Protected by Decades-Old Power Structures, Three Renowned Harvard Anthropologists Face Allegations of Sexual Harassment

The Harvard Crimson

May 28, 2020

By James S. Bikales

Senior Anthropology professors Theodore C. Bestor, Gary Urton, and John L. Comaroff have weathered allegations of sexual harassment, including some leveled by students. But affiliates said gender issues in the department stretch beyond them.

In 1986, a group of professors writing for the journal Current Anthropology found that the country’s most elite anthropology programs, including Harvard’s, operated based on a “hierarchy of prestige” dominated by powerful tenured faculty.

Nearly 35 years later, it is in part that very hierarchy that has allowed three of Harvard’s senior Anthropology faculty — former department chairs Theodore C. Bestor and Gary Urton and professor John L. Comaroff — to weather allegations of sexual harassment, including some leveled by students, according to people with knowledge of the matter and documents obtained by The Crimson.

In 2018, a Harvard investigation found Bestor committed two counts of sexual misconduct during an interaction with a female professor at a 2017 conference at UCLA. Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences disciplined Bestor for the incident, but allowed him to return to work before completing required sanctions.

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