Yesterday morning, an anonymous student at the Columbia School of General Studies filed a lawsuit against Columbia University and former GS Dean of Students Tom Harford. The anonymous plaintiff (Jane Doe) “alleges that Dean Harford engaged in inappropriate and manipulative sexual behavior with her,” according to a press release from the firm representing this student. Columbia University is also implicated in the suit for failing to follow Title IX and protect the student.
According to Wall Street Journal, the plaintiff “alleged that she was referred to School of General Studies Dean of Students Tom Harford by a campus crisis center after she reported being raped by an acquaintance, with the expectation that he could help find emergency housing and other assistance.” Harford allegedly took advantage of the student’s vulnerability by giving her money and subjecting her to unwanted sexual activity. He allegedly “told [the student] stories about his violent past to intimidate her, and used her need for scholarship funds as bait to keep her bound to him.”
Harford was removed from his position as Dean of General Studies last week. The email to GS students announcing this removal cited simply “unacceptable conduct.”
“Columbia pays lip service to the ideals of a safe campus, but it has a well-documented record of violating Title IX in preventing and responding to reports of sexual misconduct,” said David Sanford, one of the attorneys representing this case. Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, has brought three cases on the grounds of sexual harassment and gender discrimination against Columbia in the past year, including a suit against Business School professor Geert Bekaert and a suit against history professor Dr. William Harris. Columbia was found liable for retaliation in the first of these cases, and Dr. Harris retired as part of the settlement of the second.
Update August 29th, 2018 12:13 pm: Columbia University’s statement about Harford is as follows:
Mr. Harford was promptly removed from his position as Dean of Students when we learned of behavior that was unacceptable in light of his responsibilities. While we cannot comment on the specifics of this litigation and will respond in the appropriate forum, we take these matters very seriously. Our priority is providing a safe and supportive learning environment that fosters the intellectual and personal fulfillment of our students.