by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Students and professors at Harvard Law School are demanding the university punish a 77-year-old anthropology professor over allegations of sexual misconduct that Harvard’s own Title IX office has dismissed, according to a July 26 petition from Harvard’s Graduate Student Union.
The petition demands that the law school cancel a class taught by John Comaroff, a renowned anthropologist who has spent the past two years battling allegations that he sexually harassed three graduate students. Harvard’s Office of Dispute Resolution concluded that most of those allegations—including an allegation of sexual assault—were without merit. It found only a minor violation of Title IX, an off-color comment by Comaroff that investigators conceded had “no romantic or sexual intention,” according to Comaroff’s lawyers.
The petition nonetheless accuses Comaroff of sexual “violence” and argues that his presence in the classroom would pose “a serious risk of continued harm.” Its signatories include Harvard Law professor Nikolas Bowie, who sits on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts, as well as a dozen law students who’ve worked for public defenders.
“It is shocking that an employee union is calling for a Harvard employee to be summarily punished and cast out of the University community based upon allegations that the University’s process found him not responsible for or that have never been investigated,” one of Comaroff’s lawyers, Ruth O’Meara-Costello, said in a statement on Friday. “And it is shocking that signatories to the union’s petition, including law students and a law professor, would join in this demand to substitute mob justice for due process.”
Both ironies reflect a broader identity crisis within legal nonprofits and labor unions, which have begun to take positions at odds with their core missions.