The Academic Mob Comes For This Harvard Business School Thought Leader

Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar told Francesca Gino he was being ‘nice’ by giving her six weeks of salary before putting her on an unpaid administrative leave and acting to revoke her tenure, according to her lawsuit

The reaction has been blistering.

“You don’t deserve to be in academia, let alone collecting a $500k salary and $50k speaking fees as an ‘expert.'” asserts Jeremy Coles, an assistant professor and program chair in school psychology at the University of Findlay.

“She’s guilty and the multiple acts of fraud she committed within the heart of some of our most trusted scientific institutions has done immense harm,” adds Dan Elton, a researcher and data scientist at Mass General’s Brigham Data Science Office.

“I think what you are doing is disgraceful,” maintains Yoel Inbar, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. “Suing individual researchers for tens of millions of dollars is a brazen attempt to silence legitimate scientific criticism and sets a terrible example for our field.”

“I would like to believe that you are innocent of fraud, but right now I do not,” chimes in Brian Nosek, executive director at the Center for Open Science.


Francesca Gino

All of the comments are attacking former Harvard Business School superstar Francesca Gino over accusations that several of her research studies are fraudulent. In her case, the academic mobbing has been brutal, a form of social disapproval replete with intimidation, humiliation, and harassment. Some critics have jumped on social media forums to compare her to Elizabeth Holmes. Others have suggested that Gino should return her salary to the school. “She should put her tail between her legs and blend in the background,” claims John Antonakis, an organizational behavior professor at HEC Lausanne. “She is making herself look even worse. What a disgrace she is to the field. She should also be asked to pay back her salary!”

Her lawsuit has, if anything, added fuel to the fire. “You are a fraud,” claimed KrisMoore, a research sssociate at deCODE genetics. “Want to sue me into silence too?” Brian Kennedy, writing on the blog Karlstack, said plainly and cruelly: “It would be great to have Francesca Gino, Elizabeth Holmes, and Sam Bankman-Fraud interview each other and then do a book together with OJ Simpson as the editor. The book could be called, ‘If They Did It.'” One critic wrote Poets&Quants asking us to take down Gino’s 2015 in which the then 36-year-old behavioral scientist was named one of our 40-Under-40 Best MBA Professors.

The scathing commentary directed at Gino is not unlike the flak earlier aimed at her Harvard Business School colleague Amy Cuddy, who ultimately gave up her tenured position at the school in 2017 after the authors of the same blog, Data Colada, raised issues about her work. Cuddy is now writing a book with the title Bullies, Bystanders, and Bravehearts which delves into the psychological causes and consequences of bullying among adults. She may want to interview Gino for that work. When Gino first addressed the allegations a month ago, her Linkedin post was overwhelmed by 359 responses, many of them personal attacks, until the comments section was turned off.


The latest take down–nearing 200 comments–began last week after Gino filed a defamation lawsuit against Harvard, Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar, and the authors of Data Colada who Gino accuses of working together to destroy her career and reputation “despite admitting they have no evidence proving their allegations. While claiming to stand for process excellence, they reached outrageous conclusions based entirely on inference, assumption, and implausible leaps of logic…I have never, ever falsified data or engaged in research misconduct of any kind.”

However the lawsuit turns out, no one is benefitting from the optics of the controversy: Not Gino, nor Harvard Business School, its dean, nor Data Colada. It doesn’t help that the accusations against Gino’s work was made by three men: Uri Simonsohn, a professor at ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Joe Simmons, a professor at The Wharton School, and Leif Nelson, a professor at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. The Harvard Business School investigating committee that sat in judgment of her was dominated by men: HBS Professor Emeritus Robert Kaplan and HBS Professor Shawn Cole. The sole woman involved in the investigation was HBS Professor Emerita Teresa Amabile. And finally, the person who put Gino on an unpaid administrative leave and made that disciplinary action public was also male: Dean Datar.

A working mother of four young children and the breadwinner in her family, Gino claims that She further claims that the school discriminated against her because of her gender. “Harvard Business School discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of sex when it elected to investigate her under a newly created policy specific to her case as opposed to relying on its existing policy and procedures,” the lawsuit alleges. “Harvard has treated similarly situated male professors differently. It recently investigated allegations of research misconduct against a male junior faculty member pursuant to its existing ‘Research Integrity’ policy, (which, unlike the Interim Policy, did not specify any particular sanctions for violations), and its usual Faculty Review Board procedures, a policy and procedures that Harvard University chose to abandon in Plaintiff’s case. In contrast to its treatment of Plaintiff, Harvard Business School protected the confidentiality of the male junior faculty member, and it subsequently promoted him to tenure.”


If Gino is getting beaten up, Dean Datar isn’t looking all that good, either, based on the accusations Gino makes against him in her lawsuit. She alleges that Dean Datar “negotiated an agreement” with the blog writers under which the university would investigate Gino “in exchange for Data Colada’s silence” during the probe, according to the lawsuit. “Unbeknownst to Plaintiff, Harvard Business School further agreed to disclose the outcome of the investigation to Data Colada, who could then subject Plaintiff’s work and professional reputation to public disparagement on its blog.”

After accepting the conclusions of the investigation committee that Gino was guilty of research misconduct, Dean Datar called her into his office on June 13th at 5:30 p.m. He started the meeting by telling Gino that she would not have the opportunity to say anything, and that he was only meeting with her because he wanted the process to be ‘humane’ so he could deliver the news of his decision in-person, according to her lawsuit. He then began to read, word for word, his decision letter.He told Gino she was being placed on an unpaid administrative leave “for a period of two years,” and that she would receive no salary or benefits after July 31. Dean Datar immediately revoked her named professorship the Tandon Family Professor of Business. Datar added that he would take steps to revoke her tenure appointment.

For the period of her administrative leave, he added, Gino was not permitted to conduct research, to teach, to mentor or advise; she would receive no administrative or research support; she was barred from campus, effectively immediately; and she was prohibited from publishing or disseminating research via HBS platforms, according to her lawsuit.

Gino says she began to weep.

“You are a capable, smart woman,” Datar told her. “I am sure you’ll find other opportunities.”

Dean Datar told Gino, according to the lawsuit, that he was being “nice” to her by waiting until the end of July 2023 to place her on unpaid leave, rather than doing so immediately.


Yet, Datar made clear he would communicate his finding to others. “It is my intention to continue to handle this matter as confidentially as circumstances allow,” he wrote to her in his decision letter. “Apart from the communications to journals and co-authors you can expect that I will share with your Unit and relevant faculty and staff leadership that you have been placed on administrative leave as a consequence of research misconduct findings such that you will be unavailable to engage in research, teaching, and mentoring or advising. Communications will also be necessary with students whose work you have been supervising.”

The school then prominently placed  a banner on Gino’s faculty page on the HBS website, noting that she was on leave (see below).

If her lawsuit claims are proven correct, Gino stands a very good chance of extracting millions of dollars in damages from Harvard largely because of the process used by the school to discipline Gino. Even the investigation committee had to admit that it had no direct evidence that Gino committed fraud. In its preface to its report, the panel noted that “all witnesses” interviewed “never doubted the integrity of the data in the study or studies in question,” and that there was also no evidence of any incentive or pressure to manipulate data in Professor Gino’s lab, writing: We acknowledge, and we took seriously in our decision-making, statements by all witnesses that they never doubted the integrity of the data in the study or studies in question. One witness who knew Professor Gino well said they never doubted her integrity in any way. The witnesses also said that they had no evidence that Professor Gino had ever pressured colleagues, doctoral students, post-docs, or research associates, including themselves, to produce particular results in a study, or that Professor Gino had created a negative atmosphere in her lab. Moreover, some witnesses spontaneously said that they had worked on multiple studies with Professor Gino that were never published because the studies didn’t work out”

And among the highly critical comments there is also significant support for Gino. Some of her advocates are openly critical of Harvard Business School for its lack of support for her. “It’s sad to see an institution like Harvard throw this woman under the bus so quickly,” wrote Gordon Rudow, a partner at the consulting firm Oliver Wyman. “The more that you hear about this case the more you wonder about the motivations of the people involved. Anyone who has worked with Francesca Gino knows that these allegations are absurd. She is one of the hardest working, highest integrity and most talented researchers and instructors in her field.”


Even more notable is the observation by Frances Frei, who was one of the first women to gain tenure at Harvard Business School where she has taught and held leadership positions over the past 25 years.

“After reading this complaint, my, I have great pause. And many, many questions,” wrote Frei. “From my first hand observation, Francesca Gino overflows with integrity. I hope justice is served here.”

Andrew King, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, puts some blame over the controversy on academia itself. “Harvard and other elite schools bear part off the responsibility for situations like this,” he said. “They demand unreasonable numbers of publications for promotion, and richly reward ‘stars’ that become ‘thought leaders’, but then then are shocked, shocked, when poor oversight, p-hacking, or fabrication is uncovered.”

DON’T MISS: What Francesca Gino’s Harvard Lawsuit Says About Data Colada’s Fraud Allegations or The Rise & Fall Of A Harvard Business School Superstar


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