The American Economic Association recently appointed Economics professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr. to a prestigious administrative position. Harvard has barred Fryer from entering his lab since March after allegations of sexual and gender-based harassment. Days following the AEA's announcement, the association released a statement saying it had learned one of its officers — almost certainly Fryer — is currently facing accusations of “creating a hostile work environment."
Given The Crimson and other media outlets such as the Boston Globe reported on the accusations leveled against Fryer, we are surprised and frankly disappointed that the AEA appointed Fryer as one of its officers. The decision demonstrates a general lack of due diligence in the association's selection process.
This past April, the AEA adopted a new code of professional conduct that emphasizes inclusion, equity, and workplace safety. The policies seek to provide equal opportunity to economists of all backgrounds. The alleged harassment committed by Fryer is antithetical to precisely these values, as — should it be found true — the alleged conduct jeopardized the comfort, safety, and free expression of other professionals and students in the field.
As we await the results of Harvard’s internal investigation of Fryer’s alleged actions, this incident points to serious problems with the AEA’s officer selection process.
The association’s claim that it became aware of the allegations only after appointing him is deeply disappointing. It would seem difficult to miss the news, given the degree to which the allegations permeated the media at the time. A simple Google search would have sufficed. Going forward, we urge the AEA to seriously reconsider how it vets potential officers. In order to uphold the organization's own ethical standards, the association must actively study whether its potential appointees have any history of workplace misconduct, especially that which jeopardizes the safety of others based on gender and other identifiers.
Pending Harvard's investigation, the association's subsequent actions will reflect the degree of its genuine commitment to the professional code of ethics it adopted in the spring. The AEA’s stated promise to foster “a professional environment with equal opportunity and fair treatment for all economists” would seem to necessarily contradict the decision to appoint someone currently under investigation for sexual misconduct.
It now falls on Harvard to release the results of its investigations quickly. The relative efficiency of the investigations thus far has been admirable — at least one of which has been completed though not released. Any final decision on whether or not punitive measures should be taken must be made swiftly and judiciously.
The University’s promptness in doing so is critical to the AEA’s ability to make a choice regarding its appointment of Fryer. Moreover, its decision is vital to the University’s own ability to move forward in its economic and educational work. Fryer’s lab, with or without him, does important economic research and offers economic opportunities to Harvard students. The sooner the University releases the results of its investigation, the sooner the University can try to institute some normalcy around the lab and its Economics Department more broadly.
This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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