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Harvard Restores Prof. Fryer’s Teaching, Research Roles After Two-Year Sexual Harassment Suspension

Economics Professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr., seen here in 2006, will be allowed to return to his research and teaching roles at Harvard following a two-year suspension for violating sexual harassment policies.
Economics Professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr., seen here in 2006, will be allowed to return to his research and teaching roles at Harvard following a two-year suspension for violating sexual harassment policies. By Christopher Kwok
By Alex M. Koller and Simon J. Levien, Crimson Staff Writers

Economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. will be allowed to return to teaching and research roles at Harvard this week after a two-year suspension for violating Faculty of Arts and Sciences sexual harassment policies, Dean of Social Science Lawrence D. Bobo wrote in an email to the Economics department last Thursday.

Fryer will be permitted to teach undergraduate and graduate courses and conduct research, though he will be barred from holding any advisory or supervisory positions for the next two years, Bobo wrote. His teaching will be subject to “certain conditions” and be at the discretion of FAS Dean Claudine Gay.

Bobo wrote that Fryer completed trainings on sexual harassment, boundary setting, and power dynamics in the workplace during his suspension. Gay placed him on leave in July 2019 after an investigation found that he committed verbal sexual harassment against several female staffers and fostered a hostile work environment in his former lab.

The Crimson reported in 2018 that Fryer was the subject of at least four Harvard-led investigations, including one into his spending and the lab’s finances. One of the complainants, a former female employee of Fryer’s, also filed a separate complaint with the Massachusetts Comission Against Discrimination that was later withdrawn.

The complainants alleged Fryer had engaged in sexual misconduct for years and fostered a hostile environment for women at the Education Innovation Laboratory, a research group he founded and led. Harvard shuttered the lab following the sanctions.

“There is nothing easy about this situation,” Bobo wrote on Thursday. “The behaviors that precipitated Professor Fryer’s leave did real harm to members of our community and for many the sense of hurt and betrayal is still quite near.”

Fryer’s return comes at the discretion of Gay and other top University officials. Gay had announced in levying the sanctions in 2019 that Fryer would continue to face additional restrictions upon his return.

Prior to the complaints, Fryer had been a star economics professor with a growing national profile. At age 30, he became the youngest Black professor to be awarded tenure at Harvard. He won the MacArthur Fellowship in 2011, and the Clark Medal in 2015, widely regarded as one of the most prestigious accolades in economics.

In his email, Bobo shared an apology letter from Fryer, in which Fryer reflected on his transgressions.

“I apologize for the insensitive and inappropriate comments that led to my suspension, which I regret deeply and which brought shame on the department and disrepute on me personally,” Fryer wrote. “I didn’t appreciate the inherent power dynamics in my interactions, which led me to act in ways that I now realize were deeply inappropriate for someone in my position.”

Fryer added that he spent nearly a year and a half in executive coaching and “proposed a plan to both make amends and ensure this never happens again.” He wrote that he also apologized to the complainants separately.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Alex M. Koller can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexmkoller.

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.

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