Citing Scandal, Marc Hauser Cancels Extension School Courses

Polina Bartik

Psychology Professor Marc D. Hauser canceled his two courses at the Harvard Extension School due to the “controversy surrounding the investigation” into his alleged scientific misconduct, according to a letter sent Monday night to students enrolled in his fall course.

The night before Hauser’s fall class was scheduled to begin, Mary Higgins, associate dean for academic administration at the Division of Continuing Education, wrote to students that Psychology E-1153: “Cognitive Evolution” would be canceled “at the request of the instructor, Professor Marc Hauser.”

Hauser, who is on leave from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences after Harvard found him responsible for eight instances of scientific misconduct, will also not teach his spring course Psychology E-1006: “The Moral Sense: From Genes to Law.”

“Because of the controversy surrounding the investigation, I have decided that the best thing for the students is that I not teach at the Extension School until things conclude with the case,” Hauser wrote in a statement included in Higgins’ letter. “Given my great desire to teach, I look forward to sharing my knowledge of these disciplines in the future.”

In an e-mail to The Crimson Monday night, Hauser wrote that he was “deeply disappointed” about the cancellations and would return to teaching in the fall of 2011 at the College and the Extension School.

FAS spokesman Jeff Neal wrote in an e-mailed statement that the decision to cancel the courses was made on Monday.

The cancellation of these courses follows a statement Hauser made last week that he was “keen to extend [his] reach of teaching experiences” by teaching Extension School students while on leave.

As recently as Friday, Extension School spokeswoman Linda A. Cross wrote in an e-mail that it was “not uncommon” for professors on leave to teach at the school. Meanwhile, Dean of Continuing Education and University Extension Michael Shinagel called Hauser’s course well-liked by students.

“Professor Hauser is a talented teacher, the recipient of several Harvard awards for distinction in teaching,” Shinagel wrote in an e-mail on Friday, before the courses’ cancellation. “Professor Hauser has expressed his regret and has assured us that he very much looks forward to teaching his course this semester.”

Academics in the field were reserved in their reactions to the cancellation of Hauser’s classes.

Leslie M. Kay, a University of Chicago associate professor of psychology, said Hauser’s decision not to teach the courses may have been influenced by factors unrelated to the investigation.

“I think in any situation a professor can cancel a continuing education course simply because they don’t have the time or energy to teach it,” Kay said. “And personally, I wouldn’t hold that against anybody.”

Christopher L. Coe, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he was “hesitant to condemn [Hauser] from so far away,” but the importance of trust in the field remained paramount.

“Oftentimes, something like this can ruin a person’s career and is irreparable, and one can’t land back on one’s feet,” Coe said. “Some scientists leave academics and find another way to be a writer or thinker—but not in the sacred world of academics.”

“It’s very tempting to manipulate data, to lose objectivity and impartiality, which is at the core of scientific empiricism,” he added.

Hauser took leave from FAS after a three-year investigation into accusations of scientific misconduct. In a letter to the Faculty earlier last month, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith wrote that Hauser was found “solely responsible” for eight instances of misconduct involving the collection, analysis, and storage of data and the reporting of research methods and results.

Without naming specific measures taken against Hauser, Smith said that he did “impose appropriate sanctions,” which he said could include forced leave, increased oversight of laboratory practices, and limitation of research.

—Sofia E. Groopman contributed to the reporting of this article.

—Staff writer Naveen N. Srivatsa can be reached at srivatsa@fas.harvard.edu.

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