Holy crap, Harvard took it to another level

This is stunning. In the investigation into the accusations against Comaroff, Harvard decided to turn the investigation around and dig into the accuser’s personal history. So they got private psychotherapy records of one of the women, without her consent (how did they do that? Patient confidentiality doesn’t matter anymore?), and then turned them over to Comaroff.

I am flabbergasted. This is such a blatant violation of ethics that the university and that private therapist need to be censured. Or worse, that’s just plain criminal.

I am becoming confirmed in my belief that university administrators everywhere are tainted with evil.


  1. kome says

    Is it cynical of me to think that in spite of everything being revealed, the individuals most likely to experience negative consequences from all of this are the three students who filed the complaint, who will continue to be retaliated against by Harvard as well as being potentially blacklisted by prospective future employers who Google their names and decide to label them as “troublemakers” when reviewing their job application materials.

    Seeing how things have transpired across universities before, it is quite likely that the worst thing the abuser will have to endure is being encouraged by Harvard admin to go on the job market to line up a new tenure-track position at a different university before the investigation is concluded.

  2. raven says

    There are so many things wrong here that it is hard to even know where to start.
    There isn’t enough information in the OP to say what is going on, but it looks like Harvard is trying to blame the victim.

    As mentioned in the first comment, this is a violation of HIPAA.

    I would just start suing all the parties involved. Harvard for sure. Comaroff. The private therapist.

  3. R. L. Foster says

    I see lawsuits. Against the therapist, against Comaroff, and most especially against Harvard. Isn’t that how we do things in this country?

  4. says

    Both the psychiatrist who (apparently) gave up privileged client information without a peep of protest, and the Harvard officials who asked for it, got it, and gave it to someone else who had no business seeing it, should not only be fired, they should be permanently blacklisted. The former should never be allowed to practice again, and the latter should never be trusted to work in any sort of educational institution. This action is both disgraceful and unforgivable.

  5. Bruce Fuentes says

    I will not be surprised to see Harvard’s high-priced lawyers pull out some sort of blanket consent agreement that Ms. Kliburn signed at some point in her time at Harvard. Also, they may pull out some sort of signed doc that has buried in it an agreement to seek arbitration. These fuckers are evil. They will destroy people’s lives to protect the reputations of a vile professor and their vile institution.

  6. Artor says

    The guilty parties should not only be fired, but they should be prosecuted for their blatantly criminal actions. This is insanely over the top, and my mind boggles that anyone involved thought for a moment that what they were doing was okay, or even legal.

  7. raven says

    I will not be surprised to see Harvard’s high-priced lawyers pull out some sort of blanket consent agreement that Ms. Kliburn signed at some point in her time at Harvard.

    They might well do that. If they have it, they will.

    Won’t do them any good though.
    You can’t be forced to sign your legal rights away. These sorts of documents are only good to intimidate people. I’ve signed a few in my life, and I and the counterparties all knew they weren’t legal or enforceable.

    Just smile and sue them anyway.

    AFAICT, with the limited information on this thread, Harvard et al. are so far in the wrong here that they would be advised to cave in immediately, settle, and fire a few administration people for major incompetence.

  8. raven says

    Harvard has been having ongoing problems recently about a lot of things.

    Summers to step down, ending tumult at Harvard President faced revolt; Bok to be interim head
    By Marcella Bombardieri and Maria Sacchetti, Globe Staff | February 22, 2006

    CAMBRIDGE — Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers, facing a faculty revolt and eroding support from the university’s governing board, announced yesterday he will resign, ending the briefest tenure at the Ivy League school’s helm in 144 years.

    Last year, Summers sparked international outrage by speculating at an economics conference that innate differences between men and women might be one of the reasons women lag behind in science and math careers.

    This led to an apology and a no-confidence vote in the faculty of arts and sciences in March of last year.

    Asked in an interview with the Globe about regrets about specific actions he took, Summers mentioned only one: his speech about women and science. ”I would not have spoken the way I did” at the conference, he said.

    Summers was the former president of Harvard.
    He once said women lag in science and math because they are dumb.
    It didn’t go over well.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    From the lawsuit linked at #8, the part about Kilburn’s psychotherapy notes:

    In 2020, ODR [Office for Dispute Resolution] contacted Ms. Kilburn’s  psychotherapist, a private therapist unaffiliated with Harvard, and obtained the psychotherapy notes from her sessions with Ms. Kilburn. ODR did not obtain Ms. Kilburn’s consent for the release of those records. 
    135. After obtaining the notes without Ms. Kilburn’s consent, ODR then withheld the full notes from Ms. Kilburn, redacting swaths of the notes and refusing to disclose the redacted portions even as ODR’s investigator grilled her about the redacted contents during an interview.
    136. ODR then provided the notes to Professor Comaroff as part of its draft report. Professor Comaroff, in turn, deployed the notes to gaslight Ms. Kilburn, claiming that she must have imagined that he sexually harassed her because she was experiencing post-traumatic stress  disorder, a condition that she developed as a direct result of his conduct.
    137. Finally, ODR published the notes in its Final Report concerning Ms. Kilburn’s complaint against Professor Comaroff and appended them as exhibits, making Ms. Kilburn’s medical records available to anyone with access to the Final Report.

  10. Rich Woods says

    @R L Foster #6:

    I see lawsuits. Against the therapist, against Comaroff, and most especially against Harvard. Isn’t that how we do things in this country?

    Sort of. If it’s not lawsuits, it’s bullets. But once in a while you might try not bringing up people to be sociopathic arseholes, nor letting any potential sociopathic arsehole get anywhere near any position of power and influence where they could feel entitled to behave in such a fashion and face no personal consequences because the system itself is sociopathic. Actually that advice would go for any country and society. We live in hope…

  11. lanir says

    Well. I suppose there are two ways to look at it. They’re either all fucking evil jackasses or they’re just completely incompetent at the most basic aspects of medical privacy, investigative processes and simple logic (re: choosing to directly support some handsy shitlord over credible accusations when your role is to be a neutral party). I think in the interests of further education these people should all definitely be asked which of these is the case.

    Also on a side note, I don’t suppose there’s any chance that everyone harrassed just so happens to be someone there on a scholarship or otherwise lacking family connections?

  12. PaulBC says

    Rich Woods@17 “Power and influence” selects for sociopaths. Not everyone considers these to be the hallmark of personal success, which could be defined variously by creative output, thrill of discovery, personal relationships, or even material well-being, among other things. But manipulative people love precisely those positions in which they do the most damage, and work the hardest to obtain them.

    You have a good solution to this, and I’m all ears.

  13. whheydt says

    Re: brucej @ 31…
    Back when I was a programmer for a pharmacy chain, we got HIPAA training. The one thing that stuck in my mind (other than the obvious requirement for confidentiality) was that essentially every clause ended with stating that violations were subject it “up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.”

    On the other hand, what I find amusing are people who try to make threats about violating “HIPPA” [sic]. Such as a private function requiring proof of vaccination and wearing a mask.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    When Nixon’s “plumbers” went after Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s records, they at least had the decency to do so by burglary.

  15. says

    I’ll go further than some here: revoke Harvard’s accreditation. A “university” that would knowingly do this shouldn’t have the ability to operate.

  16. Artor says

    My sister is a doctor. While I was visiting her over the holidays last year, she got a call from the hospital. A man had come in asking for his wife’s medical records, and the desk clerk handed him copies of everything. Then it turned out the man and his wife were going through an acrimonious divorce, and he was trying to dig up dirt on her. The shitstorm over that kept my sister on the phone for the next two days, and I’m pretty sure the clerk got fired with cause, and I think the hospital ended up settling for a sizeable chunk of money. HIPPA violations are serious business.

  17. specialffrog says

    Bruce Fuentes: HIPAA disclosure consent agreements have to specific so I don’t think any kind of blanket disclosure agreement would cut it. However, it is possible Harvard doesn’t count as a ‘covered entity’ in HIPAA terms so only the therapist is actually in breach.

    Though I’d be surprised if there were not more general data protection laws in Massachusetts that do apply to Harvard.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    I obviously do not know anything about US law. But just the bad publicity from this scandal would be a major strike to the Harvard “brand”. Unless the people who want to study there are sociopaths.

  19. gijoel says

    I fear at some point the entire state of Massachusetts is going to become involved in this case.

  20. opossumboy says

    I’ve retired now, but back when I was a practicing clinical psychologist I always knew that the patient’s chart could be subpoenaed, so I put minimal notes in it. You know: “patient on time. Making steady progress.” I kept my real notes in a separate file known only to myself.

  21. whheydt says

    Re: Artor @ #26…
    About 20 years ago, my wife was in a hospital and I would come by every day after work to see her and render any assistance I could. On the way in, I would stop by the nursing station to check when her last pain meds and anti-nausea meds (the nausea being caused by the pain meds) had been administered because it all had her rather fuzzy and losing track of time. (She described it later as floating on lakes of demerol.)
    So one day I come in, go the station and ask when she’d had the last dose of each (asking by name of medication). The nurse turned to the computer to look it up, stopped, turned back to me and asked, “who ARE you?” On being informed that I was her husband, the nurse supplied the relevant data. Things are probably tighter now.

  22. chrislawson says

    The report is a bit vague about K’s therapist’s qualifications. “Psychotherapist” can mean just about anything. If that therapist is a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist, then releasing records to a third party without consent is the sort of thing that will get them in deep, deep trouble with their licensing board. The only time this is ever considered ethical is when there is a danger to themselves or others, which is clearly not the case here.

  23. F.O. says

    @Rich Woods #17, @PaulBC #20

    Are you familiari with Altemeyer’s research on authoritarians?
    They ran some experiments and the presence or absence of these sociopathic leader-wannabes profoundly altered the behaviour of the group.

    Some societies such as the San people, use intentional leveling mechanisms https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leveling_mechanism

    Other societies, like the Zapatistas in Chiapas and the communalists in Rojava, rely more on a culture of anti-authoritariansim.