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Op Eds

Seven Tenured HBS Faculty Speak Out

Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino filed a defamation lawsuit against Harvard, HBS Dean Srikant M. Datar, and a trio of data investigators following severe allegations that at least four of her papers contained fraudulent data.
Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino filed a defamation lawsuit against Harvard, HBS Dean Srikant M. Datar, and a trio of data investigators following severe allegations that at least four of her papers contained fraudulent data. By Joey Huang
By Seven Tenured HBS Faculty, Contributing Opinion Writer

This summer, news broke that Harvard Business School found Professor Francesca Gino guilty of research misconduct. The school placed her on unpaid administrative leave, terminated her family’s health benefits, and stripped her of her endowed faculty title.

As her peers and fellow tenured faculty, we assumed this outcome resulted from a fair investigative process by the Business School, because as an institution we have always believed that process integrity is the foundation of outcome integrity. But what we’ve learned since then has rocked our confidence in HBS — enough so that seven of us feel compelled to speak out, and must do so anonymously for fear of retaliation from the institution whose principles we hold so dear.

First, despite having a Research Integrity Policy in place for years, HBS opted to change that policy. By only doing so after receiving allegations regarding Gino’s work, HBS violated its norms of policy development.

In the past, new policies governing faculty have been developed with extensive faculty input. Often, this begins with the announcement of a task force to lead the effort, followed by small-group discussions, interviews, and surveys among faculty members. The task force then develops a recommendation which is presented and voted upon at a subsequent faculty meeting before being formally adopted by the Business School administration. This process typically takes several months.

Instead of following this well-trodden path, HBS quietly created and rolled out a new interim policy for research misconduct in the summer of 2021. This policy was in place for two years before ever being mentioned to faculty.

The new policy appears to have been designed specifically for Gino. It created artificial and arbitrary restrictions that limited her ability to defend herself. For example, the old policy permitted those under investigation to discuss the matter with advisors and others as needed. The new policy limited Gino to talking with two advisors and forbade her from talking to people outside the investigative process under threat of termination for violating confidentiality. Furthermore, HBS had faculty and staff working on the investigation for months, including the assistance of an outside forensics firm. Gino had just a few weeks to respond to their voluminous reports while also carrying a full teaching load.

Second, it appears HBS did not follow its own interim policy. Here are the most troubling ways this happened, according to Gino’s lawsuit complaint: HBS never articulated its specific charge of research misconduct, unfairly shifted the burden of proof onto Gino, failed to maintain confidentiality, and recommended the harshest possible sanctions without considering mitigating circumstances.

Third, the University’s Third Statute — which concerns “Officers and Staff of the University” — requires a finding of “grave misconduct” for a tenured professor’s removal from teaching and administrative positions. By placing her on a two-year unpaid administrative leave absent such a finding, HBS effectively terminated Gino’s employment while circumventing the procedural protections she is entitled to under her contract and longstanding University policies.

Fourth, we understand that Dean Srikant M. Datar requested the Office of the President formally review Gino’s tenure. Harvard has not fired any tenured professors since the formalization of tenure rules in the 1940s — including professors accused of sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and Title IX violations, who Harvard allowed to either retire or return to teaching. We believe Gino’s charges pale in comparison to some of these horrors. Furthermore, given the broken investigation process, we are concerned about this drastic step setting a precedent for other faculty down the line.

We are speaking out today because Dean Datar has a responsibility to HBS faculty to explain the changes he made to the research integrity process. We are not asking for details of the lawsuit or Harvard’s litigation strategy. Our focus is institutional process and integrity, ensuring each of us are treated fairly and equally with procedures that reflect what HBS stands for.

Questions that need answers include: Why the need for a new policy if the old policy was explicit about data falsification? Was there an agreement with the academic bloggers at Data Colada that motivated this change, as Gino’s lawsuit alleges, and if so, what was the agreement? Why was the new policy not inclusive of faculty involvement, nor communicated explicitly to faculty? Is it true that Dean Datar has counseled faculty facing public scrutiny to resign in the past, and if so, is Gino’s lawsuit correct that this treatment has been disproportionately applied to female faculty?

As tenured HBS faculty, we never imagined we’d need to speak out anonymously about our own institution. But our questions demand answers, and for the protection of ourselves, our colleagues, and our principles, we have been left with no other choice.

Editors’ Note: We made the decision to run this op-ed anonymously due to concerns of retaliation against the seven authors.

—Eleanor V. Wikstrom and Christina M. Xiao, Editorial Chairs

—Cara J. Chang, President

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