Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino — who faces allegations of data fraud — was notified on July 28 by Harvard’s Office of the President that the school had begun the process of reviewing her tenure for potential revocation, according to an attorney for Gino.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on whether Gino had received such a notification.
In a series of four posts in June, data investigation blog Data Colada accused Gino of data fraud in four research papers she co-authored. After an HBS investigation committee determined that research misconduct had occurred, Business School Dean Srikant M. Datar placed Gino on unpaid administrative leave, barred her from campus, and revoked her named professorship.
Two of Gino’s papers were retracted following the posts from Data Colada — a third had been retracted in September 2021 — and the fourth is scheduled to be retracted in September 2023.
On Aug. 2, Gino filed a lawsuit against Harvard, Datar, and the three professors behind Data Colada — Uri Simonsohn, Leif D. Nelson, and Joseph P. Simmons — alleging that they conspired to damage her reputation with false allegations.
In a statement posted to LinkedIn the day she filed the complaint, Gino denied the allegations, writing that she has never “falsified data or engaged in research misconduct of any kind.”
The suit also alleges that “Harvard’s gender bias against women was a motivating factor in HBS’s decision to subject Plaintiff to an onerous investigation and to impose upon her severe penalties,” in violation of federal anti-sex discrimination law Title IX.
While the complaint states Datar told Gino on June 13 that he would request that the University president (at the time, Lawrence S. Bacow) begin formal proceedings to revoke her tenure, it contains no reference to the notification from the Office of the President — which, according to one of her attorneys, she received four days before the suit was filed.
The revocation of Gino’s tenure would be a historic move: The Crimson could not identify any instances of Harvard revoking a professor’s tenure since the American Association of University Professors formalized rules about tenure in the 1940s.
Gino’s tenure review promises to be a complex process, even without considering the ongoing lawsuit. Before the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — makes a final determination, the complaint must pass through reviews by two separate bodies.
First, a Screening Committee must make an initial assessment of the claims against Gino. If it decides further action is warranted, this first committee makes a recommendation to a Hearing Committee. This second committee, composed of tenured professors, then conducts an investigation and recommends further action to the Corporation, which has final jurisdiction over tenure revocation.
In higher education, tenure revocation represents the most severe discipline a university can impose. For example, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne — who university-appointed investigators determined fell short of scientific standards of rigor in his research and then failed to correct the scientific record — resigned from the university’s presidency but will remain a tenured faculty member.
Roger L. Geiger — a historian of higher education and professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University — said if Harvard revokes Gino’s tenure, it may lead to an “automatic lawsuit.”
“The question of revoking her tenure hasn’t even come up and she already has a lawsuit,” Geiger said. “Whenever people get threatened, what they tend to do is lawyer up.”
Geiger said the “basic argument” for the protection of lifetime tenure “has always been that it’s necessary to protect academic freedom.”
“If, after a certain number of years, you are subject to an arbitrary dismissal, that would seriously compromise academic freedom,” he said. “In the case of Gino, it’s a matter of intellectual integrity on a number of her papers, so that would conceivably be sufficient to revoke tenure.”
—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at email@example.com.