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CBS Dean Calls Faculty Dispute ‘A Soap Opera’

Friday 20 July 2018, by John A. Byrne

Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard was called to testify in an explosive sexual harassment trial

Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard referred to an escalating conflict between a junior faculty member and a senior tenured professor at the school as a “soap opera” and said he told both teachers that their behavior toward each other was “unprofessional” and “disgraceful.”

“I’ve been teaching 35 years. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Hubbard told a New York City courtroom this week. “The most common dispute — and even that I could count fingers on one hand — would be a teaching dispute, you know, who developed what materials for class, but I have never had to referee something like this in 35 years of being an economist.”

Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School since 2004, testified Wednesday (July 18) in a $30 million lawsuit trial now in its second week. The trial pits an Italian born junior faculty member, Enrichetta Ravina, who had been denied tenure at Columbia, against a senior tenured professor, Geert Bekaert, who once had been her mentor. Ravina accuses Bekaert of sexual harassment, retaliation and career sabotage. She charges that Columbia University failed to protect her from Bekaert’s alleged actions after it knew of the dispute between them.


The trial has resulted in tabloid coverage in both the New York Post and the New York Daily News as well as The Daily Mail in Britain. Ravina claims Bekaert began hitting on her soon after they agreed to collaborate on several research projects in 2008. She alleges that he slid his hand down her back to her butt in a taxi, attempted an unwanted kiss on the stoop outside her New York apartment, grabbed her hand at a mid-town bar, leered at her breasts in his office.

She claims he often pursued inappropriate conversations in which he allegedly talked about his troubled marriage, asked her if she had a live-in boyfriend, told her about an affair with a stewardess who wanted to get an MBA at Columbia Business School, frequently steered conversations to sex and discussed pornography and prostitutes (“They keep men out of trouble,” Ravina claimed he told her. “They are important to satisfy a man’s sex drive.”)

Bekaert, for this part, denies ever having had a romantic interest in her and believes her accusations are part of a con job to explain her failure to do the work that would have gotten her tenure (see Columbia Business School’s Shocking #MeToo Trial).


Former Columbia Business School Assistant Professor Enrichetta Ravina

Even though he labeled the dispute a soap opera, Hubbard maintained that he treated it seriously from the start. “It was serious,” he testified, “because that involved their professional lack of communication, and I thought it was a soap opera. Sitting here today, I think it.”

Less than a month after he first learned of problems between the two professors, Hubbard told a colleague via email, “I am weary of being in the middle of this.” By August, after Ravina informed him she was having an extremely difficult time with Bekaert, Hubbard told a colleague, “I do not have the time to personally monitor all of this multiple times a day.” In yet another email, Hubbard complained: “I do not deserve this, nor will I continue to waste my time. Can we get Michael Dunn to commit to take this over,” referring to the director of the university’s Equal Opportunity & Affirmative Action (EOAA) office.

Hubbard said that between the time of his first meeting over the dispute in June of 2014 and her tenure case in May of 2016, there were 35 separate meetings on the dean’s office calendar alone to try to resolve the fight. When the dispute first came to his attention, he said he had been unaware that the university had only recently investigated Bekaert for another harassment complaint brought against him by an MBA student (see Columbia Prof Also Accused Of Harassment By An MBA Student).


Hubbard said he first heard of the problem in May of 2014 after Senior Vice Dean Gita Johar had a meeting with Ravina and two other CBS professors Patrick Bolton and Santos. Ravina then told Johar that a senior tenured faculty member was being abusive, vindictive and belittling her. She brought along a raft of emails that clearly displayed a quickly deteriorating relationship between the two professors.

Ravina said she had been quietly enduring a series of overtures by Bekaert to turn what was a professional relationship into a personal one starting in the summer and fall of 2012. When she made clear she had no interest in him, she said, he began to stall his own work on their research projects as her tenure clock kept ticking away. In late November of 2013, she testified, Bekaert told her that “if you were nicer to me, your papers would move faster.”

Their exchanges, largely via email, would become more heated as she tried to get him to agree to a work schedule to move their research along. Ravina said that her mentor was becoming more aggressive and confrontational. “He would talk about sex, he wanted to go to dinner, he would stall the progress. He would refuse to give approval. It was slowing, slowing, and waiting and this concluded with him not even sharing drafts, anymore.”


“So, while I have started nibbling away at the draft, I will not show you antyhing, as you do not seem to grasp the concept of an evolving work in progress,” Bekaert wrote her on Dec. 1, 2013.

“This has to stop,” wrote Bekaert to her in one email. “You are insane. If you do not start acting normally, I’m going to drop the whole thing. Jeez.”

Ravina said she began having trouble sleeping and started seeing a psychiatrist in March of 2014.

“Hi Geert.

We need to reevaluate our working relationship to make sure that everyone is treated professionally respectfullly and correctly and that everyone’s needs are met so that we can work and communicate productively. Based on the emails below and more generally, I feel that is not the case now.

Best, Enrichetta”

Bekaert’s response: “Yes, let’s meet next week. I will bring a whip.”


“I thought it was extremely rude,” Ravina testified. “It was disrespectful. He was completely ignoring my request to be professional, and he was just telling me that he was in charge, that he would bring a whip and put me into place.”

At his first meeting with Ravina, Hubbard said there was no mention of sexual harassment. “This was purely a professional dispute, as her own email after the fact reveals,” said Hubbard. It wasn’t until a subsequent meeting three months later when it became clear to him that Ravina also was alleging that Bekaert had sexually harassed her. At that point, he referred the complaint to the university’s EOAA office.

The dean said he had many meetings with Bekaert over the course of the dispute. “I wanted to remind him of his special responsibility because he’s a tenured faculty member and that I expected collegiality,” Hubbard told the court. “I meant that they needed to have a constructive working relationship or just stop. But I didn’t want to see the kind of fighting that I’d heard about.”


The sessions between the dean and Bekaert continued for months. “I told him I thought the communications were unprofessional and unbecoming, and what I wanted him to do is A) Communicate in a more professional manner and, B) Try to figure out with these projects how could one get to resolution here.” And Hubbard said he warned Bekaert against any form of retaliation against Ravina. “I advised him that there could be legal consequences. I’m not a lawyer, but I was really there as an academic saying that’s just untoward behavior. Don’t do it.”

At Hubbard’s first meeting with Ravina, Hubbard conceded that Bekaert treated him badly, too, and suggested that he could insert a “relationship manager” who would monitor the emails between them. “I believed that interjecting a third party, a new set of eyes might be able to help the two parties bridge the gap,” said Hubbard. “There was a lot of ‘my way or the highway’ talk, and I wanted somebody who could bring them together.”

The dean wanted to be copied on all correspondence between the two faculty members and also told Ravina he would speak to the provost about an extension on her tenure clock, ultimately coming up with a plan for a break in service that would temporarily stop the clock and give her more time to get papers published that would increase her odds of getting tenure.

When Bekaert began sending emails to Ravina without copying the dean’s office after the professor was instructed to do so by Hubbard, the dean, clearly exaspserated, wrote to a colleague: “The university needs to pick this up. This level of immaturity is inappropriate.”


Even so, Hubbard maintained that as dean he was somewhat limited in dealing with the dispute. “I can’t dicate what people work on, but I do make available research funds,” he explained. “I can change people’s teaching. For example, I gave Professor Ravina teaching breaks. I also complicated Professor Bekaert’s teaching schedule somewhat. I can do those things. But my power, if you will, or authority is more akin to moral suasion. I’m more akin to a managing partner in a law firm than a CEO of a company.”

Hubbard told the court he had no authority to fire a tenured faculty member. “I cannot,” he said. “If I felt that something had happened like that, I would have to go to the president of the university and trustees. They would make that decision. I have never seen it happen in my time at Columbia.”

At one point, Hubbard suggested that Bekaert break the several projects that would come out of their joint research into different buckets, urging him to let Ravina take over one of the papers entirely. “I don’t think he was thrilled to hear my suggestions, but I do think he stared to think about it, because I know that over time, the suggestions I made about who would author which papers more or less came to fruition.”

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.


By the summer of 2015, Senior Vice Dean Katherine Phillips sent an email to Hubbard expressing her own feelings about the continued email exchanges between the two professors. “I am super frustrated for her,” she wrote. “I am going to push. this has to stop. Not sure what I can do, but this is to the point of ridiculous, really.”

Hubbard responded on Aug. 22, 2015, with “I know and I agree.”

When Bekaert refused to give Ravina computer codes essential to the research project for weeks on end, Ravina sent an email on Dec. 11 of 2014 to Hubbard along with his colleague Janet Horan and Daniel Wolfenzon, a finance professor who was then serving as relationship manager, to inform them of the delays.


“I have asked Geert something very simple and clear, to send the tables and codes he has already generated so I can complete the paper, send it to the company for review and then submit it,” Ravina wrote. “It takes at most one hour. Can you please reiterate to him that he needs to send them?”

Hubbard’s emailed response to Horan and Wolfenzon: “Why can’t Geert give her whatever she’s asking for? He could still continue to work on the papers.”

Yet Dean Hubbard gave conflicting testimony about the delays on the project, at times confirming that he lectured Bekaert about stalling but also seemed to believe that the senior professor legitmately needed more time to complete the projects. “My inference was that he felt these papers needed more work,” Hubbard told the court. “He has a very significant professional reputation to protect. He doesn’t want sloppy work, and that was his intent. He is a man who had published a large number of papers. I have to take him at his word on that point.”


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.


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.

“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.


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.


The post CBS Dean Calls Faculty Dispute ‘A Soap Opera’ appeared first on Poets&Quants.

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