Why I’m suing HBS

Today I filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts court about Harvard Business School’s failure to follow its own procedures in a disciplinary proceeding against me a few years ago.  I’d like to offer a few remarks about why I’m suing and why this matters — to me, to other faculty members who may be subjects of future charges, and, I hope, to others.

We should all be concerned when a person is incorrectly accused in a disciplinary proceeding.  Perhaps some readers of this piece have been incorrectly accused of something at some point in their life, or know others who have been incorrectly accused.  In most proceedings, procedures are designed to increase the likelihood that a person incorrectly accused is, correctly, cleared.  This is as it should be: No one trusts a process that routinely endorses incorrect allegations.  Conversely, we’d all like to be confident that a person found to have committed some violation in fact did what is alleged.  An investigatory system has to work, almost all the time, to earn and deserve trust and deference.

The importance of getting it right is revealed by the many terms the English language uses to describe broken investigations: sham, charade, kangaroo court, witch hunt, hatchet job.  We have these many terms not just because the concept captures the imagination, and not just because it’s the stuff of grocery store novels and TV crime shows, but because it could happen to any of us—bogus allegations and flawed investigations at our schools, workplaces, clubs, or almost anywhere else.

To give an investigatory system a reasonable probability of accuracy, the best approach is to establish procedures that assure fairness to anyone accused, then follow them strictly.  In the system that investigated me, the rules were pretty simple, and were plainly designed to assure fairness from start to finish.  They’re available here for anyone interested.  Of particular relevance to my case:

  1. The rules require the investigators to declare at the outset what they’re investigating, then stick with it.  That rules out “fishing expeditions” where a committee looks and looks until finally it thinks it found something – a process that could probably find some defect in almost anyone, making such a process an unreliable way to find genuine concerns.
  2. The investigators must actually conduct an investigation and determine whether a given allegation has merit.  It is insufficient to merely collect opinions, grievances, or personal attacks. The essence of the investigation is to evaluate those criticisms.
  3. Whatever evidence there is against the target of an investigation, the investigators must share that evidence with the person.  That way the person accused can offer whatever explanation or mitigating factors might apply.  Perhaps that context will cause the evidence to be seen differently.

My complaint alleges, and I stand ready to prove in court, that HBS’s 2017 proceeding fell short in all these regards (and others).  Those interested can read the complaint, and I expect that further evidence will become available in the coming months.  Portions may get a bit complicated, like what exactly a given policy required, or how a given academic project related to some consulting matter.  But much of it is quite clear-cut: Either the proceeding gave me (and readers) “the evidence gathered”, as the policy guaranteed, or it did not.  There will be no real dispute that it did not. That alone proves that the proceeding did not follow its rules—and that alone should compel that the proceeding be done over, properly. It’s equally clear-cut that the P&P required the FRB to “investigate” — yet the FRB looking at me declared its work was “not an investigation”, affirmatively admitting falling short of what the P&P required.

Some will wonder why it’s worth my time to sue.  Indeed, this case will surely take considerable effort.  But I invested 11 years at HBS, and in many respects I designed my professional activities to fit what the school most valued.  To HBS’s credit, it offers a distinctive emphasis on practical, applied, impactful research; I joined HBS because I valued that practicality, and my time there confirmed that that’s the kind of research I like to do.  Meanwhile, many people know the special demands of HBS teaching—and while I frankly struggled with teaching for a few years, by the end I hit my stride, including both being highly effective as an MBA teacher, and also genuinely enjoying it.  Bottom line is it’s a job I did well, and I more than met the standards to continue. Were it not for the incorrect FRB report about me, I would have been able to continue and would have stayed indefinitely.  This lawsuit is the way to set things right—to reclaim what I fairly earned, and to clear my name of the incorrect allegations.  Anyone who believes in the importance of fair disciplinary proceedings—of those incorrectly accused having a meaningful opportunity to clear their names, of every proceeding following the stated rules to increase the likelihood of a correct outcome—should want my case to succeed. Wish me luck!