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Harvard Economist Found to Have Harassed Lab Workers

December 17, 2018
 
 

Roland G. Fryer Jr., Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and faculty director of the Education Innovation Laboratory, created a hostile work environment for women, full of sexual talk and bullying, according to a university investigation obtained by The New York Times. Fryer, a high-profile researcher and 2011 MacArthur Fellow, harassed four women, and his “persistent and pervasive” conduct led one accuser to take disability leave, according to the report. Another complaint from a woman who worked in the lab a decade ago, who says Fryer refused to write recommendation letters for her after she complained about him, is still under review. Fryer reportedly told Harvard officials that sexual banter in the lab or office was “in the spirit of academic freedom” and that “no one ever brought to my attention that I ever said anything that made any employee uncomfortable.” Documents reviewed by the Times suggest that Fryer was repeatedly told that his conduct -- including suggestive nighttime texts to employees and regular work-time discussions about sex -- was inappropriate, however.

Fryer, who is barred from entering EdLabs while the investigations are ongoing, told the Times that “jokes and comments by both female and male lab workers of a sexual nature were occasionally part” of lab discussions. “That said, if any comments made in the past were found to be offensive or made anyone uncomfortable, that was certainly never my intent and I am deeply sorry.” Harvard has said it is “aware of and [takes] seriously concerns raised about the treatment of staff.” Earlier this year, the American Economic Association’s Executive Committee said it was aware of “allegations of harassment against a recently elected candidate for internal office,” presumably Fryer, and would wait for formal inquiries to wrap up before acting. The Times reported that Harvard also is looking into EdLabs’s finances. In response, Fryer said he’d “hired a first-rate finance team to insure both transparency and full compliance with Harvard policy.”

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