Fenwick Hall, College of the Holy Cross (Photo by Michael Ivins/Holy Cross)
The College of the Holy Cross this week released the detailed results of a comprehensive investigation into historical incidents of faculty sexual misconduct. The investigation focused on accounts of survivors of faculty sexual misconduct spanning several decades. The final report offers recommendations drawn from those accounts to improve culture, restore trust and ensure accountability. College leaders pledged to move efficiently to implement the recommendations.
Over a period of eight months, investigators from the law firm Cozen O’Connor performed an extensive document review and interviewed more than 75 alumni, students, staff and faculty. Twenty-one interviewees reported experiencing sexual misconduct while at the College, in incidents spanning the 1950s through the 2010s. The review follows the observation of former President Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., that “we must reckon with our past. Only with this understanding and acknowledgement can we move toward healing.”
In a message to the campus community on Sept. 8, Holy Cross President Vincent D. Rougeau and Helen Boucher, M.D., ’86, board chair, thanked the investigators and said the report offered a full acknowledgement of and reckoning with past incidents, as well as a “hopeful path forward.”
They also expressed their gratitude to all who participated in the investigation, particularly the survivors.
“We owe a debt to the survivors, whose ability to envision and fight for a better Holy Cross inspires us to work even harder,” Rougeau and Dr. Boucher said. “To these individuals, we say: Thank you. You are changing culture; you are remaking the College by living the very values we espouse.”
The leaders said they would soon create a special committee to carry forward the work and investigation recommendations.
The review acknowledged that answering the question of how sexual misconduct may have occurred is multifaceted and complex, and “the answer to the ‘how could this have happened?’ question necessarily evolves over time as societal understanding and attention to the issue has evolved – and as the College has changed significantly as an educational institution.”
Nevertheless, investigators Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez identified a number of themes that emerged in survivor accounts that might have contributed to an environment in which sexual misconduct can occur, including gaps in policies and reporting structures, turnover and instability in the College’s Title IX office, and a tendency toward exceptionalism, which investigators called, “the idea that the institution or its faculty, as a whole, are special or outside the norm of elite academic institutions.”
The review found that in many cases, the College had already taken steps to address some of the shortcomings investigators identified in policy and structure. Changes in the College’s senior leadership, a stabilized Title IX office that has been fortified with new hires and improvements in policy have addressed some of the issues present in historical cases of misconduct.
“The College is, in many respects, a different organization than it was in the spring of 2019, and even a different institution than it was in the spring of 2021,” investigators wrote.
Those changes, and the passage of time, have repaired some of the lost trust between faculty and administrators, the Cozen team said.
“While some expressed deep anger that may not be absolved through any action of the College, all shared the hope that future students would not be subjected to the same experiences and an optimism that the current leadership of the College is positioned to drive necessary cultural change,” investigators wrote.
In May 2021, the board of trustees initiated a Comprehensive Investigation into Faculty Sexual Misconduct, following public reports in 2018 and 2019 of alleged sexual misconduct involving two Holy Cross employees. In response to those reports, the College examined and took steps to address the culture, structures and procedures that may have allowed misconduct to occur.
However, some members of the Holy Cross community believed it was important to conduct a more comprehensive investigation. In keeping with the College’s commitment to shared governance, the board of trustees charged a Comprehensive Investigation Oversight Committee, consisting of an equal number of representatives of the board, faculty and College administration, with overseeing the independent investigation. The review was intended not to be a reinvestigation of prior incidents, but rather a deep look into the cultural, structural or organizational factors that may have contributed to them.
That committee hired Cozen O’Connor, a Philadelphia-based law firm nationally known for such investigations. The investigators were given full autonomy in how to conduct the investigation, which documents to review and whom to interview, according to their report.
Investigators said their work and their independence were strongly supported by Holy Cross generally and the Comprehensive Investigation Oversight Committee, and commended the committee as a model of shared governance.
“While we were engaged by the College, this was ultimately an incredibly collaborative and, we believe, transformational committee process that reflected the best aspects of communication, trust, and collaboration necessary for shared governance to be successful,” investigators wrote.
The full report and recommendations were shared with the Holy Cross campus community on Sept. 8. Following the report’s release, Rougeau said the College would host a number of opportunities for members of the community to discuss and digest the report, including a town hall discussion with the investigators, committee members and Holy Cross leadership later in September. The College also plans to hold a special religious service, as a Prayer for Atonement and Healing.
The investigators recommended a number of further steps the College could take to address highlighted issues.
The report recommended:
Those steps, the investigators wrote, would only be successful if all parties recognized their “shared responsibility among organizational power structures, including senior leadership, the Board and the faculty, and work to create safe environments that foster gender equity, promote accountability (perceived and actual), encourage bystander engagement, provide permission and support for reporting, and reinforce prohibitions against retaliation.”
Rougeau and Dr. Boucher closed their message to the Holy Cross community with words from French Jesuit and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.: “In the final analysis, the question of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.”
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