Harvard Suspends Roland Fryer, Star Economist, After Sexual Harassment Claims

on Jul15
by | Comments Off on Harvard Suspends Roland Fryer, Star Economist, After Sexual Harassment Claims |

The allegations against Mr. Fryer became public last year when The Harvard Crimson, a campus newspaper, reported on some of the complaints. Months later, Mr. Fryer was elected to the executive board of the American Economics Association, the most prestigious body in academic economics. He resigned from that post in December, before formally taking office, after The New York Times reported new details of the allegations against him.

The furor helped accelerate a reckoning in economics, a field that has long had a reputation for hostility to women. At the economics association’s annual meeting in Atlanta in January, just weeks after the Times article on Mr. Fryer, women shared stories of discrimination and harassment and demanded reforms.

In March, the association published the results of a survey finding widespread harassment, bias and outright assault in the profession. It also announced a number of policy changes, including new procedures for removing officers and members accused of misconduct.

Kathryn Holston, a Harvard graduate student who was a co-founder of an advocacy group for women in economics, said it was hard to evaluate Mr. Fryer’s punishment because Harvard has disclosed few details of the case. But she said the case highlighted the need for changes, including a system across the profession for reporting inappropriate behavior.

“We do certainly know that this is a severe problem,” she said. “There’s been a lot of progress in the past year, but much more needs to be done.”

In a letter to the editor after the Times article, Mr. Fryer said he was wrong to have allowed off-color jokes in the lab, and apologized “if anyone who worked at the lab ever felt alienated, confused or offended by the environment.” But he denied bullying anyone or retaliating against employees, and said he was proud of his record of “hiring, retaining and promoting women.”

Others have spoken up in Mr. Fryer’s defense. Tanaya Devi, a Harvard graduate student and former Ed Labs employee, said she was “stunned and disappointed” by the punishment, which she called a “disproportionate result compared to the allegations.”

“We devoted our lives passionately to the cause of racial differences and now that has forcefully been ceased by Harvard administrators,” Ms. Devi wrote in an email on Wednesday. “My research with Prof. Fryer on criminal justice in America is halted for 4 years. I am trying hard to understand how Harvard deems this to be ‘just.’”

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