A Mentorship Goes Bad At Columbia B-School

Columbia Business School Professor Geert Bekaert

Columbia Business School Professor Geert Bekaert

WATCHING PORN, APPLAUDING USE OF PROSTITUTES

For Columbia Business School, the embarassing lawsuit could not have come at a worse time. Only last week, Columbia fell to tenth place in U.S. News’ new MBA ranking, passed over by Yale University’s School of Management and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. And this year the school is celebrating its centennial with a symposium of other deans that is sure to be overshadowed by the explicit accusations in the lawsuit.

The complaint details vivid examples of Professor Bekaert talking about how often he watched pornography, applauding the use of prostitutes, and describing his sexual exploits. He is accused of seeking an intimate relationship with his mentee, insisting that she meet with him off-campus, demanding that she compliment him, describing her as “sexy,” indicating that he was “horny,” and subjecting her to unwanted touching.

When Ravina rejected his sexual advances, Professor Bekaert allegedly sabotaged her work, using his veto authority to delay and undermine her research and publications. The more she resisted his sexual advances, she charges, the worse his behavior became. According to the complaint, he made it clear that he would stall Ravina’s publication efforts until and unless she gave in to his sexual advances, admonishing Ravina that if she changed course and were “nicer” to him, he would allow her work to proceed faster.

LIFE ADVICE: WALK AWAY FROM THE RESEARCH YOU SPENT YEARS ON

Ravina says that she and her one-time mentor have not published a single academic paper because he has held up their work in progress. In June of 2015, for example, the editor of the Journal of Financial Economics asked her to submit a paper on her work. “Within two weeks of the solicitation, we could have submitted it back to the journal,” believes Ravina. “Instead, this professor (Bekaert) starts saying, ‘I’m not sure. Should we go to another journal?’ And then he starts saying we should not only address the questions of the referee (on the paper) but other questions that weren’t even asked. It created a lot of unnecessary work that didn’t improve the paper. It was only submitted to the journal in March of 2016, despite the fact that it should have taken only two weeks to respond to the referee. And this is not his field. It is my field. He can’t even open the software to access the data. He created a lot of obstacles and delays,” charges Ravina.

Ravina claims she spent more than a year trying to work through Columbia’s internal processes. She first reported the harassment in May of 2014 to Vice Dean for Research Gita Johar which led to an initial meeting with Dean Hubbard the following month. “At the meeting,” the complaint alleges, “Dean Hubbard was confrontational toward Ms. Ravina and stated at the outset that there was nothing Columbia could do to help her.”

In mid-July, Senior Vice Dean Katherine W. Phillips met with her and pressured her not to pursue any complaints against Bekaert. She told Ravina to “forget about” compLaining about his harassment, excusing Professor’s Bekaert’s conduct by saying he was just ‘blunt’ because he is Belgian, the complaint alleges. Phillips, recalls Ravina, then suggested some “life advice,” advising Ravina to walk away from the dataset project, despite her having spent several years working on it.

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