Former professor at Harvard Business School sues over the way he was denied tenure, in part due to an incident involving his reaction to getting overcharged by a Chinese restaurant in Brookline
Benjamin Edelman is suing Harvard Business School, alleging the way it denied him tenure over two incidents, one involving a complaint over the way a Brookline Chinese restaurant charged him and other customers more for takeout than the prices listed on its Web site, have harmed his career and caused "significant and longstanding reputational harm and emotional distress."
In his lawsuit, filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, Edelman, who now lives in Washington state, says he is not seeking a declaration that he is owed tenure at the school, where he taught from 2007 through 2018, although he is looking for a jury trial at which to argue that Harvard Business School needs to give him a second, fairer look, as well as pay him damages.
Edelman, who went to Harvard as an undergraduate and has both a law degree and a PhD in economics from the school, says the the school violated its own procedures and basic rules of due process in denying him tenure in 2017.
Edelman alleges school officials decided to ditch him not because he didn't have an excellent reputation and was a good teacher, but because they became convinced he was somehow damaging the school's reputation. But Edelman also charges the process by which he was denied tenure was full of unfairness, both because he was never given the chance to rebut sometimes vague allegations and because of petty hatred by two administrative deans in particular over trivial issues, for example a disagreement over the size of projector screens in classrooms and whether he could put his personal Web site address on his business cards.
At the heart of the allegations were two incidents in which Edelman's name became particularly public in 2014 - one involving his writing about an online ad company called Blinkx and what its pop-up ads were really doing, the other involving a Brookline restaurant called Sichuan Garden and the prices listed on its Web site.
Blinkx, he alleges, hired a publicist to smear him and make it seem like he had it in for the company.
He says that when he discovered Sichuan Garden had overcharged him for an order and he sent some e-mails, which he admits were way too confrontational - to the restaurant, which boston.com then picked up and used for "a series of derogatory articles." Although he never mentioned his affiliation with the business school, press accounts that picked up the boston.com reports did, often adding "negative statements about HBS" and resulting in "physical threats" to both him and his family. He said he apologized to the restaurant for his intemperate tone.
Edelman was initially up for tenure in 2015, when officials convened the equivalent of a board of inquiry into the incidents. He and the board agreed to a two-year delay in a tenure decision to basically let him think about what he'd done and to try to make amends through service to the school.
All seemed to go fine, he didn't get any complaints and then, in 2017, when the two years were up, school leaders told them they would convene another "faculty review board" to consider his tenure. But this time, he said, the allegations were vague and he was given little or no time to answer most of them. He was not told who was making allegations against him or given the chance to rebut them.
Then, he charges, the board changed the scope of its inquiry, to look at not just whether he had learned from the 2014 incidents and his overall work as a professor, but his role in outside litigation that did not involve the school, including a class-action suit against American Airlines. Ultimately, the board's draft report said the professors with whom he worked strongly recommended him and that he had, in fact, learned and grown since the 2014 incidents, but also included a bullet list of a dozen "derogatory comments" with no background information to back them up.
The report continued, he charges, to question whether his work on the American Airlines case should be "intertwined" with his work as a business-school professor - even though the lead plaintiff was, himself, a professor at the school - and that in any case, before he started the work, he asked the school if there would be a conflict and he says he was told no.
Then, he continues, the dean of the school decided that Edelman would get tenure only if two-thirds of all the school's' professors agreed, even though the school had never put tenure to a vote like that before. Edelman got only 58% of the votes of his fellow professors.
Complete complaint (1.36M PDF).
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I remember this.
I believe he is the author of his own misfortune.
I also remember it
but mostly for being an embarrassment to Boston.com, who originally reported the story, more so than to Professor Edelman himself.
As per Wednesday’s Boston Glib, the man’s now handsomely rewarded for his pains by one Microsoft.
I remember this petty-minded asshole, too.
This kind of behavior from lawyers is borderline abusive.
all too common.
But how does it relate to his work as a Professor?
It does seem that qualifying for tenure should have some consistent expectations.
"no tenure for assholes" is
"no tenure for assholes" is the new consistent
Seems hypocritical when you
Seems hypocritical when you look at most professors there.
aka Blossom Bar is AWESOME
Don't get me wrong, this guy seems like a major a-hole, but is being rude to a restaurant a legitimate consideration for denying tenure? Especially when I think of some of the absolute horror shows who are tenured professors.
He caused a lot of embarrassment for the institution.
Why would said institution give him tenure and keep him around forever? (Putting aside the issue of whether or not you think the U deserves embarrassment for unrelated things.) You could always point to the fact that he taught negotiations, when he obviously can't, and he didn't know enough about the law that he had to meet a $25 threshold to sue. "Your abilities are just not up to par to teach the subject matter."
This is probably how he
This is probably how he speaks to his students and staff as well.
And restaurants are used to dealing with hungry, difficult people. This guy actually made the news for his behavior. Don't ignore the obvious.
"Don't be a dick."
One small mistake
The English student in me can help but notice the use of "then" instead of "than" in the opening paragraph.
This professor seems like a real treat to be around. If you've got the time to write a confrontational email then you've also got the time to realize sending it might be a really bad idea.
There were substantially more than one. (And you’ve got a typo going there yourself.)
Stupid mistake fixed
If only he opened his fortune cookie
He would know that it said, "no tenure for you."
And his counsel include...
That Would Be The Inimitably Atrocious Harvey SilverGLATE!
In complete agreement. (Heartily recommend Wednesday’s coverage of this… ‘woeful situation’ in The Boston Glib. Regrettably omitted here is that Edelman currently suffers unimaginable professional indignity under the yoke of one Microsoft.)
And an A.M. in stats. Maybe it's time to try another place and meet new people who don't think he's a complete cock bite.
/Unless the institution is the only place in the world that offers your discipline, I'm skeptical of people who get all their degrees from one place. Little exposure to new ideas and environments; too easy to ride the same coattails.
Edelman should stick to
Edelman should stick to football!
Who wouldn’t want to study conflict resolution and negotiation skills with this guy!
he seems to have it down…
Being awful is a job requirement for Harvard faculty
Tenured faculty at elite schools generally run “asshole.” Not gonna lie, I’m kind of impressed that this guy has the nads to wait until right before the statute of limitations runs out on the law he accuses Harvard of breaking to file suit. It’s quite the super-asshole move.
That said, he must have been particularly insufferable among the insufferable to have been denied tenure at HBS. Every school at Harvard has their own unique (kind of awful) culture, but he must have really pissed off the wrong people to miss out on tenure. That’s an impressive feat. You’re denied for not bringing in money or go-nowhere research, not for being shameful. Harvard does not care about their reputation because they know their name is always going to be bulletproof. He’s probably right about them simply not wanting him around, but I doubt he can prove it.
this suit is a waste of his time and money
The one and only principle of education law is that the school always wins. Courts have ruled that schools don't even have to follow their own procedures.