Max Blachman-Gentile, a freshman, works on a paper for his Literature Humanities class near the “Scholars’ Lion” sculpture on the Columbia University campus in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Columbia Harassment Claim Was Deemed Woman’s Communication Fail

(Bloomberg) -- When Enrichetta Ravina finally got to see the results of Columbia University’s investigation into her sexual harassment complaints against a senior male colleague, a major finding was her failure to "communicate effectively."

The university concluded that her sexual harassment claims against Geert Bekaert, a professor of finance who Ravina worked with at the business school, didn’t constitute a violation of school policies. Instead, the letter classified the situation as a "friendly working relationship that soured when you did not communicate effectively regarding your concerns about the status of your projects."

Columbia did, however, recommend that Bekaert, who was known among other colleagues as the “blunt Belgian,” get trained on professional communications.

Ravina, who was then working toward a tenured position at the business school, is suing Columbia and her former senior colleague over allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation that she says the school did little to stop. Columbia denies Ravina’s claims.

In testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, she detailed her experience reporting Bekaert to the university, meeting with colleagues and administrators and following up on her complaints. The amount of time spent on these matters after reporting Bekaert was like a "second job," she told the jury in federal court in Manhattan.

"I was like a hot potato passed from one desk to another, without any solution," she said.

Deans, administrators and other university faculty met with Ravina about her complaints and concerns over retaliation, she told the jury. The school assigned a professor as their "relationship manager" to be copied on all correspondence between Ravina and Bekaert and helped mediate schedules between. Ravina testified she had been relying on their joint research to come through and feared he would stall the work to punish her.

When asked if she was surprised by the denial of tenure, she said, "No. Based on the record at the time, after three years of damage by Professor Bekaert, and by Columbia neglecting to intervene after the sexual harassment and retaliation, I knew that if it would go for, to a vote, I wouldn’t get tenure."

She said her mind was on the humiliation of the ordeal. But Columbia’s lawyers say her work wasn’t good enough to qualify for tenure.

Bettina Plevan, Columbia’s attorney, told jurors in opening statements that Ravina’s initial complaints didn’t mention sexual harassment by Bekaert. They only included the allegations after she was warned in May 2014 that her prospects for attaining tenure were "minimal."

"Her scholarship was not sufficient in quantity or quality to warrant an award of tenure," Plevan said.

The case is Ravina v. Columbia University, 16-cv-2137, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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