Psychology Professor Marc D. Hauser will resign his tenured position at the University, ending a career at Harvard that began with promise but was marred by a research misconduct investigation.
The announcement of his resignation, effective Aug. 1, comes on the heels of a Psychology Department vote in February to prohibit him from teaching in the upcoming academic year. It is unclear whether Hauser, a prolific if controversial scholar, faced pressure from the University to resign.
“While on leave over the past year, I have begun doing some extremely interesting and rewarding work focusing on the educational needs of at-risk teenagers. I have also been offered some exciting opportunities in the private sector,” Hauser wrote in a resignation letter dated July 7.
Hauser, who was beloved by students, wrote that he was, as of now, unsure whether he might return to teaching in the future.
Last August, facing media scrutiny, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith confirmed an internal investigation had found Hauser “solely responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct.”
The investigation found instances of misconduct in three of Hauser’s published articles, leading to the retraction of one and the correction of two others to edit or remove unsupported findings, Smith said. In five other instances, the studies called into question either remained unpublished or were corrected before publication.
Harvard remained silent on the details of the investigation and speculation abounded as to the exact nature of the “scientific misconduct”—a charge Harvard defines as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. Hauser took a leave of absence for the 2010-2011 academic year and retreated to his home on Cape Cod to work on his new book.
A report earlier this year seemed to validate some of his research after an experiment validated one of the papers that was subject to scrutiny when Hauser's methods began to be questioned.
But scientists are split over whether these results vindicate the professor, with some arguing that the replications do not prove a proper conduct in the original study. Others also point to a potential conflict of interest in the fact that it was Hauser who replicated the experiments in question.
“Ultimately it’s not a question of whether he can replicate his findings—it’s whether other people can,” said Gordon G. Gallup Jr., a psychology professor at University at Albany, State University of New York, in an interview with The Crimson in May.
Still, Hauser's reputation has been enormously damaged by the episode. Prior to the revelations, Hauser was one of the most respected and prolific scholars in the field.
He was also a celebrated teacher and often received high praise from his students. His courses consistently racked up top scores in the Q Guide, the course rating system.
It is believed that a federal investigation is being carried out to determine whether any federal grants were misused, but representatives of that department, the Office of Research Integrity, have in the past declined to confirm the existence of an investigation, citing privacy concerns.
In accordance with federal policy, Harvard turned over the internal investigation’s findings to the ORI last year.
In an interview in May, Psychology Professor Susan E. Carey ’64 said that the report could take even up to seven years to publish.
At the time, Carey said that Harvard would wait for the ORI report’s conclusions to become public before deciding whether pursuing more forceful punitive measures against Hauser, like his dismissal. Hauser's resignation preempts that internal review.
During the University's history, outright dismissals of tenured professors have been exceedingly rare, though many professors have been encouraged to resign over the years. Only the Harvard Corporation, the University's highest governing body, has the authority to initiate dismissal proceedings of a tenured member of the faculty, and in Hauser's case it is clear that such a path was never pursued.
Less clear, however, are the exact circumstances surrounding Hauser's resignation and whether he resigned to pursue other opportunities or whether University administrators made clear he was no longer welcome at Harvard.
—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at email@example.com.