Letter to the Board of the American Finance Association

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To the AFA board:

 

We write in response to the recent verdict in the case Ravina vs Columbia. The unanimous jury vote was that Professor Bekaert, a full professor at Columbia University, is liable for retaliation against Enrichetta Ravina, a former assistant professor at Columbia who accused Bekaert of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. A federal court in New York ordered Professor Bekaert to pay compensatory and punitive damages.

Evidence presented during the trial is disturbing. This evidence indicated that Professor Bekaert sent disparaging emails to colleagues in the profession and attempted to undermine Professor Ravina’s access to data. Links to the trial documentation can be found here. To our knowledge, this is the first such legal case of its kind in our field, and there are likely to be more.

The American Finance Association recently established a code of professional conduct and ethics. As this case unfolds, we argue that there is special exigency for the AFA to review this code and ensure that it has the gravitas appropriate of a formal set of guidelines, and to take some explicit and immediate action.

We strongly suggest that the AFA widely promulgate the substance of its code of professional conduct and ethics, as it relates to this case, namely that retaliation and demeaning language have no place in our academic community. In addition, in relation to this case, we invite the AFA to immediately follow the example of other academic associations that confronted members who were found in violation of University policies, even though they were not tried in a court of law. For example, some academic associations suspended the membership of certain faculty or prevented them from participating in their professional meetings. Economics is not the only place where inappropriate behavior has been detected and other academic fields have been tackling these issues effectively for some time.

To prevent the hostile culture toward women that is sadly present in our field from becoming a part of life for the next generation of economists, it is a matter of upmost importance that the leading professional association takes immediate steps, so as not to implicitly sanction unacceptable behavior.

A court ruling provides the AFA with a clear cut decision. We urge the AFA not to resort to lengthy procedural deliberations but take immediate and appropriate measures. A temporary suspension of membership, for example, can always be lifted if the court decision is overturned on appeal.

We also urge the AFA to take concrete steps toward setting up procedures for investigating allegations of misconduct and insuring that they are not shunted aside. It is essential to take allegations seriously; individuals who come forward with them risk retaliation, in the worst case, and often suffer disbelief or dismissal.

We call on the American Finance Association to have the courage to move our field in a direction that will be welcoming to all types of faculty and students and to educate our profession not to act as bystanders.

The AFFECT Board

Renée Adams, Francesca Cornelli, Michelle Lowry, Sydney Ludvigson, Ulrike Malmendier, and Paola Sapienza