rejected those advances.
Several weeks later, the student submitted her final paper — a study of Inca gender relations — but had yet to receive a grade. Around Dec. 22, 2011, she said she went to Urton’s office at his invitation, hoping to ask him whether he would advise her thesis.
During the meeting, the student told Urton she hoped to work as a teacher and attend the Harvard Divinity School. Urton complimented her paper and said she showed “a great deal of promise” in anthropology, according to her affidavit, which she provided to The Crimson.
Saying he could help her achieve her goals, Urton suggested a private meeting to discuss her career further, the student wrote in her affidavit. He then moved around his desk and placed his hand on her knee.
“By the position of his hand, I knew he meant a sexual exchange,” the student wrote in the affidavit. “In a routine tone of voice without any apparent concern, he suggested that I meet him at a hotel and room which he would designate. He told me he would bring wine.”
The student wrote in the affidavit that she understood Urton’s actions as an advance requesting a sexual encounter in exchange for a “glowing” letter of reference. She also wrote that Urton was “a tenured professor with a life appointment to the chair of the Department of Anthropology in the most prestigious University in the field, and in one of the fields in which I was hoping to apply for a PhD.”
“I felt I could not say no without jeopardizing my grade or my recommendation,” the student wrote.
After she agreed, Urton suggested they meet at the Sheraton Commander hotel in Harvard Square, according to emails attached as exhibits to the affidavit.
The student wrote that when they met at the hotel a week later, she had yet to receive a grade. She alleged in the affidavit that Urton provided alcohol and made sexual advances toward her while she was intoxicated, which she submitted to. She also alleged he asked her to perform sexual acts that were unwelcome to her.
Several days after the encounter, Urton emailed her a pornographic video and instructions on oral sex, according to the affidavit. He gave her an A in the class and wrote her a recommendation letter for graduate school.
The student and Urton then engaged in a consensual affair for several years. Still, she wrote in the affidavit that the effects of Urton’s unwelcome advances lingered.
“I have suffered greatly from having participated in unwelcome sex and became severely depressed,” she wrote.
Over the course of their affair, Urton sent intimate messages to the student using his Harvard email account and contacted her from his office phone, according to the affidavit and exhibits filed alongside it.
He also sent the student explicit comments about her and another female scholar, calling the other scholar his “playboy bunny,” a “whore,” a “bitch,” and a “fuck,” according to the affidavit.
In his statement to The Crimson, Urton wrote that federal and state law, as well as University policies, prevent him from disclosing confidential information about a current or former student. He added, however, that the allegations provided to him by The Crimson are “either untrue, inaccurate, or misleading.”
“Even if I were able to identify the students or events to which you refer in your email, under state and federal law, and Harvard University policies, the only comment I would be permitted would be a blanket denial,” he wrote. “No matter what the circumstance, I could not disclose personal information about a student or former student.”
He wrote that he has “adhered scrupulously” to the FAS’s policies on sexual harassment throughout his entire career, “despite unfounded rumors which may appear from time to time.”
Current FAS sexual harassment policies explicitly prohibit faculty from engaging in sexual relations with students under their supervision; the policies in place in 2011 only noted that faculty members who did so were “liable for formal action against them.”
“In the academic context, the fundamental element of sexual harassment is ordinarily the inappropriate personal attention by an instructor or other officer who is in a position to exercise professional power over another individual,” the 2011 policies read. “This could involve an instructor who determines a student’s grade or who can otherwise affect the student’s academic performance or professional future.”
Urton also wrote in his letter that any student who alleges a violation of these policies can request a thorough investigation through ODR.
“In my 18 years as a member of the Harvard faculty, no student or former student has ever filed a complaint against me with the Office of Dispute Resolution, my Department or the Dean,” he wrote. “The same can be said for the 22 years prior to my appointment at Harvard. This would not be the case if there were any substance to the allegations contained in your email.”
For several years after leaving Harvard, the student wrote in her affidavit, she hesitated to report her allegations against Urton. After finding what she called a “supportive climate” away from Harvard, she decided to come forward to University officials in 2016 “to prevent [Urton] hurting other people if they should come forward.”
In March 2016, the former student emailed Faust, asking to “discuss a situation involving Dr. Gary Urton,” according to the exhibits. She also emailed an FAS sexual harassment officer, and later told the officer by phone about Urton’s inappropriate behavior, the sexual exchange, and the subsequent affair.
The sexual harassment officer, Johannah K. Park, followed up about whether the former student wanted to pursue the “formal complaint option,” according to emails the student provided to The Crimson.
Faust’s chief of staff, Lars P. K. Madsen, later responded to the student’s email and wrote that he would be willing to speak with the student on Faust’s behalf. When the student told Madsen of her conversation with the FAS sexual harassment officer, he replied that the officer would be the “right person to speak to.”
The student wrote that she decided to submit the affidavit in 2016 because she felt it was “important that the University know that this sort of solicitation is occurring on the campus.”
In response to questions from The Crimson, the student wrote that she has “no ill feelings for Dr. Urton,” but that she believed that she would have completed further education at Harvard if not for him.
The woman’s affidavit — like the two containing allegations against Bestor — was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs in Theidon’s gender discrimination lawsuit.
In the 2015 suit, Theidon accused Urton of intentionally sabotaging her prospects for tenure when he learned of her advocacy on behalf of students who said they had experienced sexual harassment. The question of whether Theidon was unfairly denied tenure due to the Urton’s and others’ actions sparked a five-year legal battle in federal court, ultimately decided against Theidon.
The courts rejected her argument that Urton turned against her when he learned of public comments she made and her meetings with students who had allegedly been harassed by Bestor.
Sorokin dismissed Theidon’s case in February 2018, ruling against her on summary judgement. After Theidon appealed the ruling, a three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Sorokin’s decision on Jan. 22, 2020.
When she first filed suit, Theidon made two primary arguments: that her advocacy biased faculty like Urton against her, and that the Anthropology department as a whole fostered a hostile environment for women. While the courts found neither persuasive, Theidon’s case shed new light on women’s standing in the Anthropology department.
Theidon first met with Senior Vice Provost Judith D. Singer about gender disparities in the department in August 2010. She told Singer that women were given the “lion’s share of the undergrad teaching load.”
Theidon also said in the suit that the department’s lone tenured female professor at the time, Mary M. Steedly, advised Theidon to act like a “dutiful daughter” in the department, playing down her intelligence and not complaining about the extra workload.
That November, Singer prompted a visiting committee from Harvard’s Board of Overseers to look into diversity in the Anthropology department, according to the First Circuit. In its March 2011 report, the visiting committee found “the Anthropology Department lacked diversity at the tenured level in terms of gender and ethnicity and, as a result, Harvard needed to pursue stronger efforts to recruit and retain diverse tenured faculty,” according to the First Circuit opinion.
Though four of the five junior faculty in the department this fall will be women, only four of its 22 senior faculty will be, according to Subramanian and Flad. There are no tenured female faculty in the department's archaeology wing.
In interviews with The Crimson, 10 female graduate students and former faculty members said the lack of female faculty made it difficult to see paths forward in the field for themselves.
Archaeologist Sadie L. Weber, who completed a Ph.D. in the department in 2019, said her undergraduate university, Stanford, had many female faculty in its anthropology department. As she approached her Harvard graduation, however, the lack of female representation among Harvard’s tenured faculty became “very discouraging” to her while she considered her career prospects.
“The academic job market isn’t great in archaeology,” she said. “So just seeing that one of the supposedly top institutions in the world didn’t have any [women], I was like, ‘What does this mean for me?’”
Weber said the absence of tenured women in archaeology also meant she lacked mentors to turn to with questions about how to stay safe while doing fieldwork.
“Harassment is rampant,” Weber said. “I don’t think that male faculty members can’t understand it for lack of trying or lack of empathy, but it’s just something that maybe hasn’t been on their radar.”
Elizabeth S. Chilton, an Anthropology professor in Harvard’s department from 1996 to 2001, said that while she felt supported by male faculty, the gender demographics of the department grated on her.
“It meant we didn’t have anyone that we could imagine ourselves being in their shoes,” Chilton said. “Now I’m a dean and I saw that for myself when I had a woman dean take me under her wing and really say to me, ‘You could do this, if this is what you want to do.’”
Chilton — who will become provost of Washington State University in August — said she believed it was important to be a role model for female undergraduates and graduate students while she was in Harvard’s department.
“It is harder if you don’t see people who look like you,” she said. “Whether that’s faculty of color or women, not seeing people in those positions just gives you that extra hurdle that you have to try to climb over.”
Carole A. S. Mandryk, who taught in the department from 1993 to 2005, said female students would sometimes come to her office to discuss issues they encountered with other faculty.
“They didn’t necessarily want help, because it was not like I could help them. They wanted to vent and have understanding,” Mandryk said.
In particular, forging a strong connection with a dissertation advisor is a necessary condition for success in the department and after graduation, 10 current and former students said. Students rely on their advisors for formal matters — letters of recommendation and sign-offs on classes, teaching load, and dissertation milestones — as well as more informal support.
“Everything that you have to do with respect to the University, with respect to your department, and oftentimes even your professional contacts beyond Harvard goes through or is at least signed off on by your advisor,” said Max D. Price, an archaeology student who earned his Ph.D. from the department in 2016. “There’s an incredible dependency that develops.”
It is highly unlikely that a student with a problematic relationship with their advisor could succeed as a career anthropologist, Price added.
“If you have a bad relationship with your advisor, your academic career usually ends,” he said.
Beyond structural requirements like recommendation letters, informal social networks between faculty — which impact which journal a student might get published in or what university they might earn an interview from — deepen the dependency, said Jason B. Silverstein, a 2016 Anthropology Ph.D. recipient and a current lecturer at Harvard Medical School.
“Where these vast power dynamics are especially insidious is with those really informal channels, like who is willing to make a phone call for you or not,” Silverstein said.
At Harvard, such informal networks have been largely inaccessible to women, several students and former faculty said.
Mandryk, for instance, said she felt discouraged from going up for tenure because she wasn’t able to access the “academic old boys’ network.” She said male faculty and male students met informally to discuss grant, research, and co-authorship opportunities, meetings from which she felt excluded.
In addition to Mandryk, more than a dozen people currently or formerly affiliated with the department used the term “old boys’ club” to describe its dynamics.
Several of them said male professors’ relationships with male students seemed more comfortable and casual than those with female students, citing examples like the informal meetings.
One current student who spoke on the condition of anonymity said she once observed a male student take his shoes off during a meeting with a male professor, and that the professor responded by taking off his own shoes. She said she felt a female student would not be treated the same way.
Multiple students said such casual, “bro-y” relationships translated to more opportunities for male students to speak in class and participate in potential networking opportunities.
Male students would go out for drinks or meals with professors; female students often only learned of them later. And because informal networking tends to dictate career advancement in anthropology, the male students became better positioned to succeed.
The 2019 gender report identified a need for the department to provide more opportunity for female students to participate during formal networking events and to “equally distribute” opportunities to attend meals or smaller group meetings.
Silverstein said reliance on social capital for career advancement created the conditions for exploitation in the advisor-student relationship, especially because of the precariousness of the academic job market.
“In today’s job market, where even the smartest doctoral students are basically guaranteed to struggle on the job market or not get a job at all, the power dynamic between a Ph.D. advisor who might hold the keys to one of those positions — or appear to hold the keys to one of those positions — and a doctoral student who makes $30,000 a year and doesn’t have dental insurance has never been more extreme,” he said.
When Mandryk arrived at Harvard for her job interview in 1993 — even before her first day as a member of the Anthropology faculty — a male professor made disparaging comments about her nursing her one-year-old child, she said.
Mandryk, who taught as a junior faculty member and as a lecturer, said that while most male professors she encountered during her time in the department were less direct, she came to understand that if a female professor wanted to get tenure, she would have to demonstrate that work — not family — was her highest priority.
“It was definitely pointed out to me that it was assumed that I wasn’t really or couldn’t be a serious researcher if I took being a mother seriously,” Mandryk said.
Three female students who spoke on the condition of anonymity and attended Harvard over the past decade also said male faculty actively discouraged them from having children.
One student who studied in the department during the 2010s called the decision to have a child a “lonely road,” adding that she felt no one from the department advocated on her behalf when she chose to have children.
Graduate students commonly exceed the expected number of years Harvard anticipates they will spend on their dissertations; when she did so for family reasons, she said she felt stigmatized.
Another graduate from the 2010s said male professors made her feel she had to choose between her career and motherhood.
She said a professor told her when she was a prospective student that he had “never seen a student produce a child and dissertation in the same year.” Another male professor criticized her when she decided to change her research location to accommodate her family.
The student said those criticisms seemed to stem from an “old-school notion of anthropology” which several powerful male faculty in the department hold.
“There’s this whole idea of the lone anthropologist going out into the field and sacrificing all these things to go after whatever the grand research question is,” she said. “That model of a successful anthropologist that was shown to me was very much a model based upon someone who generally would live like a white male person of privilege.”
Several students said the department’s hiring practices resulted in an “old guard” of professors becoming deeply established.
Chilton, Mandryk, and Karen L. Kramer — another former Anthropology faculty member — all said they were told as junior faculty by senior faculty to assume Harvard would not grant them tenure. Chilton and Mandryk both said other professors told them to treat their junior faculty position as a postdoctoral appointment, rather than a chance at tenure.
“It was definitely this understanding that it would be an exception if something like that were to happen,” Mandryk said. “I was told repeatedly, ‘There’s no way you would get tenure.’”
Until FAS formalized its current tenure track system in 2005, Harvard’s rate of tenuring junior faculty across all departments remained extremely low. Chilton, Mandryk, and Kramer all said junior faculty today may have a stronger chance at earning tenure in Anthropology than they did.
Still, decades of not tenuring junior faculty have left a mark on the department: a gap between the senior faculty who control its direction and culture and their younger colleagues.
“Basically you get this top layer of this senior faculty who stay there for decades and then you get this younger faculty that kind of comes and goes, comes and goes,” Kramer said. “Certain perspectives then become entrenched because you aren’t bringing up your junior faculty and incorporating them into the department's perspective.”
Lockwood, the Southern Connecticut State professor, wrote to The Crimson that a department’s hiring practices can also create a culture of impunity for misbehavior.
“Hiring and retention practices within academia privilege the views of the senior members of a department or program,” Lockwood wrote. “As a result, departments who have a known problem in their ranks tend to become nests of problems -- both because they tend to attract other known problems, and because they are unable to hire or retain faculty who refuse to become ostriches or ignore the issues.”
“There is no question that our department urgently needs to diversify its faculty,” Subramanian and Flad wrote in their emailed statement. “We are a department that has far too few senior women faculty, a situation that does not represent the current state of the field.”
The two chairs wrote they “are sure” the small number of female tenured faculty affects the experiences of both male and female students, and that they intend to address the disparity with a slate of diverse hires.
“As we hope is reflected in our five most recent hires -- all of whom are women and minority scholars -- diversifying the faculty is of paramount importance to us,” Subramanian and Flad wrote. “Our plan moving forward is to orient hiring priorities around areas of disciplinary innovation where there is strong female and minority representation.”
The department requested authorization for four hires last year and hosted 14 scholars for job talks, but the FAS ultimately authorized only “one targeted search for a senior woman who was part of the canvass,” according to their statement. That search is now suspended due to the University-wide hiring freeze instituted in response to financial challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
FAS also suspended an open search for faculty who specialize in ethnic studies, which Subramanian and Flad hoped would end in the hiring of at least one of the two senior anthropologists on FAS’s short list. Both candidates are people of color, and one is a woman.
Subramanian and Flad also wrote that much has changed in recent years regarding how the department treats internal tenure candidates. Since 2000, the department has tenured nine junior faculty — three men in archaeology, and four men and two women in social anthropology.
They added that recent senior faculty hires have also reflected institutional diversity, with none of the five lateral hires in the last decade coming from other Ivy League institutions.
“By university policy, senior hires are voted on only by senior faculty in the department,” they wrote. “That said, in our procedures for external senior hires, we have worked hard in recent decades to include the voices of untenured faculty and students in the hiring processes.”
The chairs wrote that their support for the creation of the 2019 departmental report marked just one example of their dedication to incorporating student feedback. The report, compiled by a department College Fellow and several graduate students over the 2018-19 academic year, relied in part on data provided by the department itself.
For example, the department provided data showing that 13 of the 15 graduate students who have withdrawn from the archaeology program since 1990 have been female, Subramanian and Flad wrote.
The student committee also found that female archaeology students have consistently taken more time to complete their degrees than their male counterparts over the last 30 years, and that the gap has grown over time. Of the 28 graduates admitted since 2010, female students have taken 1.5 years longer on average to complete their Ph.Ds.
Men likely made up the majority of recent withdrawals in the department’s social anthropology wing, according to Subramanian and Flad. That data is currently being compiled and was not included in the 2019 report.
Faculty members also wrote point-by-point replies to the student committee’s recommendations before distributing the report to faculty.
Given the gender disparities in degree completion time and withdrawal rates, the student committee recommended that faculty establish regular office hours for their advisees and provide explicit policies for obtaining letters of recommendation. In response, the department suggested to all professors that they hold regular office hours and create a template for their students to request recommendation letters.
The report also found that male archaeology students since 1997 have published an average of 1.97 peer-reviewed articles by graduation, compared to an average of 1.53 for female students.
The faculty wrote in response that all graduate students in archaeology will likely soon be required to submit a working paper earlier in the program, and faculty will work to support that paper’s publication. They have also begun to expand the department’s professional development training.
In response to the student committee’s findings that women are disproportionately selected as head teaching fellows — a position the committee estimated can come with double the workload of a standard teaching fellow post — the faculty wrote that they will work to evenly distribute those roles. The department also now requires course heads to outline specific duties for each teaching fellow at the beginning of the semester, according to Subramanian and Flad.
They wrote in their statement that, to their knowledge, there is “no current pattern” of female students being excluded from opportunities to go out for drinks or meals with faculty.
“As for seminar discussions, while some may continue to be dominated by male students, this is a reflection of behavioral norms in the wider society that many of our faculty work hard to challenge in the classroom, although we do not always succeed,” they wrote.
Subramanian and Flad acknowledged that the department’s prior approach to advising — students being admitted to work primarily with a single professor — “may well have reinforced a sense of dependency.”
“We now make a point of only admitting students whose interests overlap with at least three faculty members, a change which is intended to mitigate over-reliance on a single individual,” they wrote. “We have also instituted a graduate advising team, which is independent of the student’s chosen committee and is empowered to address and mediate concerns the student might have with an advising relationship.”
The department also works to inform students that they can seek new advisors and dissertation committee members at any time, including scholars outside Harvard, they added.
Subramanian and Flad wrote that they will continue to attend to issues regarding female students raised by both the gender report and The Crimson, including by implementing a department climate survey that was planned this semester before the pandemic.
“We hope that by raising these issues, you will aid our efforts to get the necessary support from the University administration to continue to enact meaningful change, particularly in relation to the composition of the faculty,” they wrote. “While recent trends clearly indicate the direction in which we are moving, we are ourselves sometimes frustrated by the pace, and strongly wish we could make changes more quickly.”
Several students complimented the Anthropology department’s recent efforts to diversify, but some said they did not believe the department’s culture could change while an older generation of primarily male senior faculty remained.
Bestor, Urton, and Comaroff — the three faculty members accused of sexual misconduct — are all both tenured professors in one of the world’s most renowned anthropology departments and major figures in the field at large.
According to the women who filed affidavits and others, Bestor and Urton’s power in the anthropology field allowed them to sexually harass women over the past decade, sometimes without drawing attention to their conduct.
And while the allegations against Bestor and Urton are now several years old, those leveled against Comaroff remain an ongoing concern for the students involved.
Three current students told The Crimson this month that they are in active communication with Harvard’s Title IX office regarding concerns about Comaroff’s behavior. According to interviews with those students and other current and former students in the department, multiple people have told the Title IX office about unwanted touching, verbal sexual harassment, and professional retaliation by Comaroff, all of which he denied in his statement to The Crimson.
Last November, Flad implemented several measures that drastically reduced Comaroff’s contact with Anthropology students as a result of concerns raised about his behavior, including asking him not to use his office in the Tozzer Anthropology Building and removing him from a class he was scheduled to teach, according to documents obtained by The Crimson and people with direct knowledge of the situation. Comaroff continued to teach in the Department of African and African American Studies, where he also holds an appointment. He told The Crimson he had not been “banished” from Anthropology.
In an emailed response to the allegations against Comaroff, Dane wrote that while Harvard does not comment on individual circumstances, the University encourages affiliates to bring instances of sexual misconduct to its attention.
“The Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ (FAS) Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy and Procedures maintains that any member of our community, former or current, may file a formal complaint, request an informal resolution, and/or seek supportive measures to help the individual continue their education, research, and participation in all aspects of the University,” she wrote. “We encourage any member of our community who has experienced inappropriate behavior to come forward.”
—Associate Managing Editor Molly C. McCafferty contributed reporting.