Columbia B-School’s Shocking #MeToo Trial: ‘Blunt Belgium’ Calls Mentee ‘An Evil Bitch’

Columbia Business School Professor Geert Bekaert

‘I COULDN’T AFFORD TO OFFEND HIM. I WAS WALKING A TIGHTROPE.’

She said he brought up sexual topics at least a dozen times during the fall semester in 2013, bragging about sleeping with a stewardness and an entrepreneur in Hong Kong where he had been on sabbatical at the time. “He kept talking about his sex life, how popular he was in Hong Kong with women. He said that he was a Westerner and that people thought that a Westerner is richer and so it attracts the women.”

Ravina says she was often dumbfounded about what to do. “I felt that every time I would go to Professor’s Bekaert’s office, he was not thinking about work,” she told the court. “He was thinking about sex. And I was there to make the work go forward. I was growing basically desperate because we were already in the fall of 2013 and nothing had happened on my project despite (the fact) we were ready the spring to be analyzed and I was trying to get his approval in some way to move forward. If anything, he was stalling more. He was just sitting there, saying he was busy, he didn’t have time, he wasn’t ready, and it was as if he was sort of waiting to see if I was changing my mind, if I would sleep with him instead of like freezing when he’d hold my hand or running up the stairs when he would try to kiss me.”

She described a classic dilemma for many women in the workplace. “I couldn’t afford to offend him,” she said. “I didn’t want to. I was walking a tightrope. I was deep in the project. I didn’t have time to move around and do something else. And at the same time I needed his support and I needed especially for him to say yes to the next step. I had been going to his office reglarly to get him to proceed. He would not proceed. He would always insist about switching the topic to something about his life, about going for dinner, about sex. I didn’t want him to be upset at me or get confrontational.”

‘HIS KISS WOULD HAVE LANDED ON MY MOUTH IF I DIDN’T TURN AWAY’

Former CBS Assistant Professor Enrichetta Ravina has filed a $30 million lawsuit against Columbia

Ravina said that in September of 2013, she agreed to a dinner with him in an effort to move the conversation to work. He insisted on walking her to the stoop of her apartment. “Professor Bekaert asked me, do you want help to go up the stairs?,” she testified. “And I say, ‘No, no and I started walking up. And at this point he pulled my arm and he pulled me toward him and tried to plant a kiss on me. And I turned fast and he ended up landing it on my cheek. I pulled back immediately and I just said, ‘Bye’ and went up, ran up the stairs and entered my building. This was not (a) greeting, like giving a kiss on the cheek. It was aiming for the mouth. Because if I hadn’t turned my face really fast, that’s where his kiss would have landed.”

Ravina described what she called another disturbing episode in Bekaert’s office. “I was there again to try to make the work proceed, and we were standing, and I was showing him a document and he was standing at his desk next to me, and I was just talking and describing what was in tihs document, and all of a sudden, I just turned to look at him, and he was staring at my breasts,” she said. “I was so embarrassed and humiliated that I stopped, and I don’t think he realized immediately that I had realized. So I cleared my voice, and then he realized as well. It was embarrasing. He said something about, ‘Oh, that I look good.’ Then, I looked away.”

On yet another occasion, she testified, Bekaert asked her to pick up a coffee mug in his office with the words “I’m refined, I am a scholar, but….” Then, he asked her to turn the cup over and look at the base. “Horny” was imprinted on the bottom. ”He laughed and he said that was true, that he was horny,” Ravina claimed. “I looked at him. I turned not knowing what to say and he laughed and said, ‘That’s true.’ I felt demeaned. I felt like why am I part of this conversation? I didn’t want to hear about it. I felt like humiliated by the whole episode.”

‘HE STARTED TELLING ME I WAS INSANE’

On Valentines Day of 2014, he brought her a CD and chocolates. “I interpreted it as a romantic gesture,” she testified. “I didn’t want it, so I hesitated and I thought about a way to give it back. I went, you know, there was no need, and he was a little bit perplexed. He looked perplexed as well in my understanding. I just kept it there, and I threw away the chocolates afterward.”

Bekaert, Ravina added, started becoming very aggressive. “He started belittling my work, my professional status. He started saying that the data were wrong. He started putting more and more obstacles (in my way) and he started saying that we could not proceed. He started putting the blame on me that we were not proceeding, and he became more and more hostile over the course of the spring semester. He started telling me I was insane, that I had a masochistic desire to shoot myself in the foot, that I was crazy, that he would have thought me to be productive, and he’s calling me names.”

Ultimately, Ravina says she couldn’t take it anymore. By early March of 2014, she began meeting with a psychiatrist weekly and told her doctor about the alleged physical advances, the lewd and abusive comments, and how Bekaert was stalling her research. Shortly after the start of those sessions, in April and May of 2014, she began a series of meetings with faculty and administrators at Columbia Business School. After it became clear that she was accusing Bekaert of sexual harassment, he began sending emails to colleagues in the academic and finance community throughout the world,  referring to her as an evil bitch in action, a damn evil bitch, and insane and incredibly evil, according to her attorney Sanford.

A UNIVERSITY PROBE FOUND HER RELATIONSHIP WAS ‘MUTUALLY FLIRTATIOUS’

An investigation into her charges by the university, a probe that Sanford maintains was incomplete and inadequate, found that Ravina was not a victim of harassment. “I found that you and Professor Bekaert engaged in a friendly working relationship that soured when you did not communicate effectively regarding your concerns about the status of your projects,” wrote the male university investigator in a November 2014 letter. “I determine that your professional relationship with Professor Bekaert was friendly and at times mutually flirtatious.”

Later, a faculty panel unanimously voted against granting her tenure but the group was not allowed to hear her complaints about her one-time mentor who she claimed had made it difficult, if not impossible, for her to complete her research in time for publication. “Colleagues advised him to step away from the research but Bekaert had another plan,” claimed Sanford.

“Just two months after Bekaert learned of Ravina’s complaints, he boasted how he could block her research. He sent Financial Engines an email disparaging her. He then asked the recipient at the firm to delete and destroy the email after it was read. He then refused to share with her his draft of their paper and he told (Dean Glenn) Hubbard that he was simply not going to send the codes that she needed to finish her work. Even then, Columbia did nothing.” Columbia University disputes that claim.

‘ONCE YOU ARE DENIED TENURE, IT’S IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE PROFESSION’

The trial has also opened a door on the significant pressures placed on junior faculty to publish or perish and their reliance on more senior professors for guidance and support. “Doing research,” explained Ravina on Wednesday, “is a job that requires your mind to be on all the time. You think about stuff not only when you are at work, but you have to generate ideas, solve empirical issues, be creative. So you need a clear mind to do this type of job. And given what was going on, I didn’t have a clear mind. My mind was completely consumed by the harassment, the retaliation, going back and forth with the university. I was feeling abandoned. I was meeting indifference at every step. There were many meetings. It’s not that we lacked meetings. And they took a lot of time. But nothing was getting done.”

Asked how she felt when she was denied tenure in 2016, Ravina told the court: “It was terrible. As an academic, you work all your life toward tenure. It’s  like doing a marathon in which you get an opportunity to run and you start running and you want to get to the finish line. And all of a sudden you are less than halfway, you are at mile 11 and you start sprinting. You’re like, okay, I got it. I’m sprinting. I have this great project and all of a sudden there is a wall and you have to start going around the walls, jumping obstacles. You have a burden over you. And you’re running against people that have no burden. They are going to go very fast. And as a result, there is no chance that you’re going to make it. Like the tenure clock is on average seven years, because you need all the seven years to have a chance to finish the race. And for a large part of those seven years, I was jumping obstacles. I was having the burden of the harassment and the retaliation and the stalling on me, where I was trying to run. And this damaged my career and my professional life, not only at Columbia but in the acdemic profession in general. You get to tenure not at a school but in the profession. You get evaluated by the entire community. Once you are denied tenure, you’re being denied tenure in front of the entire profession, not only in a specific school.”

Her position at Columbia ended June 30 or 2017, a year after being denied tenure. Ravina’s tenure case at Columbia, however, is complicated by her lack of productivity as an academic. From the time she earned her Ph.D. in 2005, Ravina had only published fewer than a handful of articles in peer-reviewed journals. As early as 2011, three years after joining Columbia, Ravina began receiving consistent feedback from senior faculty and Dean Hubbard that she needed to publish more papers in academic journals. In 2012, senior faculty decided not to nominate her for a promotion to associate professor and termed her progress in the previous year as “marginal.” A year later, her review stated clearly that tenure was unlikely and that her prospects for a promotion were low. In 2014, it was noted that none of her papers had been accepted for publication since 2009. “She needs to bring her projects to fruition, acceptance for publication, preferably at selected and high-impact outlets,” according to the review. “Unfortunately, the paucity of publication renders Enrichetta’s tenure prospects dim.”

‘HE NEVER ASKED HER FOR SEX OR FOR A DATE’

By this time, of course, she had been allegedly enduring harassment and stalling from her mentor for at least a year.

Now the differing sides of a mentorship gone wrong are playing out in court for everyone to see. Ravina left CBS shortly after the school denied her tenure and is now teaching at Northwestern’s Kellogg School under a two-year contract as a visiting professor. Bekaert remains a senior faculty member at Columbia Business School.

“There were dinners, there were coffees, he did send her music,” explained his lawyer. “But there’s no evidence that they were because of her gender or because he wanted anything from her in any kind of romantic way. He never asked her for sex or even for a date. He never said that she would have to sleep with him for them to work on their papers.”

DON’T MISS: A MENTORSHIP GOES BAD AT COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL

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