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Harvard Closes Fryer’s Research Lab As Sanctions Take Effect

Roland Fryer Headshot
A headshot of Economics professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr. among other department faculty in the Littauer Center.

Harvard shuttered Economics professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr.’s research lab, the Education Innovation Laboratory, on Monday after more than a decade of operation, according to its website.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced EdLabs would close in a July email to the Economics department that also detailed other sanctions against Fryer, who was the subject of three Harvard-led Title IX investigations and one financial investigation. Though Gay did not announce the results of individual investigations, she wrote at the time that the University found Fryer had “engaged in unwelcome sexual conduct” toward multiple individuals and had violated the FAS Professional Conduct Policy.

Fryer founded EdLabs in 2008 to examine the economic roots of racial inequality in educational achievement. The lab occupied the third floor of 1280 Massachusetts Ave. and counted the Pritzker Foundation, Edythe and Eli Broad, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among its funders. Fryer and the researchers he employed pursued projects to assess charter schools’ effectiveness and explore the use of incentives in public education. His 2016 paper tracking racial disparities in the use of force by police officers attracted significant attention and controversy.

A lab employee first filed a Title IX complaint against Fryer nearly two years ago, alleging he created a hostile environment in EdLabs and had committed “egregious” acts of verbal sexual harassment. In the next several months, two more Title IX complaints, a financial investigation, and a now-closed investigation by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination followed. The New York Times reported that, at the close of the first Title IX investigation, Harvard found Fryer engaged in six of 32 counts of “unwelcome conduct.”

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Gay announced the sanctions to the Economics department only after reviewing the results of all four Harvard-led inquiries. In addition to closing EdLabs, she placed Fryer on a two-year administrative leave, during which he cannot teach or conduct research using Harvard resources.

Fryer has repeatedly denied the allegations of sexual misconduct. He did not respond to a request for comment on EdLabs’s closure or his current employment. The venture capital firm Equal Opportunity Ventures currently lists Fryer as a founder and board member on its website.

Dennis R. Berounsky, who served as EdLabs’s finance associate before its closure, wrote in an email that the lab was in a state of flux well before Monday.

“For the past eighteen months, EdLabs has been a place of uncertainty and anxiety. Uncertainty over the ability to continue significant research connecting education and inequality. Anxiety over the always imminent loss of a job,” Berounsky wrote. “Harvard and the Faculties of Arts & Sciences have reached their conclusions, and while I don’t completely agree with their processes or outcomes, I do accept and respect their final decisions.”

In March 2018, several months after the first Title IX complaint was filed, Harvard barred Fryer and his chief of staff Bradley M. Allan from setting foot in the lab as part of a set of “interim measures.” The University also installed an interim director and required Fryer and Allan to copy the interim director on all emails sent to EdLabs staff.

If Fryer returns after his two-year leave, he will spend an additional two years unable to advise or supervise students, and will teach undergraduate classes “subject to monitoring by a Title IX-trained individual,” according to Gay’s July email.

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an email Friday that the University remains committed to the kind of work EdLabs pursued.

“Although the program will no longer continue, FAS remains steadfastly committed to fostering its important mission of eliminating educational inequality,” she wrote. “EdLabs staff members have been supported in a number of ways, including an extended notice period to wind down work and explore other job opportunities, as well as transitional assistance, including help with job searches.”

Dane declined to comment on whether the University has been in contact with the lab’s funders or how the University plans to use the space it occupied.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at shera.avi-yonah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

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