Harvard University is suspending a noted economist and shutting down his lab after a university investigation found that he allegedly engaged in unwelcome sexual conduct that created a hostile work environment.
Roland Fryer Jr. — a professor of economics, the founding director of the Education Innovation Laboratory known as EdLabs and a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship — will be placed on unpaid administrative leave for two years, according to university officials.
It was the latest case of an academic star being held accountable in the wake of the #MeToo movement that has pushed back against sexual misconduct. Earlier this year, Harvard announced sanctions against retired professor Jorge I. Domínguez after an investigation found he had engaged in unwelcome sexual conduct spanning decades.
Claudine Gay, dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, sent an email Wednesday to members of Harvard’s Economics Department explaining that a review of allegations against Fryer concluded that his behavior created a hostile work environment over several years. The review also found alleged behavior that was not sexual harassment but violated the school’s professional conduct policy.
“In short, Professor Fryer exhibited a pattern of behavior that failed to meet expectations of conduct within our community and was harmful to the well-being of its members,” Gay wrote. “I was particularly upset to learn of the ways in which EdLabs members have been impacted, both personally and professionally.”
Gay alleged that Fryer’s behavior was a violation of institutional norms and a betrayal of trust.
Fryer will be put on administrative leave for two years, Gay wrote, during which time he will not teach or conduct research with Harvard resources. EdLabs will be closed. After he returns, Fryer will face significant restrictions, such as not having supervisory roles, not being allowed to teach graduate workshops and having his undergraduate teaching monitored by a person trained in rules governing Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.
After two years of such restrictions, Gay wrote, she will decide whether to restore Fryer’s full privileges.
The decision came after Gay convened a committee of six tenured faculty members to recommend steps to be taken in light of the findings, Harvard spokeswoman Rachael Dane wrote in an email Wednesday. “She also took into account the results of a financial review of EdLabs that had been prompted by allegations of financial mismanagement,” Dane said.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Fryer deferred questions to a spokesman.
In a letter to the New York Times in December, Fryer wrote that EdLabs “has always been a collegial and at times irreverent place. Lab employees, male and female, have on occasion made off-color jokes and commented on one another’s lives outside of work, including their dating lives. As the faculty director of the lab, I allowed, encouraged and participated in this atmosphere. In that, I was wrong.” He apologized to anyone who worked there and may have felt alienated or offended.
The Harvard Crimson first reported about the investigation into Fryer’s behavior.
Fryer is a recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal, given by the American Economic Association to the American economist younger than 40 judged to have made the most significant contribution to the field. According to his website at Harvard, he was the youngest African American faculty member to receive tenure at the school; it was granted when he was 30 years old.
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.