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Professor sues Columbia University over alleged sexual harassment, discrimination

By WITW Staff on March 24, 2016

The campus of Columbia University in New York City has once again been rocked by a sex scandal, but this time the alleged incident is between faculty members, not students. On Tuesday, Enrichetta Ravina, and assistant finance professor at the Ivy League University, filed a federal lawsuit against the school alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Ravina said on numerous occasions she’d reported the harassment to officials at the business school, but was repeatedly dismissed and even belittled. One dean mocked her for creating a “soap opera,” Ravina, 40, alleges in the lawsuit. “I never really wanted to be in this position, but this was the only thing I could do,” she told The New York Times in an interview. “I felt really betrayed. I thought the university should have solved this.”

The case stems from Ravina’s interaction with a tenured professor, Geert Bekaert. Ravina, who had been teaching economics and finance at Columbia since 2008, was seeking tenure, and was furiously working on an ambitious research project that could help her achieve that ambition. Bekaert, she says, began helping her obtain access to data that was critical to her research. Ravina interpreted the assistance he provided to be the friendly help of a do-gooding mentor. But then she said things took a darker turn when he began making unwanted advances, revealing his pornography habits and discussing his sexual history. She declined his advances, and says that Bekaert cautioned that he could cut off her access to the data she needed for her project. He suggested that if “she were ‘nicer’ to him, he would allow her work to proceed faster.” The school administration says it found nothing improper. Even the office charged with ensuring that the university is in compliance with Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in educational institutions, found no violation. Some colleagues told Ravina to ditch the research project, and walk away. But she was determined to get tenure there. Finally, the school told Ravina she was being put on paid academic leave for the 2015-16 academic year, effectively stalling any chance she has at tenure.

Ravina has also filed a lawsuit against Bekaert. On Tuesday, he shot down the allegations in a statement to the Times. “I am sickened that a colleague — I was never Prof. Ravina’s supervisor or superior — would manufacture false stories, statements and events and attempt to destroy my reputation.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.