‘ENRICHETTA’S VITAE WAS NOT GREAT WHEN I STARTED WORKING WITH HER’
Ravina, he thought, was an ideal fit for a major research undertaking. Bekaert had been working as a consultant with Financial Engines since 1997 and the firm had a massive dataset that he believed represented an unusual opportunity for pioneering research on retirement accounts, automatic 401 (K) enrollment plans and reallocation of portfolio investments. She had experience in managing massive datasets, an area of expertise he lacked, and her background in behavioral finance and corporate finance seemed to complement his own in asset pricing.
The Italian-born professor saw the opportunity and was enthusiastic about it. As a tenure track junior professor, however, she had already been in something of a hole because she had published little to begin with. From the time she earned her Ph.D. in 2005, Ravina had only published fewer than a handful of articles in peer-reviewed journals. Not a single meaningful article bore only her own authorship, even her PhD thesis from Northwestern University remained unpublished.
“Enrichetta’s vitae was not great when I started working with her,” said Bekaert. “I told you before that that’s why I chose her. I thought I can really help her. She needed to finish the single-authored papers. Without that, I could write five, six, seven papers with her, it still wouldn’t have given her tenure because these are all jointly-authored papers, with me. She wouldn’t get full credit for this. And all of my colleagues were telling me that too. The key to her tenure would have been single-authored papers.”
‘I COULD NOT BY MYSELF SALVAGE HER TENURE CASE’
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. One trouble sign immediately occurred on the big collaborative project. To gain access to the data from Financial Engines, a contract had to be signed. It took nearly two years until the end of 2011 to get the contract in place. Then it took more than half the next year, until September of 2012, before they received the full dataset.
“This was frustrating,” Bekaert told the court. “I remember this was a very frustrating time especially for Enrichetta as well because we’re sitting there waiting. We have all these projects that we potentially wanted to do. We even started to hire research assistants that we then had to let go because just the data weren’t coming. The only way this data set would have contributed to her tenure was if we had been able to get the data much earlier. Really, the worst shock that we got was the fact that it took the company until 2012 to give us the data. To get everything published was kind of too late already. So in some sense, when we got the data, it was already too late. I could not by myself salvage her tenure case.”
Throughout this period, however, Ravina claims Bekaert kept hitting on her. She alleges that he slid his hand down her back to her butt in a taxi, attempted an unwanted kiss on the stoop outside her New York apartment, grabbed her hand at a mid-town bar, leered at her breasts in his office. She claims he often pursued inappropriate conversations in which he allegedly talked about his troubled marriage, asked her if she had a live-in boyfriend, told her about an affair with a stewardness who wanted to get an MBA at Columbia Business School, and discussed pornography and prostitutes (“They keep men out of trouble,” Ravina claimed he told her. “They are important to satisfy a man’s sex drive.”) Bekaert, for this part, denies every having had a romantic interest in her and believes her accusations are part of a con job to explain her failure to do the work that would have gotten her tenure (see Columbia Business School’s Shocking #MeToo Trial).
BEKAERT WAS SERVED WITH THE LAWSUIT WHILE TEACHING AN MBA CLASS IN THE FALL OF 2015
Ravina felt she had no choice but to bring the case against her former mentor. “I thought long and hard before bringing this case,” she told the court last week. “I did it after years in which I’ve been trying to solve these issues with Columbia in good faith, to try to find a solution that was good for me, was good for the university, and was good for Professor Bekaert. And only after all these efforts has failed, I brought this lawsuit.” The suit was served on Bekaert while he was teaching an MBA class on Sept. 23, 2015.
Well before that time, however, the relationship between the two had deteriorated to the point where rumors about their rift were circulating far beyond the school–and Bekaert began writing colleagues and friends to label Ravina “crazy” and “insane” and to proclaim his innocence (a university investigation concluded he did not violate the university’s employment policies and procedures on discrimination and harassment in either the Ravina case or the MBA student case). Ravina’s lawyer maintains that the university’s investigation was superficial.
It was all-out war between the two, a conflict that even spilled over to Financial Engines, the provider of the rich dataset. At one point in January 9, 2015, Bekaert sent an email to Wei Hu, then vice president of financial research at Financial Engines. “We are dealing with at best a very sick person, at worst an incredibly evil person,” wrote Bekaert. “I cannot find any other word for it (crazy). She simply does everything to make our lives miserable. I really do not want to communicate with her anymore. My RA (research assistant) gets physically ill at the mentioning of her name.”
‘I AM INCREDIBLY PAINED BY THE ACRIMONY I AM WITNESSING OVER EMAIL’
The professor, who asked Hu to destroy one of the derogatory emails he had sent him, was hoping the FE executive would step into the disagreement with Ravina. Hu would not take sides, and Bekaert would tell a friend that Hu “pissed me off to no end.” Responded Hu on Jan. 21st, “I am incredibly pained by the acrimony I am witnessing over email.” After getting two drafts of the same paper based on his firm’s dataset–one draft from Bekaert and one from Ravina–Hu was displeased enough to tell both of them: “I would hate to put a stop to this research altogether, but that is a matter of sunk costs.”
Oftentimes Bekaert seemed as pained by the split as Ravina, spending inordinate amounts of time writing emails to people to complain about her. The emails were sent far and wide to professors at Harvard Business School and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business to UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. To Xiaoyan Zhang, then a professor at Purdue’s Krannert School of Management and associate editor of the Journal of Banking and Finance as well as Management Science, he wrote: “The evil bitch went ahead, and look at what she says. Pure evil lies. Unbelievable. I’m royally fucked as people seem to simply take her on her word.”
To Campbell Harvey, a professor at Duke Fuqua who was associate editor of the Journal of Financial Economics and a formerpresident of the American Finance Association, he claimed “this is a sad example of no good deed goes unpunished…she fabricated a series of completely false allegations about me.”
‘I WILL NOT LET HER GET AWAY WITH THIS’
When CBS proceeded with its tenure process on Ravina in the spring of 2016, Bekaert gained access to her personal statement, even though the school has claimed he was to be excluded from her review. Nancy Xu, a research assistant to Bekeart, described herself as a spy on his behalf. “I will not let her get away with this,” Bekaert wrote Xu in an email. “I got a list of a number of Phd students who worked with her from Andrea (another research assistant). Hopefully, I can get some to say how great their experience was with the charming Italian.”
The trial moves into week two today (July 16) with Bekaert returning to the stand. Once his testimony is completed, plaintiff’s counsel will call their final witnesses which should take Tuesday, Wednesday and possibly into Thursday morning. Those witnesses include Dean Glenn Hubbard, Michael Dunn, the university’s Director of Investigations for the Office of Equal Opportunity Affirmative Action (EOAA), Professor Patrick Bolton, a colleague at the CBS and president of the American Finance Association, and several Columbia administrators who will appear via their video depositions.
Closing arguments in the case may not occur until July 25th.