When Professors Close RanksRoundup
tags: Harvard, sexual harassment, Title IX, graduate education, academic labor
Claire Bond Potter is a professor of history at the New School for Social Research.
Today, a graduate student asked me to be on their dissertation committee. Of course, I am always honored by this request. It represents trust. It offers the opportunity for an intellectual relationship based on a shared love of ideas and the prospect of discovering new knowledge. And because I spent my first 20 years at a university where my department granted only the B.A., I know that advising may lay the groundwork for a long-term friendship, one that cultivates professionalism on both sides.
And then, when they mentioned another potential committee member, I said bluntly that this individual was a known sexual harasser. So we agreed together that this was a no-fly zone and moved on to other options.
Before today, I would have wrestled over the decision to name a sexual harasser. But, unlike the 38 Harvard faculty who initially signed a letter supporting the anthropologist and accused serial sexual harasser John Comaroff (34 have now retracted), I like to have firsthand, accurate knowledge about things I stick my nose into. Therefore, I will refrain from speculating why these professors rushed to protest a disciplinary outcome that is not (yet) career-ending for Comaroff.
But I will tell you one true thing about what I do for a living: We faculty generally know who the sexual harassers among us are.
If the lawsuit filed against Harvard this week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts is even partially true (and let me be clear that I believe these women), Harvard, and before it, the University of Chicago, covered up the long-term psychological torture of graduate students in anthropology.
This essay previously appeared on the author’s Substack, Political Junkie.