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CBS Dean Calls Faculty Dispute ‘A Soap Opera’

DEAN HUBBARD TOLD BEKAERT HIS EMAILS WERE ‘UNPROFESSIONAL AND UNBECOMING’

The sessions between the dean and Bekaert continued for months. “I told him I thought the communications were unprofessional and unbecoming, and what I wanted him to do is A) Communicate in a more professional manner and, B) Try to figure out with these projects how could one get to resolution here.” And Hubbard said he warned Bekaert against any form of retaliation against Ravina. “I advised him that there could be legal consequences. I’m not a lawyer, but I was really there as an academic saying that’s just untoward behavior. Don’t do it.”

At Hubbard’s first meeting with Ravina, Hubbard conceded that Bekaert treated him badly, too, and suggested that he could insert a “relationship manager” who would monitor the emails between them. “I believed that interjecting a third party, a new set of eyes might be able to help the two parties bridge the gap,” said Hubbard. “There was a lot of ‘my way or the highway’ talk, and I wanted somebody who could bring them together.”

The dean wanted to be copied on all correspondence between the two faculty members and also told Ravina he would speak to the provost about an extension on her tenure clock, ultimately coming up with a plan for a break in service that would temporarily stop the clock and give her more time to get papers published that would increase her odds of getting tenure.

When Bekaert began sending emails to Ravina without copying the dean’s office after the professor was instructed to do so by Hubbard, the dean, clearly exaspserated, wrote to a colleague:  “The university needs to pick this up. This level of immaturity is inappropriate.”

‘MY AUTHORITY IS MORE AKIN TO MORAL SUASION’

Even so, Hubbard maintained that as dean he was somewhat limited in dealing with the dispute. “I can’t dicate what people work on, but I do make available research funds,” he explained. “I can change people’s teaching. For example, I gave Professor Ravina teaching breaks. I also complicated Professor Bekaert’s teaching schedule somewhat. I can do those things. But my power, if you will, or authority is more akin to moral suasion. I’m more akin to a managing partner in a law firm than a CEO of a company.”

Hubbard told the court he had no authority to fire a tenured faculty member. “I cannot,” he said. “If I felt that something had happened like that, I would have to go to the president of the university and trustees. They would make that decision. I have never seen it happen in my time at Columbia.”

At one point, Hubbard suggested that Bekaert break the several projects that would come out of their joint research into different buckets, urging him to let Ravina take over one of the papers entirely. “I don’t think he was thrilled to hear my suggestions, but I do think he stared to think about it, because I know that over time, the suggestions I made about who would author which papers more or less came to fruition.”

SEVERAL SENIOR FACULTY MEMBERS CAME TO HER DEFENSE

Columbia Business School Professor Patrick Bolton

Meantime, Ravina was gathering considerable support from several senior faculty members who believed she was treated unfairly by Bekaert and the school. Among her supporters were Patrick Bolton, Tano Santos and Charles Calomiris. They intervened on her behalf on numerous occasions, writing several petitions to both the university and Dean Hubbard, asking university President Lee Bollinger to get directly involved in the dispute, and registering objections to the EOAA’s outcome letter that Bekaert did not violate the university’s sexual harassment policies. “We conveyed to them that we thought that this letter didn’t resolve anything and that something needed to be done to try and address the case,” said Bolton who has been on the CBS faculty since 2005 and voted on the tenure of more than 30 professors at the school. “This was not at all something that was satisfactory.”

In an email to Bollinger in January of 2016, they brought the case to the attention of Bollinger, writing about “a disturbing case of sexual harassment involving a male senior colleague and a female junior colleague.” Added Bolton: “In my judgment, the case has been poorly handled by the school and the Title IX office”

At one point, outraged by the allegations aimed at Bekaert, several of the senior faculty members attempted to get the school to adopt guidelines for the behavior of senior tenured professors who work with junior tenure-track teachers. Bolton and Calomiris drafted a petition that directly addressed the issues Ravina was having with Bekaert.

SENIOR FACULTY SIGNED PETITIONS TO SUPPORT HER REQUEST FOR A TENURE CLOCK EXTENSION

Nothing came of the effort. Undaunted, Bolton and several of his senior colleagues would draft and sign a Jan. 22 petition to Provost Coatsworth and Hubbard, supporting Ravina’s request for an extension of her clock as assistant professor. After the extension was denied, he and several colleagues signed another petition dated March 25th, maintaining that they were not in a position to provide an evaluation of Ravina’s case.

When Bolton discovered that the school had scheduled a tenure vote on Ravina, he was surprised. “I will be able to attend this meeting but — full disclosure — I’m very uncomfortable about holding such a meeting,” he told Division Chairman Stephen Zeldes in a Jan. 15th email in 2015. “Why suddently put Enrichetta up for tenure when we have not even resolved her complaints? Also, before I agree to attend the meeting, I want assurances that Geert has been asked not to attend this meeting. Finally, if I attend, I will disclose my discomfort to the division.” Bolton said he ultimately chose not to attend the meeting in protest.

‘I AM SUPER FRUSTRATED FOR HER’

By the summer of 2015, Senior Vice Dean Katherine Phillips sent an email to Hubbard expressing her own feelings about the continued email exchanges between the two professors. “I am super frustrated for her,” she wrote. “I am going to push. this has to stop. Not sure what I can do, but this is to the point of ridiculous, really.”

Hubbard responded on Aug. 22, 2015, with “I know and I agree.”

When Bekaert refused to give Ravina computer codes essential to the research project for weeks on end, Ravina sent an email on Dec. 11 of 2014 to Hubbard along with his colleague Janet Horan and Daniel Wolfenzon, a finance professor who was then serving as relationship manager, to inform them of the delays.

ASKED DEAN HUBBARD: “WHY CAN’T GEERT GIVE HER WHATEVER SHE’S ASKING FOR?’

“I have asked Geert something very simple and clear, to send the tables and codes he has already generated so I can complete the paper, send it to the company for review and then submit it,” Ravina wrote. “It takes at most one hour. Can you please reiterate to him that he needs to send them?”

Hubbard’s emailed response to Horan and Wolfenzon: “Why can’t Geert give her whatever she’s asking for? He could still continue to work on the papers.”

Yet Dean Hubbard gave conflicting testimony about the delays on the project, at times confirming that he lectured Bekaert about stalling but also seemed to believe that the senior professor legitmately needed more time to complete the projects. “My inference was that he felt these papers needed more work,” Hubbard told the court. “He has a very significant professional reputation to protect. He doesn’t want sloppy work, and that was his intent. He is a man who had published a large number of papers. I have to take him at his word on that point.”

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.