Harvard political scientist Jorge Dominguez, one of the most influential academics in Cuban and Latin American studies over several decades, has been suspended amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment of colleagues and students at the university.
On Monday, he announced his intention to retire at the end of the semester.
“I am retiring from my job at Harvard at the end of this semester. It has been a privilege to serve the University,” Dominguez, 72, wrote in an email Tuesday informing the university of his decision. He added that he would not teach again and had resigned from the remainder of his responsibilities at Harvard.
An investigation by The Chronicle of Higher Education published last week reported 10 women said that they had felt uncomfortable with Dominguez’s conduct or had been harassed by him. After the initial article, another eight women accused the Cuba-born academic.
“I want to be very clear that Dominguez’s forthcoming retirement does not change the full and fair process of review that is currently underway. He remains on administrative leave until it is concluded,” Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), wrote in an email to el Nuevo Herald.
Anna Cowenhoven, in charge of communications and marketing at FAS, said the university will take the results of its internal investigation into account when it comes to considering the “rights and privileges normally provided to retired faculty members.”
An internal Harvard investigation in 1983 found that Dominguez showed “serious misconduct” with then assistant Professor Terry Karl, who had reported several incidents of sexual harassment to the university administration. At that time, Dominguez had tenure, was president of the Latin American Studies Association and was on his way to becoming the head of the government studies department.
The Karl case did not keep Dominguez from continuing his academic rise.
Until Tuesday, he was the Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico in Harvard’s government department and chair of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. From 2006 to 2015 he also served as vice provost for international affairs.
The incidents related to The Chronicle by Karl, other former professors and students at the university cover several decades, from 1978 to 2015. The women alleged a pattern of harassment that included kisses, hugs and other kinds of unwanted physical contact, accompanied at times by reminders of the powerful positions he held.
Dominguez did not comment on the allegations. His attorney, Leon H. Hesten, said the academic had opted not to comment for the time being.
“We are all stunned,” said Andy Gomez, former deputy provost of the University of Miami. He and Dominguez once taught a course on the Cuban Revolution at UM.
“We were around students and I never saw a sign of this type of behavior,” Gomez added. “I consider Jorge a friend but I want to be clear: I cannot condone this behavior. There seems to be a pattern and there is no room for sexual harassment.”
The Chronicle investigation also included criticism of Harvard's handling of the allegations against Dominguez over the years, including many that were reported directly to the university administration.
The student Harvard Crimson newspaper published an editorial saying it was “disappointed but not surprised” that the university had not responded more firmly to the initial complaints against Dominguez, allowing him to remain in the institution.
One week before the first Chronicle article was published, the university sent an email to its employees and students restating its policies on sexual harassment. On Friday, several administrators met with students and professors at the government department to discuss the issue. On that same day, University Provost Alan M. Garber sent an email saying it was “heartbreaking” to learn of the incidents recounted by Dominguez’s former colleagues and students. He said the university took the allegations “seriously.”
The university would not say whether it was aware of the new allegations, beyond the Karl case, but sent el Nuevo Herald copies of Garber's email and another by Smith announcing his decision to put Dominguez on administrative leave, “pending a full and fair review of the facts and circumstances regarding allegations that have come to light. This leave is effective immediately.”
“I want to state unequivocally that the FAS will not tolerate sexual harassment,” he added.
In private, several academics who study Cuba said they were surprised by the allegations. But on social networks, former students asked why the complaints had not become public earlier, because the rumors of Dominguez’s conduct toward certain women had been circulating for years.
Dominguez was born in Havana in 1945 and left the island in 1960. He has written scores of books and articles about Cuba and other parts of Latin America. His most recent book, published in 2017, was co-authored with several academics on the island and is titled Social Policies and Decentralization in Cuba: Change in the Context of 21st Century Latin America.
UM President Julio Frenk recently assigned Dominguez to write a report with recommendations on what to do about the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at UM.
Dominguez has tenure so he cannot be fired from the government department, but he can be dismissed from the Harvard Corporation, the university's highest entity.
“If all these allegations are true, and I have no reasons to doubt the details in the articles, there is enough cause to fire him and remove his tenure,” Gomez said. “I am stunned that Harvard has handled this so poorly.”