Graduate Students United (GSU) is enraged by the cases recently made public against former University of Chicago and current Harvard faculty member John Comaroff, as well as the choices of his colleagues who signed open letters in support of him this past week. We know all too well from our organizing that universities like ours consistently fail survivors of harassment, abuse, and assault through inadequate and retraumatizing Title IX processes that serve only to protect perpetrators and minimize institutional liability. The fact that this predatory behavior was widely known and yet Comaroff was not held accountable at the University of Chicago, only to continue to rise in academic stardom and subject more women to harassment and retaliation elsewhere, is absolutely inexcusable. It is an embarrassment and a shame that so many of his colleagues, many of whom purport to theorize on race, gender, sexuality, and power in their academic work, saw what was happening and did nothing, or else claimed ignorance. Further, GSU condemns Comaroff’s many colleagues’ decision to write a public statement in support of him. Such statements send a troubling message to survivors of sexual harassment throughout higher education. They are also and equally gross displays of the very hierarchies of power and influence that prevent workers and students alike from coming forward in the first place–the kinds of hierarchies graduate unions struggle to contest and lay bare.
We are grateful for and humbled by the strength of the women who came forward to put a stop to this pattern of harassment and lack of accountability, and send all our support and solidarity to both them and the numerous other survivors who have been silenced by Harvard and UChicago’s many actions and inactions. Further, we commend Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU) for their ongoing advocacy for adequate protections against harassment and retaliation via third-party arbitration at Harvard.
When the University of Chicago refused to recognize the results of our union election, then-provost Daniel Diermeier convened a Committee on Graduate Education to study and propose solutions for the union’s priorities. Grievance procedures were at the top of this list. As recently as December 2021, Provost Ka Yee C. Lee continued to punt the establishment of safe and just grievance reporting into the future, leaving divisional procedures in place. Much like at Harvard, University of Chicago administrators either a) do not take this seriously or b) do not want to actually change deeply problematic power relations in the workplace. We call on all faculty, administrators, and the public to recognize and support graduate student workers across the U.S. who are responding to endemic abuse in the academy by fighting for collective bargaining rights to build independent grievance processes. We firmly believe that the best way to ensure the protection of our membership is through the collective power of a union.