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Harvard Pursuing a Second Title IX Investigation Into Economics Prof Fryer

Economics Professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr., depicted in a 2006 photo.
Economics Professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr., depicted in a 2006 photo. By Christopher Kwok
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Angela N. Fu, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard is pursuing a second Title IX investigation into Economics professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr. after concluding an earlier probe into the professor this fall, according to two individuals with knowledge of the situation.

Last month, Fryer spokesperson Harry W. Clark said Harvard investigators had completed a Title IX investigation into Fryer’s treatment of employees at the Education Innovation Labs, the research group he founded in 2008. But two sources with knowledge of the matter — who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss confidential Title IX proceedings — said the University’s Office for Dispute Resolution is still looking into the Economics professor’s behavior as part of a second investigation. ODR examines allegations of sexual misconduct at Harvard.

The first investigation was based on at least one formal Title IX complaint detailing allegations that Fryer had verbally sexually harassed female staffers in EdLabs. Fryer is the subject of at least two Title IX complaints. Typically, Harvard opens one ODR investigation per Title IX complaint.

The Crimson reported the existence of Harvard’s first investigation — as well as a separate probe conducted by the state of Massachusetts — in May. At the time, lawyers for one of the complainants alleged in a statement that Fryer had committed “egregious” acts of verbal sexual harassment. The attorneys also alleged that the professor “objectified and sexualized” other female staffers in EdLabs.

Fryer, a rising star in the Harvard Economics department before the launch of the investigations, denied all charges of misconduct in a May interview with The Crimson. Fryer, contacted via Clark, did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on behalf of Harvard and ODR.

“The University will not comment on whether there is or on the status of an ODR investigation,” Swain wrote in an email.

During its first Title IX investigation into Fryer, Harvard took “interim measures” against the professor. In March, five University administrators visited EdLabs and informed employees that Fryer and his chief of staff, Brad Allan, had been barred from setting foot in the lab. Harvard officials also told staff that Susan E. Cook had been installed as Interim Director of EdLabs, and that Fryer was now required to copy Cook on all emails to employees.

Cook is still listed as “Executive Director (FAS FCOR EdLabs Staff)” in an internal Harvard directory.

In addition to the two Harvard inquiries, Fryer is also the subject of a state-level investigation based on a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

The Commission enforces Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of “membership in a protected class, such as race, color, creed, national origin, age, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more,” according to the MCAD website.

MCAD investigations can lead to punishment ranging from dismissal of the complaint to imposition of damages possibly amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Because Fryer is a Faculty member, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay will receive ODR’s final report on any investigations it conducts — and she will have ultimate say over what punishment, if any, the professor receives. It is unclear if Gay will wait until Harvard has closed all investigations into Fryer before making her final decision.

Gay could take any action against Fryer ranging from a “verbal warning up to and including termination,” according to FAS’s Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment policies. Only the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — can vote to revoke a professor’s tenure.

In an interview Wednesday, Gay preemptively declined to speak about Fryer.

“Obviously I've been reading the paper and the things you've been covering including Professor Fryer,” Gay said at the start of the interview. “I should tell you now that I'm not prepared to comment or discuss [Fryer].”

As Harvard and MCAD continue to investigate Fryer, several prestigious economics associations recently chose to honor him. Earlier this fall, the American Economics Association elected Fryer to its Executive Council. The Econometrics Society selected Fryer as a fellow last month.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff Writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.

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