Harvard Attempts A Gag Order On Harvard Business School Faculty Over Francesca Gino

Harvard B-School Dean Srikant Datar

Harvard B-School Dean Srikant Datar has been called incompetent by an anonymous HBS professor over his handling of allegations that Francesca Gino committed research misconduct


In the immediate aftermath of a $25 million lawsuit brought by Professor Francesca Gino, Harvard University has issued what amounts to a gag order on Harvard Business School faculty to stop professors from speaking out about the controversy. The order–sent in an email last month from Harvard’s Office of the General Counsel–asked faculty to “avoid any discussion of this matter outside the presence of the OGC or outside counsel.”

The warning from the university was sent to the business school faculty after Gino, who is on an unpaid administrative leave due to claims of research misconduct, filed her lawsuit alleging defamation, breach of contract, and gender discrimination against Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar, Harvard, and Data Colada. The general council’s emails also informed the business school faculty that they will have a “technical hold” placed on their email accounts that would prevent them from permanently deleting any email. “Once a technical hold is in place… it will appear as if it were deleted, but a copy of it will be retained for litigation purposes only),” according to the email obtained by the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson.

The university’s Office of General Council also attempted to muzzle any public discussion of the document it sent. “This memorandum is confidential and should not be shared or discussed with anyone else without prior consent of the Office of the General Counsel,” according to the letter. “Any discussions about this matter, written or oral, may be subject to discovery in any subsequent legal proceeding, unless those discussions occur as part of a discussion with Harvard’s attorneys for the purpose of seeking or obtaining legal advice.”


Francesca Gino and Harvard Business School

Francesca Gino

Despite the notice, angry faculty have begun to speak out, though anonymously, to openly criticize HBS Dean Datar over his decision to ban Gino from campus, take away her professorial title and health benefits, and begin the process of stripping her of tenure. The overly harsh sanctions against Gino, one professor told The Crimson, resulted from “the incompetence of a dean. He’s not like past deans, and he won’t be like future deans.”

The only time Datar met personally with Gino was to met out his discipline of her. At that meeting, she recounted, the dean immediately told the teary professor that  she would not be allowed to speak.

Another professor told the student newspaper that the treatment of Gino’s case is an example of gender inequity. Another faculty member interviewed by the paper pointed to examples of male faculty at the university who have been accused of — and found to have committed — research misconduct but remained on the faculty. As an example, the professor singled out Charles J. Ogletree, a former Harvard Law School professor who committed nearly verbatim plagiarism in his book “All Deliberate Speed” but remained a member of the law school faculty until his recent death in early August.

In her lawsuit, Gino also cited several instances of alleged research misconduct by male professors who were not similarly disciplined. She noted one prior investigation of research misconduct by an unidentified  male professor at Harvard Business School in which the school “protected the confidentiality of the male junior faculty member, and subsequently promoted him to tenure.”


An HBS professor told The Crimson that “it’s impossible to imagine that this would happen to a man.”

The case has attracted widespread attention, in part because Harvard has never forcibly stripped a professor of tenure but also because Professor Gino has maintained she is innocent of the charges and her colleagues believe her to be of utmost integrity. It didn’t help that Harvard Business School Dean Datar unilaterally put in place a new policy on how to respond to allegations of research misconduct with which to judge her. That policy was made effective–without collaboration or communication with faculty–one month after Harvard was contact by the authors of a blog, Data Colada, who initially made the allegations of fraud against Gino.

Three Harvard Business School professors, who anonymously spoke to The Crimson, believe  the dean’s lack of consultation was an unusual move. They pointed  to the role faculty typically play during policy creation, including small group discussions and advisory votes. “There isn’t a single faculty member that was aware of this interim policy until Francesca’s lawsuit came out,” a professor said. “We were governed by a policy for two years that we were completely unaware of.” The professors added that several faculty are worried about Datar’s unilateral adoption of a new, school-wide policy.


Gino has been a well-liked,  award-winning behavioral scientist  Since joining Harvard in 2010, she authored or co-authored more than 100 academic and journal articles and racked up nearly 33,000 Google citations. She’s been featured in Ted Talks, wrote two bestselling books, and was named one of the world’s 50 most influential management thinkers by Thinkers 50 three different times. In 2015, at age 36, Poets&Quants named her one of our 40-Under-40 Best MBA Professors. But it all came tumbling down with accusations that she had manipulated data in several research studies.

The case has generated mixed feelings among the faculty. One source has told Poets&Quants that a third of the professors at HBS are horrified and angry with Dean Datar, while another third appear supporting, with the remaining faculty not knowing what to think. Regardless, two law school professors–one from Harvard and one from Yale–have publicly expressed the belief that Gino has a legitimate claim over breach of contract. And a forensic firm now working on her behalf apparently believes it has already disproved claims of intentional fraud on at least one of the three scholarly articles singled out by Data Colada and Harvard Business School’s own investigation.

In an unpublished rebuttal obtained by The Crimson, Gino denied claims in Data Colada’s first blog post that a study on reducing dishonest behavior published 11 years ago in 2012 contained manipulated data as alleged by the bloggers. Gino argues that the data fraud allegations against her were false and claimed that the findings of her study would hold even if excluding the data Data Colada had flagged was excluded from the study. “The only reason anyone would ever manipulate data would presumably be to drive results,” she wrote. “But this analysis demonstrates that even if you were to throw out all of the observations that, according to Data Colada’s own rules, should be considered ‘suspicious,’ the findings of the original study still hold.”

“Why on earth would I manipulate data, if not to change the results of a study?” she wrote.


Gino also asserted that “Data Colada cherry-picked the data it chose to include in its analysis.” While Gino denies any research misconduct, she remains unable to explain exactly how the discrepancies in her data occurred. “I know that this still begs the question: So what actually happened in this study?” she wrote. “The honest answer is I still do not know for sure.”

Gino, however, pointed to the analog format of the study as a possible source of error. “The original data from the study no longer exists, as the study was conducted on paper,” she wrote. “So you can see how mistakes could creep in,” she added. “In this case, we’re talking about two duplicate ID values — sloppy and unfortunate, yes, but perhaps not terribly surprising given the paper-based system that was used.”

These errors, Gino wrote, could have been introduced by the lab manager and research assistants who performed the data collection. “Here is what almost certainly happened: The RAs conducting the study simply stacked the paper copies by condition, and then manually entered the data in the order in which the papers were stacked,” Gino wrote. At the time, Gino argued, there was no reason to care about the order of the data entries. Gino concluded the letter by writing that there would be “more to come” as she continued combing through the data with her team. “I am confident that the forensic work-in-progress we’re doing on Data Colada’s other blog posts will end up yielding strong refutations of those allegations as well,” she added.


Gino has also disputed Data Colada’s second blog post which alleged manipulation in her 2015 study linking authenticity to morality. According to The Crimson, Gino believes the internal records saved by Qualtrics for that study suggest that some external study participant had tampered with the data by filling out the form multiple times in rapid succession. The entries that Data Colada had flagged as suspicious and manipulated, HBS professors told the paper, all shared IP addresses out of China and California and were linked to old computer taglines — running Mac and Windows operating systems dating back to 2001. The emails associated with those data entries were also nonexistent addresses.

The timing of the entries also indicated that one person was repeatedly filling out the form, as each followed one immediately after the other without any overlap — which would be expected if multiple people were responding in parallel — according to one professor. “The motivation for one person to fill out the form several times could have come from an attempt to win an Amazon gift card, an incentive offered to all who participated in the survey,” according to The Crimson.

Meantime, Harvard Business School seems to think it will prevail in its defense of Gino’s lawsuit. “Harvard ultimately will be vindicated,” claims Harvard Business School’s PR representative in an emailed statement to The Crimson. “Professor Gino has raised allegations in her lawsuit that Harvard strongly denies,” wrote HBS spokesperson Brian Kenny. “We believe that the investigation — carried out by three senior HBS faculty members — was thorough, fair, and fully complied with HBS’s policy and procedure for dealing with allegations of research misconduct.”




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