CBS Dean Calls Faculty Dispute ‘A Soap Opera’

Columbia Business School Ethan Baron photo

‘MY STUDENTS ARE MILLENNIALS. THEY ARE LOOKING FOR A LOT OF COMMUNICATION FROM THE TOP’

At one point, after Ravina filed her lawsuit against Bekaert, Dean Hubbard felt the need to email faculty, students and staff about the dispute in mid-April of 2016. “I know our school community is understandably concerned and saddened, as I am, about the well-publicized and highly unfortunate litigation involving faculty.”

Asked why he sent the email, Hubbard said on the stand that “There were numerous stories in the press, many rumors among the student body. And, for the jury’s benefit, my students are millennials. You can think of them as they come to me at 28 years old, they are looking for a lot of communication from the top, and I think that they were worried and wanted to hear from me. And I wanted them to know, A) I think this is important, B) I am on it, and C) we have a zero tolerance policy. And that’s what I communicated.”

To give her more time to do her research, Hubbard testified that he had given her two year-long leaves from her teaching responsibilities. “She had a very difficult start in teaching in the MBA program, and to make sure she had the time to develop herself as a better teacher while also getting her research program restarted, I gave her a year off from teaching many years before that,” said Hubbard, who had given her two full-year leaves from teaching.

CBS HAD GIVEN A MALE PROFESSOR A SIX-YEAR BREAK OFF ITS TENURE CLOCK

When the offer to break the tenure clock came on January 22 of 2016, it required Ravina to accept a title change to associate research scholar but reminded her that her tenure review materials would be due by the spring semester of 2016. Ravina thought the extension was hardly meaningful and turned it down.

The only other precedent at the business school for a break in tenure occurred years earlier with a male professor, Mark Broadie, who succeeded in getting six years off the tenure clock before being tenured as a professor in the school’s decision risk and operations group. During that break, he received the title of curriculum specialist. Ultimately, it took Broadie 14 years to earn tenure from the time he started at Columbia Business School. “Mark has gone on to be one of our most distinguished senior faculty, “ said Hubbard.

Ravina would file her lawsuit against Bekaert in state court on Sept. 23, 2015. Shortly after, she received a voicemail from Senior Vice Dean Katherine Phillips who informed her that a letter she had previously received from Dean Hubbard granting her a leave was a mistake. Then, in mid-December, Ravina was told by Division Chair Stephen Zeldes that her tenure process would begin immediately and she was to have all her materials for tenure in by Jan. 19th.

DEAN DENIES TENURE VOTE WAS ACCELERATED AFTER SHE FILED A LAWSUIT

“I told him it was unfair and retaliatory,” Ravina told the court earlier. “It was retaliation to bring me up for tenure on such a compressed, expedited basis. I asked him how could my colleagues evaluate my body of work given the harassment, retailiation, and neglect that Professor Bekaert and Columbia had been subjecting me for years at that point.”

Hubbard would call for a tenure vote on Ravina in the spring of 2016. By that time, the school apparently was nine months behind schedule, according to Vice Provost Chris Brown. “Her tenure dossier should have been submitted in March or April of the previous year,” he testified. “That’s the point at which all assistant professors who were up for tenure had submitted their materials. And so we were already nine months behind and we were approaching the point at which, if we did not start the review, the university would have no option but to issue a letter of nonrenewal. You can’t review materials that you have not received.”

Ravina argued that the scheduling of the vote was accelerated and many senior faculty at the business school rose to her defense. On January 22, 2016, a sizable number of tenured faculty members in the finance and economics division at the school signed a petition to express their support for Ravina’s request to have her tenure clock extended. It was ultimately denied by the provost.

HUBBARD TOLD COMMITTEE NOT TO CONSIDER HER ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT & RETALIATION IN THEIR TENURE VOTE

Then in late March of the same year, as the tenure meeting was set for April 12th, senior faculty signed yet another petition saying that they were not in a position to provide an evaluation of Ravin’a tenure case. Hubbard denied that the timing of her tenure review had anything to do with the lawsuit she filed against Bekaert or Columbia University. “The timing of this is driven by the timing of her clock when she reaches the up-or-out point,” said Hubbard.

Hubbard said he banned Bekaert from any involvement in the tenure decision, even though the professor had access to the committee’s meeting schedule and Ravina’s personal statement to the tenure committee. “I said of course Professor Bekaert should recuse himself (from her tenure), if they had this professional disagreement, and I communicated that to him,” testified Hubbard. “I let him know that he would not be participating and I let the division chair know that I didn’t want Professor Bekaert  participating.”

The school scheduled a committee vote on April 12 at which Hubbard told the group not to consider anything in her tenure case except her academic record. They were not to consider her allegations of sexual harassment or retaliation that she claimed made it impossible for her to put together a publication record that would help her case for tenure.

The committee would deny her tenure and Ravina would leave Columbia a year after on June 30, 2017. She is currently a visiting professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Closing arguments in the the first phase of the case to determine liability could occur on Tuesday. If the jury finds in favor of Ravina, then the second phase of the trial will delve into potential damages.

DON’T MISS: COLUMBIA INVESTIGATED FOUR SEPARATE CASES OF HARASSMENT AT ITS BUSINESS SCHOOL IN A SINGLE YEAR or A MENTORSHIP GOES BAD AT COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL 

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.