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Moral rot in celebrity academia


So a bunch of academic stars thought this was a good idea:

In response to the sanctions against Comaroff, a group of 38 Harvard professors, including Henry Louis Gates Jr., Paul Farmer, Jamaica Kincaid, and Jill Lepore, rose to his defense, questioning whether his punishment was necessary.

Relying on a media report that discussed his warning the student about the travel in Africa, the professors who signed the letter questioned the implications for their own advisees.

“Since we the undersigned would also feel ethically compelled to offer the same advice to any student conducting research in a country with similar prohibitions, we are perplexed,” they wrote. “How can advice intended to protect an advisee from sexual violence be itself construed as sexual harassment?”

But last week, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Claudine Gay, warned signatories of the letter supporting Comaroff that they did not have all the information.

Even before any additional information came out, it’s really extraordinary arrogance to simply assume as fact that a Harvard graduate student can’t tell the difference between helpful advice and sexual harassment.

But oy the further information:

Three graduate students filed a lawsuit against Harvard on Tuesday alleging the school ignored years of sexual harassment and retaliation by professor John L. Comaroff, who was placed on unpaid leave last month.

The suit, filed by three graduate students in the Anthropology Department, alleges that Harvard mishandled Title IX complaints and allowed Comaroff to intimidate students who threatened to report him, including the plaintiffs.

The suit — filed by Margaret G. Czerwienski, Lilia M. Kilburn, and Amulya Mandava — charges that Comaroff committed physical and verbal sexual harassment, including unwanted kissing and groping. In the 65-page filing, the students took sharp aim at Harvard, which they allege “watched” as Comaroff retaliated against accusers and “allowed its investigatory process to be used in service of Professor Comaroff’s campaign of professional blacklisting.”

The lawsuit alleges that Comaroff subjected Kilburn “to a pattern of gender-based harassment and assault continuing from 2017 until at least April 2019 using threats, intimidation, and coercion.” He also allegedly “threatened, intimidated, and coerced” Mandava and Czerwienski for warning others about his sexual misconduct “with the goal of inducing them to stop their speech and opposition to his sexual harassment and gender discrimination.”

The suit, filed in federal court, charges that Harvard knew of Comaroff’s alleged misconduct when it hired him in 2012 and failed to act after repeated reports of verbal and physical harassment. It also accuses the University of refusing to take action against Comaroff until the press reported on the harassment allegations.


The complaint also alleges that Comaroff retaliated against students who warned of his misbehavior by threatening their careers. After Comaroff allegedly made unwanted sexual advances on an unnamed second-year graduate student in spring 2017, two of the plaintiffs — Czerwienski and Mandava — warned others about his behavior, the suit said. Comaroff then told them they would have “trouble getting jobs” if they continued warning students of his behavior, the suit alleges.

According to the complaint, Harvard knew about “a decades-long pattern of harassment and retaliation” by Comaroff when it hired him. Faculty at the University of Chicago, where Comaroff previously taught, had warned the Chair of Harvard’s African and African American Studies Department about Comaroff’s misconduct, according to the filing — but Harvard decided to hire him anyway.


The complaint alleges that Harvard violated state laws by mishandling its investigations into Comaroff. The ODR obtained Kilburn’s psychotherapy notes without her consent, according to the suit, and provided them to Comaroff as part of its draft report. Comaroff then used the notes to claim Kilburn must have imagined he sexually harassed her because she was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder — “a condition that she developed as a direct result of his conduct,” according to the complaint.

Yup, just one heck of a job here. The decision of 38 powerful people to preemptively circle the wagons around another powerful person credibly accused of sexual assault is not only unconscionable, it exemplifies the stacking of the deck against victims the suit alleges:

The letter is really something that can’t be meaningfully “retracted.”

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