Harvard Suspends Economist Roland Fryer, A MacArthur Genius, After Sexual Harassment Claims

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Written by Ann Brown
Via Harvard University

A Harvard professor who did a controversial study on race and law enforcement has been suspended by Harvard University over sexual harassment allegations.

Celebrated Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. has been suspended for two years and the research lab he oversaw will be shut down for that same period following multiple allegations of sexual harassment from women at the workplace. 

The situation has surprised many.

“Harvard’s actions represent a remarkable fall from grace for an economist who until recently was among the profession’s most admired researchers — and one of Harvard’s highest-paid faculty members. He is also one of the most prominent African-Americans in a field that has long struggled with racial diversity,” The New York Times reported.

Race played a major part in his research and his published studies put the 42-year-old professor, who earned more than $600,000 annually, in the spotlight.

“Fryer came to prominence as part of a new wave of researchers using rigorous empirical methods to tackle social issues beyond traditional economics. Much of his research has focused on the causes of racial achievement gaps in education, and how to close them. Fryer has put some of his ideas into practice: As chief equality officer for New York City’s Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he spearheaded a pilot program that paid low-income students for earning good test scores,” the NYT reported.

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His research also focused on racism and law enforcement. In 2016, Fryer published a paper concluding that although African Americans are much more likely to experience police use of force than whites but he concluded Blacks were not more likely to be shot by police than whites. This caused major controversy as other studies refuted this finding.

Harvard was investigating the professor for some time. Among the allegations were inappropriate texts he sent to colleagues. There was also a complaint of Fryer putting his crotch in the face of another colleague and making lewd remarks. Fryer responded by saying the incidents were merely jokes and complained to investigations that he was a target because of his race, even though several of the accusers were women of color.

A review of formal allegations from at least five women concluded that Fryer engaged in “unwelcome sexual conduct toward several individuals, resulting in the creation of a hostile work environment over the course of several years,” wrote Claudine Gay, dean of the university’s Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS), to the economics department.

“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 said. 

There was also an investigation of improper use of lab finances.

According to the USA Today, during Fryer’s two-year suspension he won’t be permitted to teach, advise or conduct research involving Harvard resources.

Fryer was a prominent professor at Harvard. He ‘received tenure at age 30, received a MacArthur ‘genius grant’ in 2011, and in 2015 was given the John Bates Clark Medal, which honors an American under 40 for ‘a significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge,’” the NYT reported.

In a letter to the editor of the NYT, Fryer said he was wrong to have allowed off-color jokes in the lab, and apologized “if anyone who worked at the lab ever felt alienated, confused or offended by the environment.” But he denied bullying anyone or retaliating against employees, and said he was proud of his record of “hiring, retaining and promoting women.”