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A Mentorship Goes Bad At Columbia B-School

Finance Professor Geert Baekert is being accused of sexual harassment by an assistant professor he once mentored

Finance Professor Geert Baekert is being accused of sexual harassment by an assistant professor he once mentored

It all started in early September of 2012 when Columbia Business School Professor Geert Bekaert asked a assistant professor he was mentoring out for dinner. Enrichetta Ravina, who had been collaborating on an academic research project with Bekaert for two and one-half years, had no interest in anything other than a professional relationship.

“I had a bad feeling about it and said, ‘No, I was on a diet,’” recalls Ravina, now 40 and 11 years younger than Bakaert. “But this professor (Bekaert) started complaining that I would go to dinner with other people and I wouldn’t go out to dinner with him.”

Finally, she relented, agreeing to a dinner on Sept. 28 when, she says, Bekaert began asking her awkward questions over the table.  “He asked me if I had a boyfriend and if I lived with him,” remembers Ravina. “I said, ‘Look this is a dinner among colleagues and I appreciate our work together and want to continue to work together.’ He started laughing.”

‘HE PUT HIS HAND ON MY BACK AND SLID IT DOWN’

CBS Assistant Professor Enrichetta Ravina has filed a $20 million lawsuit against Columbia

CBS Assistant Professor Enrichetta Ravina has filed a $20 million lawsuit against Columbia

After their meal, he gave Ravina a ride to her apartment in a taxi and as she prepared to exit, “he put his hand on my back and slid it down,” she asserts. “I rushed out of the taxi.”

When Ravina, who taught MBAs at Columbia the core corporate finance course, returned to campus the following day, the faculty member says she was uneasy about what happened the previous evening. “I was extremely worried,” she says now. “He was a senior colleague and was assigned to me by my department. He seemed friendly the next day and didn’t seem offended at all. Then, he started telling me about his sexual exploits and how many women were giving him compliments.”

Now, Ravina has filed a $20 million lawsuit against Columbia University, alleging gender discrimination, a hostile work environment, quid pro quo sexual harassment, retaliation, failure to promote, and wrongful discharge.

A CLASSIC EXAMPLE OF A MENTORSHIP GONE HORRIBLY WRONG

The highly detailed, 44-page complaint is nothing less than indictment of the school’s senior leadership, accusing Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard of turning a deaf ear to her complaints of sexual harassment and academic obstruction. Hubbard, she alleges, mocked her complaints, comparing them to a ‘soap opera,” and blamed the female professor for her mentor’s conduct. The dean, she claims, accused her of flirting with Bekaert and scolded her for working with him. He refused to take any action to curb Professor Bekaert’s behavior, according to Ravina.

Bekaert did not return a phone call for comment, but in an emailed statement claimed that Ravina “fabricated a series of completely false allegations about me.” Columbia University issued a terse statement: “The university treats allegations of harassment with the utmost seriousness but does not comment on pending litigation.”

Her story is a classic example of a mentorship between an accomplished senior tenured faculty member and a junior assistant professor gone completely wrong. The Belgian-born Bekaert boasts a 30-page CV and joined the finance faculty at Columbia Business School in July of 1999 after receiving tenure at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. A promising academic, Italian-born Ravina joined Columbia in July of 2008 after a three-year stint at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Her research puts her at the cutting edge of using large sets of data to analyze personal investment decisions.

What ultimately brought them together was Bekaert’s access to a dataset, apparently belonging to Financial Engines Inc., of some four million investors in the U.S. who are saving for retirement. According to Ravina, it was Bekaert, a consultant for the firm and a teacher on global investments and asset management, who approached her in early 2010 and proposed that they work together. It was only after she invested hundreds of hours analyzing the data that Bekaert began his alleged advances, more than two and one-half years after the start of their collaboration.

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