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Fire Marc Hauser

Tenure should not be an exemption from academic integrity

The debate surrounding embattled professor Marc D. Hauser lives on. The psychology professor, after a three-year-long investigation by the University, was found “solely responsible” for multiple counts of scientific misconduct last August, prompting his announcement of a year-long leave. As the controversy simmered in his absence, the future of Hauser’s status at the University remained uncertain. A degree of clarity and controversy came with the psychology department’s recent declaration that Hauser would indeed return to Harvard—but only to the lab, not the lecture hall.

In light of the unambiguous results of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’s internal investigation, the psychology department should have gone further in its decision.  Simply put, Hauser should be fired. If the University truly values its policies on academic integrity in practice rather than name, it should dismiss all community members who fail to uphold those standards, from undergraduates to tenured professors.

For a bizarre and unjustifiable set of reasons, Harvard seems to have a historical aversion to dismissing tenured faculty in any circumstance.  In fact—as FAS spokesman Jeff Neal told The Crimson last fall—FAS has never begun dismissal proceedings against a faculty member because of research misconduct. However, several incidents from the past two decades show that in such situations, junior Harvard faculty have resigned from their positions when tenured faculty have somehow managed to keep their jobs.

In 2004, for instance, when a federal court found economics professor Andrei Shleifer liable for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government while leading a Harvard economic reform program in Russia, the University not only refused to fire Shleifer, but it also went  so far as to pay $26.5 million to settle a government lawsuit against him. Similarly, in 1988, when Shervert H. Frazier, then-head of the Harvard Medical School psychiatry department and the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, was ultimately rehired by McLean Hospital after no fewer than four counts of plagiarism. The experience of junior faculty members in similar situations, on the other hand, could not be more different: Lee S. Simon, Ali A. Sultan, and Weishui Y. Weiser have all resigned in recent years after charges of academic dishonesty, never to be re-hired.

The University should use the Hauser case to declare an end to the treatment of tenure as tantamount to faculty immunity. After all, peer institutions like Yale and Columbia have fired tenured faculty members for academic misconduct, and, as the Education School’s Cathy A. Trower told The Crimson during the eruption of the Hauser scandal this past fall, a 1994 study found that between 50 and 75 tenured professors are dismissed annually nationwide.

Why is Harvard so reluctant to do the same?

As any academic community should, Harvard mandates a certain code of conduct among its members. In turn, that code governs the University’s intellectual vitality and ensures its longevity. Refusing to hold any member of the community accountable—even the most highly esteemed—only sends the message that academic integrity is a suggestion rather than a requirement and an aspiration rather than a reality. Frankly, that’s a message far too dangerous for a research university as prestigious and as well-respected as Harvard to send to its affiliates and to the world.

Firing Marc Hauser—and, in the future, any other tenured professors who commit academic misconduct—would thus be anything but an embarrassment. If anything, it would affirm that Harvard is truly the community it purports itself to be. Above all else, as embarrassed as we are that that tenure at Harvard seems to entail exemption from academic integrity, it is high time that the Harvard Corporation break with tradition and dismiss Hauser for the “grave misconduct or neglect of duty” he committed.

Correction: April 27, 2011

An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the name of a Harvard professor found liable of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. He is Andrei Shleifer, not Andrei Schleifer.

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