Columbia University was investigating three harassment cases involving male professors at its business school simultaneously in 2014, including an allegation that a Columbia Business School professor had sex with a female student in his faculty office. All told, the university’s EOAA office probed four separate harassment cases at Columbia Business School alone that year.
In testimony highly damaging to both Columbia University and finance professor Geert Bekaert, who is accused of sexual harassment, retaliation and career sabotage by a former junior faculty member at the business school, the former director of the university’s Equal Opportunity & Affirmative Action (EOAA) Office conceded the office was understaffed and overwhelmed by the cases it had to handle. He said he was juggling 15 to 20 cases at the time he was investigating a complaint from a junior faculty member, Enrichetta Ravina against a senior tenured finance professor Geert Bekaert.
Michael Dunn, who investigated all four harassment complaints at Columbia Business School, told a courtroom yesterday (July 16) that he found in favor of the male professors in each case, concluding that none of the alleged complaints violated the university’s policies and that the profs accused of wrongdoing did not require disciplinary action of any kind.
THE UNIVERSITY’S ‘INVESTIGATIONS’ APPEAR SUPERFICIAL AND HIGHLY LIMITED
Dunn, who left Columbia in June of 2015 and now works as a Title IX coordinator for St. Mary’s College in Maryland, left the unmistakeable impression that his investigations were superficial, highly limited, and incomplete. For his investigation of allegations brought by junior faculty member Ravina, he conceded that he only interviewed Ravina, Geert Bekeart and a research assistant and graduate student who immediately admitted that she was “biased” in favor of Bekeart who she described as a “father figure” and who would serve on her dissertation committee. The student, Nancy Xu, had stopped working on the collaboration between Ravina and Bekeart in December of 2012, long before the relationship openly devolved into a bitter dispute.
Dunn got involved with the Ravina in July 18 of 2014, just two months after he had closed his last harassment case against Bekaert made by an MBA student who claimed she was repeatedly harassment by the professor and threatened by him. But it took Dunn almost four weeks before he even sat down to interview Ravina about her charges on Aug. 12.
Even before interviewing Ravina, Dunn showed little concern for the seriousness of the charges. In a July 25th email to his boss, Melissa Rooker, he wrote: “The sexual harassment concern seems fairly contained, that he insisted a junior female colleague go out to dinner with him and that the woman felt there was more to his invitation. As you may recall, we had a case with this respondent in the spring, so it may require a heightened response.”
BEKAERT REFUSED TO SAY WHETHER HE HAD PHYSICAL CONTACT WITH HIS JUNIOR MENTEE
Before interviewing Bekaert for the first time on Sept. 19th, nearly two months after being contacted about Ravina’s complaint, Dunn told CBS Vice Dean Janet Horan in an email on Sept. 15 that he didn’t see a strong case for an allegation of sexual harassment in violation of university policies. When he finally sat down with Bekaert four days later, he told the court, the professor failed to answer his question over whether he ever had physical contact with Ravina. “He did not provide a definitive no answer,” said Dunn.
Ravina claims Bekaert began hitting on her soon after they agreed to collaborate on several research projects in 2008. 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 stewardess 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).
Dunn, however, said he felt that Ravina was honestly expressing her opinions and beliefs about what was going on with Bekaert and was deeply troubled by what she had experienced. Dunn’s interview notes show that Bekaert admitted that he stopped working on their collaboration for a few months, effectively confirming Ravina’s claim that he had stalled their research after she made clear she had no interest in a personal relationship with the professor.
INVESTIGATOR SHOWED UP FOR HIS FIRST INTERVIEW WITH A PROFESSOR WITHOUT ANY PREPARED QUESTIONS
Dunn conceded on the stand that he hadn’t even prepared any questions for Ravina when he first interviewed her and that he never followed up with her on any of the 170 pages of emails between her and Bekeart that she had sent him. Even worse, Dunn conceded that his highly limited “investigation” was narrowly focused along the lines of sexual harassment and failed to probe Ravina’s claims of gender discrimination, retaliation or other discriminatory harassment.
He also admitted on the stand that he had failed to follow up on a recommendation from Dean Hubbard that Bekaert undergo one-on-one Title IX training, even though he had initially agreed with that recommendation. Ultimately, Dunn said he did not conduct a formal investigation but rather a “preliminary fact-finding review of the allegations of sexual harassment.”
In Dunn’s outcome letter, which would allow Bekaert to claim he had been exonerated of all the charges, the investigator never addressed the power dynamic between a junior faculty member and a senior tenured one, a failure that both Dean Glenn Hubbard and then Finance & Economics Division Chair Stephen Zeldes believed was a blind spot in the investigation. Dunn’s conclusion on the case even borrowed Bekaert’s own description of their working relationship, claiming it was “mutually flirtatious.”