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A Mentorship Goes Bad At Columbia B-School

Enrichetta Ravina from a video on investment strategies of the wealthy

Enrichetta Ravina from a video on investment strategies of the wealthy

Yet another meeting with Dean Hubbard apparently was held in September of 2014 when Ravina says the dean dismissed her complaints as a “soap opera.” Only after the insistence of law school Professor Suzanne Goldberg, who attended the meeting, did Hubbard agree to meet with Bekaert, according to the complaint.

ACCUSED OF HAVING A HISTORY OF HARASSING FEMALE SUBORDINATES

In February of 2015, the issue had become so visible that 22 tenured professors at Columbia Business School took the highly unusual step of requesting that Columbia create a policy to govern situations where “senior faculty members may behave inappropriately or do not fulfill their duties” when working with junior colleagues. The faculty petitioners expressed concern about “inappropriate exercises of power or delays” coming from senior faculty members.

What makes Ravina’s case unusual is the extent to which her colleagues attempted to

intercede on her behalf, including through two written petitions submitted in February of 2015 and January of 2016. A Columbia law professor also penned an email to the university, describing her dismay at Columbia’s inaction and specifically naming the situation as one where gender was playing a role. Despite these efforts by Ravina and her colleagues, the complaint asserts that Columbia’s senior leadership repeatedly minimized Ravina’s concerns and at times became critical of her.

She alleges that Bekaert bragged to her about the inefficacy of Columbia’s Title IX office, the office that ensures the university is in compliance with Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in educational institutions. He recounted, claims Ravina, an instance when a female MBA student in his class made a complaint against him when he said the Title IX investigator had been “very friendly” to him and that he had “won.”  Ravina wasn’t so lucky. In November 2014, Columbia’s Title IX office concluded that there was no violation of the university’s policies and “blamed her for souring a working relationship with a colleague by not communicating effectively,” according to the lawsuit.

‘I NEVER WANTED TO BE IN A POSITION TO BRING THIS SUIT’

Ravina also accused her mentor of having a history of harassing female subordinates. Bekaert, she claimed, said that when he previously worked at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business–from 1992 to 1999–so many female assistants had complained about him that it had almost cost him tenure.

The assistant professor says that she doesn’t understand why the school wouldn’t act to prevent Bekaert from harassing her and allegedly sabotaging her research. “I was really shocked when I saw their reaction. I felt betrayed by Columbia. I was really appalled by the reaction of the senior leaders. They kept taking this hot potato and they kept passing it from one desk to the next. I never wanted to be in a postion to bring this suit.”

For his part, Bekaert denies the charges in the lawsuit, filed just before midnight on March 22 in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. “I am sickened that a colleague would manufacture false stories, statements, and events and attempt to destroy my reputation,” he said in his emailed statement. “In reality, this is a sad example of no good deed goes unpunished. We collaborated for years doing research with a unique data set I had obtained from a company I worked for, and in return she fabricated a series of completely false allegations about me – some today for the first time.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.