Statement of Professor John Comaroff Upon His Retirement

In the spring of 2024, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences offered a one-time faculty
retirement option to all tenured professors 73 years of age or older. Professor John
Comaroff exercised this option, notified Harvard on March 8, and retired effective June
30, 2024.

I have been blessed with a long, fulfilling career as a scholar and teacher. For several decades I
have taught and mentored many hundreds of students, among them more than 200 Ph.D.
candidates. Many have gone on to impressive careers in a variety of disciplines. Needless to
say, I am very proud of them and their achievements – and grateful to them for all that they
have taught me. Through it all, I have had the opportunity to conduct extensive research and to

write a large number of essays and books, many of them in collaboration with my wife of fifty-
six years and life-long colleague, Jean Comaroff. This body of work, like my pedagogy, has

sought to promote wide-ranging scholarship, thoroughgoing critical awareness, and a deep
sense of social responsibility. Teaching and research are what I do, so there is a significant
measure of sadness in my decision to retire. Now, as I am about to enter my eightieth year, it is
time to contemplate the next phase of my life.
Although it had no bearing on my decision to retire, it is no secret that, in 2021, a cloud was
cast over me. Three years ago, at a time when the Harvard Department of Anthropology was
caught up in a moral panic occasioned by a very serious case of sexual misconduct, I was falsely
accused of harassment by one Harvard student, and of threatening retaliation against two
others. After a fourteen-month investigation, I was found not responsible for any of those
accusations, save for one instance of verbal impropriety arising out of my cautioning one of the
students of the well-established risks to her of potential sexual violence in a named African
country, where she was planning to do research – an entirely responsible caution similar to the
travel advisory issued by the U.S. Department of State.
Thereafter, in a second, highly questionable process in which I was given limited opportunity to
defend myself and had no right of appeal, I was found responsible for “unprofessional conduct”
arising out of a scholarly discussion with one of the students who had accused me of a threat.
This was despite Harvard’s earlier investigation, which had already addressed the incident and
found me not responsible. Moreover, the finding in this second investigation held that my
intentions – which were wholly professional – were “irrelevant.”
Subsequently, the three students filed a lawsuit against Harvard for not protecting them and
other students against me. The suit repeated all of the allegations already found to lack merit,

in more lurid, hyperbolic terms, while adding additional untested, and evidence-free claims of
sexual misconduct. Moreover, the lawsuit has been buttressed by a public relations campaign
executed by a high-powered public relations firm engaged by the plaintiff’s attorneys, thus
ensuring that these fact-free allegations would be circulated widely on campus and across the
world without any due diligence, much less due process. I, however, under Harvard’s rules of
retaliation, have had no right to reply. All this extraordinary attention, all the furor, all the
nastiness, arose out of two brief office-hour discussions, both academic in intent and content.
As a further result of the lawsuit, an ugly, ferocious campaign had been waged against me at
Harvard by a small group of activists, people who have no knowledge of me, of my pedagogy, or
of the facts of the case as established by Harvard’s thorough, largely exonerating investigation;
this in order to make me a scapegoat for their larger concerns in a fight against the University.
They have misrepresented my actions, made new false accusations, occupied and disrupted my
classrooms, pressured students not to take my courses or work with me, and suggested that my
very presence on campus represents a danger to the entire University community — on its face,
an absurdity. Unlike its responses to classroom protests this year, Harvard did nothing to
protect my freedom to teach even when protesters occupied my classrooms. I cannot deny
that this relentless campaign, and the negative public relations initiative in support of the
meritless lawsuit, have been extremely hurtful given my decades of dedication to my teaching
and my students.
I believe that, in time, the indiscriminate rage and mob-rule tactics that have overshadowed
this situation will be replaced by a more informed, thoughtful, and honest dialogue on a
number of very serious issues of current concern – among them, sexual harassment, campus
safety, faculty-student relations, critical pedagogy, generational conflict, and academic
freedom. Without responsible dialogue, the vitriol surrounding these matters will continue to
do inestimable harm.
It is not lost on me, as I leave Harvard, that I am very fortunate. I have had a richly rewarding
career at the University of Manchester, the University of Chicago, and Harvard. Looking back
on the past fifty-two years, I take special pleasure in the fact that I have remained connected
with, and continue to be strongly supported by, many of my colleagues, past and present, and
by a very large number of those whom I have had the privilege to teach and mentor. To all of
them, I express my deepest appreciation.
As for the future, there is much more for me still to do. I am already actively engaged in making
plans for new work, new writing, new forms of pedagogy. And new challenges.