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Harvard Ed. Researcher Roland Fryer Reportedly Under Investigation for Sexual Harassment

Fryer-pic.PNGBy guest blogger Catherine Gewertz

Harvard University's Roland G. Fryer Jr., an economist and education researcher known for his work in tracing the causes and fallout of achievement gaps for minority students, is under investigation for sexual harassment and has been barred from entering the laboratory that he leads.

According to the Harvard Crimson, Fryer is the target of two investigations: one by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the other by Harvard's Office for Dispute Resolution, which investigates complaints of gender-based and sexual harassment under Title IX.

The Harvard office is investigating claims that Fryer engaged in "egregious" acts of verbal and sexual harassment by talking about sex in the workplace, making sexually inappropriate comments, and objectifying and sexualizing women, according to the Crimson.

Among the 47 people Crimson reporters spoke to for the report were lawyers for one of the women who filed a complaint, and at least 23 current or former employees at the Education Innovation Laboratory, known as EdLabs, the think tank Fryer founded in 2008. It focuses on economics and the roots of racial inequality.

Education Week couldn't reach Fryer for comment. But in a statement supplied by his lawyer, George J. Leontire, he denied wrongdoing.

"Let me state unequivocally that I have not—and would not—engage in any discrimination or harassment of any form," Fryer said in the statement. "Any claim to the contrary is patently false."

He said that he recognizes the seriousness of any form of discrimination and has "worked diligently to foster a deeply inclusive environment" at EdLabs.

In his own statement sent to EdWeek, Leontire said the allegations against Fryer are "outrageous," and that the professor looks forward to "a full and impartial forum to address these outrageous allegations."

In a phone conversation, he declined to confirm the investigations, but noted that the accusations in the Crimson report allege a hostile work environment, not any physical contact. 

Several of Fryer's colleagues are quoted in the Crimson story as saying they never saw him engage in inappropriate conduct.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination confirmed in a phone call with EdWeek that it is investigating one complaint against Fryer, filed on April 6. MCAD spokesman H. Harrison said his office cannot disclose the nature of the complaint.

Harvard's press office declined to confirm or deny a university investigation of Fryer, and issued a statement saying that it is "deeply committed to providing a civil and inclusive work environment" for everyone who works at the university, and that it  reviews any complaint brought to its attention about a hostile work environment.

"We are aware of and take seriously concerns raised about the treatment of staff in the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University (EdLabs), including whether staff members have been treated with the dignity and respect they deserve," spokeswoman Rachael Dane said in the statement.

The Crimson reported that in March, the University barred Fryer and his chief of staff, Bradley M. Allan, from entering EdLabs. 

Fryer won a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2011 for his work on the achievement gap. He also made a splash with research that found that there was no benefit to using financial incentives to get children to perform well in school.  

Fryer also served as the chief equality officer in the New York City school from 2007 to 2008.

Photo: Roland Fryer, a Harvard University economics professor who studies causes and consequences of economic disparity due to race and inequality, was one of 22 recipients of the 2011 MacArthur Foundation "genius grants." (Jodi Hilton/John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation/AP)

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