Stanford University Provost John Etchemendy received a rare and unusual letter from 46 current and former employees of the university’s Graduate School of Business, dated April 21, 2014. The signatories were taking the extraordinary step of urging the provost not to reappoint GSB Dean Garth Saloner to a second term.
Etchemendy, in a deposition given in the lawsuit against Saloner and Stanford by a former GSB professor, said the decision to reappoint Saloner to a second five-year term had been made before he received the letter. A Stanford spokesman says university administration invited members of the staff group to submit details of their individual experiences, and that Etchemendy later met with representatives from the staff group. An outside review was then conducted, which found no gender or age discrimination but identified “some areas where the school could make improvements.” The GSB has been “following up” on the areas identified as needing improvement, says the spokesman, Brad Hayward.
The letter from staff was obtained by Poets&Quants and introduced into the lawsuit without the signatures. Here is the text:
April 21, 2014
Dear Provost Etchemendy,
We would like to bring to your attention a set of serious and pervasive issues that have developed at the Graduate School of Business over the last four years since the appointment of Dean Garth Saloner. Given that the dean is up for reappointment, we believe it is imperative that we voice our lack of confidence in his leadership and relay a detailed justification for our views. This letter is meant to provide background and context in advance of a meeting to discuss these issues with you in person.
The below signed are current and former employees of the business school who have grave concerns about the GSB’s current leadership and actions that we believe have created a hostile work environment, which differentiates on the basis of gender and age. We wish to emphasize that we write this letter out of a deep commitment to Stanford University and all that it stands for. As such, we feel it is important to bring these concerns to your attention to protect and preserve the GSB’s reputation, create a safer working environment for current employees, and limit the University’s susceptibility to potential legal action.
Under the leadership of the current dean, we have observed an increasingly disturbing pattern of inequitable treatment in the form of reprimands, censures, curtailing of responsibilities, demotions, retribution for expressing concerns or raising issues, offensive behavior and decisions that have led directly to tangible employment actions such as dismissals, undesirable reassignments, forced resignations, and inequitable access to promotion opportunities. There have been numerous violations of the University’s Code of Conduct as well as its HR policies. The numbers alone paint a striking picture (see attached) [Note: the attachment was not filed in court with the copy of this letter]. Of the 40 senior staff members who left the GSB since 2010, the vast majority are women and over 40 (the remainder are almost all men over 40). Yet the Executive Dean’s Management Group – the School’s primary governing body – has become almost entirely male: seven men and one woman.
To give you a better understanding of the environment and our concerns, we have compiled a list of specific examples – testimonies from senior staff – that illustrate specific violations. We believe these testimonies will give you an indication of the severity and pervasiveness of the actions we describe above. A small group representing current and former employees would like to discuss these with you when we meet.
Sadly, the impact of the current leadership’s actions extends well beyond the senior staff. We have focused on the departure of senior personnel because they tend to be more quickly impacted by changes in the School’s leadership, their departures are more visible, and they have a greater breadth of influence. We wish to emphasize that many of the staff who remain at the GSB are equally concerned about these issues and have witnessed or experienced much of the same behavior. They are afraid to voice their concerns for fear of direct retaliation. Given previous breaches in confidentiality, staff no longer trust the anonymity of the annual employee survey or the integrity of the process. As a result, many employees choose to not complete the survey or they simply submit “safe” responses. The GSB’s director of HR has been repeatedly made aware of many of the violations we describe, but appears unable or unwilling to take appropriate action to uphold University policies.
While we are concerned about our colleagues, we are equally concerned about the School’s liability and reputation. Multiple staff members have been repeatedly berated by the current GSB leadership, undermined in their leadership roles, and publicly chastised for actions they were previously asked to perform. They have been forced out of roles and denied promotion opportunities for positions that were never formally announced or posted in accordance with the University’s HR policies. Many of the staff members who have left their jobs under duress are active alumni of the School and the University. Their stories and concerns are reaching fellow alumni and will reach a broader network of friends and colleagues over time.
We recognize that new leadership often brings revised strategies, restructuring and cultural change. Many of us have led such change efforts, both at the GSB and in other management positions. We are well aware of the necessity of moving people in and out of roles. But we are also well aware that these changes can be made in ways that adhere to University policies, honor the Code of Conduct, and treat people equitably and respectfully. Unfortunately, the current GSB dean – and the leadership he has put in place – have taken a different path. They have created a hostile work environment – especially to women and individuals over 40 – ruled by personal agendas, favoritism, and fear.
The dean’s personal behavior is also a concern. There have been a number of examples of poor judgment, including his relationship with a member of the GSB faculty who was married to another GSB faculty member at the time. When someone such as a dean enters into a relationship with another person over whom he has direct or indirect authority, he opens himself up to sexual harassment charges. More importantly, he creates a liability for the institution as spelled out by the EEOC’s [U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s] Vicarious Liability Rule. The dean’s behavior is a poor example to the students and is stereotypical of the behavior of many discredited CEOs and other leaders. He has repeatedly demonstrated a disregard for the rules, policies and guidelines put in place by the University and we believe his actions have become increasingly brazen over time. As a result, we believe that Dean Garth Saloner should not be reappointed for a second term.
In closing, we wish to reiterate that we are raising these concerns with the sole goal of protecting and restoring a great institution that we care deeply about. We have been honored to work at Stanford and many of us have long-standing affiliations. We want the GSB to be a place we can be proud of, but we fear the institution and its reputation are at risk. We ask that you treat the signatories of this letter with confidentiality.
We believe this is an urgent matter and request a meeting with you within the next week. We will contact your office to schedule a mutually agreeable time.
[signatures not included in the copy of the letter filed in court]