Did the university’s handling of one professor’s sexual-harassment complaint keep other women from coming forward for decades?
Karl’s first semester at Harvard went well. Her course evaluations were excellent, she remembers. When Domínguez came by her office one day that summer, he wrapped her in his arms and tried to kiss her. She pulled away, though she didn’t make a scene. She didn’t want to offend him. Domínguez offered a parting suggestion: Don’t spend too much time on students, he said, because teaching is not what Harvard rewards.
She mentioned the hug and kiss to some friends, but didn’t report him to administrators. She hoped it was an aberration.
That fall, Harvard hosted a dinner that included, as a guest, the former president of Venezuela, Rafael Caldera. Karl had done research in Venezuela, and had gotten to know Caldera. When she arrived at the dinner, Domínguez greeted her then turned to Caldera and said, “Conoce a Terry. Ella es mi esclava.”
Translation: “You know Terry. She is my slave.”
Domínguez asked for a ride home that night, as he often did. She had come to dread those requests, but it was hard to say no. In the car, she confronted him about the comment. He told her he was surprised that she was offended. That’s when he kissed her and slid his hand up her skirt, telling her he would be the next department chairman, decide her promotion, review her book. Karl froze. She had never even heard the term “sexual harassment,” but she knew what was going on. “I’m feeling like somebody is asking for sexual favors in return for a good review,” she says.
Later, she would scold herself for being naïve, for not recognizing what seemed, in retrospect, like an obvious ploy. She also told herself she could handle it. “You try to minimize it,” she says. “OK, this just happened in the hotel, and I’m going to lunch with him and I’m going to say ‘Don’t ever do this again’ and it’s going to be OK. You tell yourself over and over, ‘It’s going to be OK.’”
Considering his previous behavior, Karl took the statement as a threat. “At this point, I became physically afraid of him,” she would later write when describing the incident in a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She was determined never to be alone with him again.
At the end of July 1983, Karl and Domínguez signed an agreement, one she hoped would offer some measure of protection. Domínguez promised to “conduct himself in the future at all times in a fashion respectful” of Karl. In August, Rosovsky wrote in a letter to Karl that Domínguez’s “repeated sexual advances and certain other deprecating actions” amounted to a “serious abuse of authority — for which he is fully responsible.” Along with being temporarily removed from administrative responsibilities, he was also forbidden from reviewing Karl’s work or taking part in discussions about her promotion. As for Karl, she was given three semesters of paid leave, and her tenure clock was put on hold for two years. In addition, Rosovsky said that administrators would talk more about sexual-harassment procedures and that the faculty council might address it.
But the books weren’t closed yet. Karl was hearing rumors that made her worried about her reputation. In October Domínguez met with a number of graduate students, including Philip Oxhorn, now a professor of political science at McGill University. Oxhorn recalls that Domínguez told the students what happened was “a love affair gone bad, and that he was as much a victim as Terry, if not more so.” Another graduate student who was at that meeting, Cynthia Sanborn, now research vice president at the University of the Pacific, in Peru, later described it in a letter to Rosovsky: “[Domínguez] clearly implied that his harassment of the junior professor in this case was actually a ’misunderstanding,’ and if he could only tell us his side of the story we would see things differently,” she wrote.
Meanwhile Domínguez steadily climbed the ladder at Harvard. In 1995, he was selected as director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, a post previously occupied by scholarly heavyweights like Samuel Huntington and Robert Putnam. In 2006, he was made vice provost for international affairs, and, in 2014, he and Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, traveled to Mexico City together as part of the university’s international outreach. In 2016, a dissertation prize was set up in Domínguez’s honor at the university’s Latin American-studies center. Originally the prize, and the $54,000 raised to support it, was to be given through the Latin American Studies Association, but when some who knew about Domínguez’s behavior, including Philip Oxhorn, caught wind of the plan, they worked behind the scenes to scuttle it. “This was not a man who deserved that kind of recognition,” Oxhorn says.
Karl believes Harvard administrators played down her many complaints, attempting to mollify her rather than dealing with a difficult situation head-on. Harvard refused, as some universities still do, to publicly name the person responsible. They also let him stay, and promoted him, which sent a signal that Karl believes discouraged others from coming forward. If they hadn’t done that, "then these women who experienced harassment in the 1990s and 2000s, it wouldn’t have happened, or they would have known that someone would be punished if they were harassed,” she says. “That’s the great enabling. It’s why the silence is so terrible.”