For the discussion with Etchemendy, Benjamin took point. She began to read from a statement, first mentioning the group’s grave concerns about Saloner’s leadership, then outlining the depth of staff disenchantment shown by the large number of signatures collected over a three-day holiday weekend. Before she could finish her statement, she says, Etchemendy interrupted her. The decision to renew Saloner’s contract had already been made, he told the group, and there was nothing more to be done. “We said, ‘That’s fine, but we still have all of these concerns. You should be concerned. (Saloner) continues to regularly violate Stanford’s Code of Conduct. Doesn’t that matter to the university?’ He was annoyed. Then, as we went around the room and described specific violations that each of us had experienced firsthand — with the University counsel present — the tone changed.
“By the midpoint of the meeting we were actually having a dialogue,” recalls Benjamin. “He was listening to what people had experienced. By the end, I thought he was actually treating us with respect, listening, not necessarily believing everything we said, but at least listening. For the first time, I think he realized that there may have actually been a problem.”
Sharon Hoffman was another of the six women at the conference table that morning. Long-established professors have told Poets&Quants that the former MBA program head was highly respected by her peers and the GSB faculty. She had spent nearly 11 years as MBA program director, after nine years reading more than 10,000 MBA applications as senior associate director of MBA admissions. Last year, she says, Saloner manipulated her out of her job and out of the school. Hoffman took a different interpretation than Benjamin of the provost’s response, and came to a conclusion that would be reinforced by future events.
‘HE WAS GOING TO STAND BEHIND GARTH ONE HUNDRED PER CENT’
As she sat in Etchemendy’s conference room with the five other women, Hoffman was not hearing what she’d hoped to hear. Etchemendy’s declaration that the decision on Saloner’s deanship had been made and there was nothing else to do sounded to her like “a strong vote of no confidence” in the grievances the group was bringing forward. “He also pushed back on everything we said . . . in a somewhat patronizing if not infantilizing way,” Hoffman remembers. “He counter-argued. It was very clear at the end of the meeting that he was going to stand behind Garth one hundred per cent.”
During the 75-minute meeting, Beth Benjamin related her experience. “I was pushed out . . . completely outside of the rules of the HR system – the HR person didn’t even know about it,” Benjamin told the provost. “Melissa Burke, senior university counsel, asked me why I hadn’t filed a grievance given that Dean Saloner had clearly violated university policy. I answered: ‘Two reasons: First, my relationships with the faculty were far too important to me. I knew they’d last longer than any job. Second . . . I knew he’d ultimately shoot himself in the foot. He’s a textbook narcissist – hardly a unique case.’”
How much Etchemendy already knew about staff discontent at the time is unclear. But he was certainly familiar with the issue of Saloner’s affair with professor Deborah Gruenfeld. Etchemendy had, in fact, made an extremely dubious choice, in 2012, to let Saloner continue making decisions about a professor while dating the professor’s wife, records from Phills’ lawsuit show.
Stanford has thrown its support behind the beleaguered dean, issuing a statement after Saloner on Sept. 14 announced his resignation: “Under Dean Saloner’s leadership, the school continues to perform at exceptionally high levels, drawing extraordinary faculty from around the globe, generating excellent support from its alumni, and providing an unparalleled academic experience for its students.” Stanford is keeping Saloner on as dean until the end of this academic year.