Why Columbia Will Lose Its #MeToo Trial

Enrichetta Ravina, a former assistant professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business Schoo who was denied tenure, accuses senior faculty member Professor Geert Bekaert of sexual harassment and sabotage

ALARM BELLS SHOULD HAVE SOUNDED DUE TO THE EARLIER HARASSMENT COMPLAINT BY AN MBA STUDENT

Because of the previous report against Bekaert by a female student and his documented threats to her, Ravina’s complaint should have set up alarm bells. Instead, the dean’s office at Columbia Business School said it was completely unaware of the previous harassment complaint against Bekaert. Though Dean Hubbard initially believed the dispute was over their research collaboration, he quickly found out there was more to it than that. A day after his first meeting with Ravina on July 15, 2014, he was told by newly named Senior Vice Dean Katherine Phillips that some sort of sexual innuendo was being alleged. But he would not meet with Ravina against until September, cancelling a scheduled meeting in August.

As Phillips explained it on the stand, Ravina told her that there have been these negative emails that had gone between them, but that “there were emails that she hadn’t shared with people that might kind of imply some sexual innuendo. He had asked her out to dinner several times, maybe he wanted something more than just dinner. I certainly felt like I needed to immediately report that to somebody. I went straight to Hubbard’s office and I said I think we need to investigate.” The dean’s office referred the matter to the university’s EOAA office on July 19th.

“I thought the situation was unreasonable,” thought Phillips. “My sense was that as the senior faculty member maybe Geert could give a little bit more in the situation to try to resolve the situation. So my exasperation a bit there was really about like can we get this resolved already.”

GIVEN HER SCANT PUBLICATION RECORD, SHE WAS EASY PREY

And then jury members will have to talk about the school’s decision to deny her tenure. They should do so in the context of knowing that when she first came to Columbia in 2008, she had a scant publication record. So from the very beginning, she had a lot riding on her collaborative work with Bekaert. She was, in fact, easy prey for a senior faculty member whose marriage was allegedly troubled. As a junior professor, already behind in publishing breakthrough papers, Bekeart would have even greater influence and power over her than he would have had in even a more normal circumstance. The fact that the research would all come from a massive dataset to which Bekaert had access only made the senior professor’s hand stronger.

When the school insisted that its senior faculty members not consider how her allegations had impacted her publication record, it insured that she would be denied tenure. But sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation helped to paralyze her at Columbia Business School. It was relevant in judging her tenure case, particularly in light of the university’s failure to protect her.  She was under extreme pressure, feeling alienated from the school and the university. Unable to sleep, she was under the weekly treatment of a therapist. No one can be productive under those circumstances.

Yet, because the school had delayed the tenure process due to negotiations her and its lawyers, it had to rush it along at the last minute. This is why many senior faculty members in her division drafted and signed three petitions and the administration had to call a meeting with senior tenured faculty to address their concerns about the process.

‘SEEMS LIKE A BALDFACED ATTEMPT TO GET RID OF HER’

“The unprecedented acceleration in Ravina’s case seems like a baldfaced attempt to get rid of her,” wrote Noel Capon, a long-standing professor at Columbia Business School since 1979. Capon, tenured since 1988, was a former division chair from 2000 to 2006. He sent his email with this message to the faculty and administration.

The peer group used to measure Ravina’s output was composed of nine men and two women, Victoria Ivashina and Adele Morris. The school acknowledged that it had tossed into the mix of peers a “superstar” professor. Of course, Ravina’s three peer-reviewed papers and citations would show her to be considerably behind other young academics in her field. But none of them had to go through the horrendous struggle of dealing with an angry and arrogant senior professor just out of a failed marriage who had been accused of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation.

At this point, Columbia would do well to contact its insurance company.

DON’T MISS: CBS DEAN CALLS FACULTY DISPUTE ‘A SOAP OPERA’ or COLUMBIA INVESTIGATED FOUR SEPARATE CASES OF HARASSMENT AT ITS BUSINESS SCHOOL IN A SINGLE YEAR

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