A Tale of Two Lawyers In Columbia’s 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

David Sanford, lawyer for Enrichetta Ravina, the former Columbia Business School assistant professor who was denied tenure:

Attorney David Sanford

May it please the Court, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, good afternoon.

You have heard a lot from Professor Bekaert’s counsel about what he calls plan B. Plan B is the ultimate plan to salvage a career on the rocks. It is a devious plot to

compensate for professional failure. It is a most despicable scheme that would be done by a most despicable person. It is, in a word used by Professor Bekaert numerous times in this trial, evil.

To believe that Professor Ravina engaged in a plan B, you would have to believe she is evil, as Professor Bekaert said, I believe, five times on the stand.

You would have to believe that she simply concocted extensive nuanced and detailed allegations out of thin air.

You would have to believe she made up virtually everything because she was concerned she would not receive tenure.

You would have to believe that she was willing to participate in constant meetings with Columbia administrators for two years with evil intent.

You would have to believe that denied tenure, she was willing to level bruising here for

balance, circumstances, a perversion of justice.

You would have to believe that the woman you watched testify in front of you is evil.

Don’t believe it.

‘PROFESSOR RAVINA IS A WOMAN OF INTEGRITY’

Here is the truth: Professor Ravina is a skilled academic, she’s motivated, she is talented, she is hard working. She is also a woman with ethical boundaries. She is also a woman of integrity.

There were certain things like dinners and coffees she was willing to do with Bekaert. There were other things like compliments she was willing to give. She was not willing to compromise her integrity. She was not willing to sacrifice her principles. Plan B for some people in this circumstance would have meant sleeping with Professor Bekaert. Professor Ravina was not willing to do that.

There were clear boundaries and limits to what she would do. She never, ever crossed that line.

‘NO ONE FROM COLUMBIA BESIDES PROFESSOR BEKAERT HAS CLAIMED SHE WAS MAKING THIS UP’

Had she crossed the line, we would not be here. Had she crossed the line, Professor Bekaert would have worked and supported her. That’s what Professor Bekaert communicated when he told Professor Ravina “If you were nicer to me, your papers would move faster.” Professor Bekaert’s story about plan B is

simply unbelievable.

No one from Columbia besides Professor Bekaert has claimed that Professor Ravina was making this up. In fact, Director Dunn, Columbia’s own investigator, testified that he thought Professor Ravina honestly expressed her beliefs about what was happening with Professor Bekaert. He thought

Professor Ravina was deeply affected and troubled by what she had experienced. And faculty at Columbia Business School were so concerned about Professor Ravina’s situation that they repeatedly escalated their concerns all over the university.

‘COLUMBIA CARED MORE ABOUT PROTECTING ITSELF. ITS INVESTIGATION WAS A COMPLETE SHAM’

To the division chair, to the dean of the business school, to the executive committee, to the provost of the university, and

even to the president himself of Columbia University.

But Columbia University still would not act to protect Professor Ravina. Why is that? Because Columbia cared more about protecting itself. Columbia’s investigation was a complete sham. Columbia would not admit that a prominent male tenured faculty member had discriminated and retaliated.

Columbia administrators would not intervene when Professor Bekaert sabotaged Professor Ravina’s research. They would not disturb his so-called academic freedom. Columbia wouldn’t call its training for Professor Bekaert a disciplinary measure.

They would not admit that Professor Bekaert needed to be disciplined. Columbia would not grant Professor Ravina a personal hardship leave that its own policies authorized. They would not admit that Professor Ravina had suffered a personal hardship because of Professor Bekaert. Columbia would not allow the tenure vote to consider Professor Ravina’s allegations against Professor Bekaert. Columbia would not admit how profound his conduct had damaged her work.

‘SHE ACKNOWLEDGED ON THE STAND THAT SHE WOULDN’T HAVE GIVEN HERSELF TENURE AT THAT POINT’

Instead of adopting Professor Bekaert’s plan B story, Columbia adopts a different approach. Columbia’s defense, in a nutshell, is that Professor Ravina did not deserve tenure. But this case is not about that tenure decision. It’s not about the tenure decision. You can hold both defendants liable for discrimination and retaliation regardless of whether Professor Ravina deserved to get tenure. Every employee, regardless of her tenure prospects, is entitled to be free of discrimination and retaliation.

Professor Ravina simply does not claim that Columbia should have given her tenure based on the record as it stood at the time of her tenure vote. In fact, she acknowledged on the stand that she wouldn’t have given herself tenure at that point herself.

Regardless of whether or not Professor Ravina deserved tenure, Professor Bekaert is liable for discriminating and retaliating against Professor Ravina, including sexually harassing her, delaying her work after she rebuffed and reported him, and damaging her career by sending poison pen e-mails all over the world.

Columbia is liable for failing to address and prevent Bekaert’s conduct and for denying a meaningful extension of Professor Ravina’s tenure process.

DON’T MISS: COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL DEAN CALLS FACULTY DISPUTE ‘A SOAP OPERA’ or COLUMBIA PROF ALSO ACCUSED OF HARASSMENT BY AN 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.