Columbia Probed Four Separate Harassment Cases At Its B-School In One Year

Columbia Business School Professor Geert Bekaert

INVESTIGATOR’S OUTCOME LETTER BORROWED BEKAERT’S ‘MUTUALLY FLIRTATIOUS’ DEFENSE

Columbia’s EOAA office had little more than three investigators to deal with complaints at a university with more than 40,000 students, faculty and staff. Dunn said he left the job, in part because he felt overwhelmed and stressed by the heavy workload.

The investigator would only meet with Ravina twice on Aug. 12th and Nov. 12th before concluding that Bekaert had not violated the university’s policies. Five days after that second session, Dunn produced his outcome letter on Nov. 17th.

“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 Dunn. “I determined that your professional relationship with Professor Bekaert was friendly and at times mutually flirtatious. However, this relationship eventually devolved into unprofessional and inappropriate communication. Professor Bekaert communicated in a more egregious manner and addressed you in unnecessarily aggressive tones that were ill suited for his position. In sum, however, I did not find evidence to support that Professor Bekaert’s actions or communications constituted sexual harassment in violation of university policies.”

SEX IN A FACULTY OFFICE: THE B-SCHOOL PROF COULD NOT RECALL IT

The university investigator said he also was probing two other harassment cases at the business school at the same time he was looking into Ravina’s complaint. One involved a complaint that came through the university’s compliance hotline and alleged that a male professor at Columbia Business School had sexual relations with a female student. “The fact that this event occurred and has become so well known, yet no action taken on the part of Columbia, both creates an uncomfortable work environment for female students, professors, and administration at the school,” according to the report dated Aug. 25, 2014.

Dunn told the court he interviewed the unidentified professor who admitted he had a romantic and sexual relationship with a female student, though the professor claimed he could not recall with certainty that he had engaged in sex in his office. The only other conducted for that complaint was of the female student who confirmed that it as a consensual relationship. Dunn ultimately found that the professor’s actions reflected poor judgment and created a difficult situation both professional and personally for the professor and the student but that there was no violation of university policy. That was because the relationship apparently began after the the student’s class with the professor was over and after the professor submitted her grade.

Dunn also investigated another complaint against a male professor in the fall of 2014 after an Executive MBA student at Columbia Business School charged that her professor was  “sexist, demeaning to women, and inappropriate.” Dunn admitted that he had only interviewed the female student who brought the complaint but no other students in the class, even though course evaluations of the professor were damning.

‘A SEVERE LACK OF PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY IN THE CLASS’

“There was a severe lack of psychological safety within this class due to the professor’s public shaming,” wrote one student. “This shaming occurred both in class based on in-class comments (and) based on turned-in confidential and non-confidential written assignments…I was offended that Columbia would hire a professor with overt sexism instilled into his subconscious which affects his underlying values that seep into his alignment, allocation and critique of assignments.” The student went on to complain about the professor’s “tendency to pick apart and put down the strongest and most well-spoken woman in the class. (He) does not do the same with the all-male groups.”

Yet another student wrote: “Most importantly, the professor did not want to hear opposing views and would verbally abuse and humiliate individuals based on personal, ethnic reasons rather than the validity of the argument.”

Though he failed to interview any other students in the professor’s class, Dunn concluded that he had not found evidence to support charges that the professor had violated Columbia’s employment policies. In his outcome letter, moreover, Dunn never even used the word “sexism” which was in the original complaint.

The $30 million lawsuit trial is expected to completed by the end of July.

DON’T MISS: COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL PROF ALSO ACCUSED OF HARASSMENT BY A FEMALE MBA STUDENT

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.