Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Discrimination case at university

Columbia University is currently facing a gender discrimination lawsuit from Assistant Professor of Finance Enrichetta Ravina. Ravina who claims she was subjected to gender discrimination and sexual harassment and is asking for more time to apply for tenure along with $20 million in damages, according to a New York Times article.

Columbia University, which has an acceptance rate of 6.1 percent, is the alma mater to an impressive list of alumni, including President Obama, Alexander Hamilton and associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The lawsuit is gaining publicity across the country. Could this ruin the reputation of the prestigious institution?

The university declined to discuss Ravina’s case because of the pending litigation but said in a statement that “the university treats allegations of harassment with the utmost seriousness,” according to the New York Times article.

The most emotional part of the article for me was when she refers to her abuser as someone she previously viewed as a mentor. In the 2009-10 academic year, Professor of Finance and Economics Geert Bekaert, who has taught there since 2000, offered to help Ravina gain access to data that showed how workers allocate their retirement savings. That data was a crucial part of a research project she was conducting. She believed the project could help her earn tenure at Columbia Business School.

After her complaint, the university put her at a disadvantage by pushing up deadlines in the tenure application process, according to the same article.

The generosity and helpful nature of Bekaert was short lived, according to Ravina in the article.

“The professor told her about watching pornography and his sexual exploits, she said. He started making advances toward her, calling her ‘sexy.’ And, she said, he had the ability to have that crucial data set taken away,” according to the New York Times.

Ravina first filed her complaints to senior faculty members and administrators at the business school in the beginning of May 2014. In November 2014, the office that monitors the university’s compliance with Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in educational institutions, didn’t find a single violation according to the lawsuit.

I hoped if the university was going to overlook the situation, other professors would take a stand against the issue. To my surprise, she definitely hasn’t received as much support from other professors as I thought she would. The lawsuit states that a dean at the university called her circumstances a “soap opera.” Other professors told her to forget about her complaints and walk away from her research project, according to the article.

There was, however, a group of approximately 15 professors that protested the university’s decision, according to a Daily Mail article.

Bekaerts statements are what really blew my mind. He obviously denied the allegations and argued that the claims had been investigated by the university and found to be “baseless.”

He goes on to say that he was sickened at the thought that a colleague would make up such false stories in order to damage his reputation.

“This is a sad example of no good deed goes unpunished: We collaborated for years doing research with a unique data set I had obtained from a company I worked for, and in return she fabricated a series of completely false allegations about me, some today for the first time,” Bekaerts said to the New York Times.

This is another he said, she said argument and until one party can back up what they’re saying with concrete evidence it’s just a matter of opinion. Watching the lawsuit play out in the public eye will be interesting especially since Columbia seems to want to keep this situation under wraps.

Email Madison Winters at

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