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Letters

A Response Letter from 73 Faculty Members

By Vincent A. Brown, Alison F. Johnson, and Kirsten A. Weld
Vincent A. Brown is a professor of History and African and African American Studies. Alison F. Johnson is a professor of History and Germanic Languages and Literatures. Kirsten A. Weld is a professor of History.

We, the undersigned, write in strong opposition to the open letter signed by 38 Harvard faculty calling into question the sanctions against Professor John Comaroff. We are dismayed that these faculty members would openly align themselves against students who have lodged complaints about a tenured professor.

Without full knowledge of the facts of the Title IX and Professional Conduct investigations, the signatories have endorsed details provided by Professor Comaroff’s legal team, which has taken advantage of the confidentiality of these processes to publicize its view of the case.

As is evident from the letters written in his support, Professor Comaroff is a scholar with a powerful network of friends and colleagues. This raises the question of why three graduate students would go public with their complaints against him and willingly subject themselves to protracted, grueling, and potentially career-ending investigations. In lauding Professor Comaroff’s reputation while failing to consider the complainants’ perspectives, the signatories imply that the students have fabricated their accounts of harassment and retaliation.

The letter also accepts the notion advanced by Professor Comaroff and his legal team that Dean Gay put together a “kangaroo court” to manufacture charges against him. It suggests that the minimal protections that now exist at the university to allow redress for harm have gone too far in undermining the rights of faculty. But there is ample evidence that the available institutional procedures for investigating complaints of sexual and gender-based harassment and professional misconduct are, conversely, far from adequate for the effective adjudication of such abuses of power.

As faculty, we should be demanding better protections and more expedient, transparent, equitable, and independent investigative procedures. We must do so without presuming to know the full findings of confidential investigations or acting in ways that intimidate students and inhibit them from divulging experiences of harm.

Vincent A. Brown is a professor of History and African and African American Studies. Alison F. Johnson is a professor of History and Germanic Languages and Literatures. Kirsten A. Weld is a professor of History.

A list of faculty signatories to this letter can be found here.

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