The Lynching of Roland Fryer
Yes, the title of this article, The Lynching of Roland Fryer, is edgy hyperbolic clickbait. Yes, being railroaded by a Title IX kangaroo court is not equivalent to being hanged from your neck by a rope until you die. And yet I think it is an adept and fun analogy anyway, so I will use it because it fits. It fits the tale of how at the height of the 2018 #MeToo frenzy, Dr. Roland Fryer — the youngest black professor to ever be tenured at Harvard, and the single highest paid professor in the entire Faculty of Arts and Sciences — was strung up by a pack of mean, privileged, liberal white girls.
He should have known, as the Director of the American Economic Association Mentorship Program does, that white women have an “unmatched record as racial terrorists” with a serious penchant for baselessly accusing black men of sexual misconduct:
Side note: imagine you are an American white woman. Maybe you are a single mother who grew up poor. This guy is the head of mentorship in the economics profession. Do you feel welcome in the profession?
I encourage you to go to Dr. Logan’s twitter account and search the keyword “white,” and you will see thousands of unhinged tweets about how much he hates white people.
What did Roland Fryer allegedly do? For comprehensive facts of the case, read the RealClearInvestigations, NYT, CNN, or Crimson articles. Here are the cliff notes: an angry assistant filed 32 allegations of sex-tinged jokes or remarks by Fryer over a two-year period ending in the spring of 2017 such as “talking about women’s big butts.” Everyone agrees his worst crime was a flirty, out of context, text message. 26 of these 32 allegations were rejected by the Harvard internal investigation, and many were found to be completely made-up — including the “big butt” allegation. For the 6 of the 32 allegations where he was found guilty, you are kidding yourself if you think the Harvard investigation used a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof. No, this silly Title IX court relied on a “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof. Under the preponderance standard, the burden of proof is met when the party with the burden convinces the fact finder that there is a greater than 50% chance that the claim is true, meaning it is technically possible that each of these 6 claims have a 50.01% chance of being true. I might add that in a court of law, if the witness was shown to make up 85% of the allegations and there was no conclusive evidence either way on the other 15%, they would throw it all out. Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus… or however the Latin goes.
From what I can see, his accuser was pretty nakedly after a payday rather than any form of “justice.” She was angry because Fryer’s lab wanted to reduce her time from full-time to part-time and is quoted as saying to her friend, “I will do anything possible to make sure I get the money I deserve.” For this scorched earth campaign, he was suspended without pay from Harvard for 2 years.
The worst coverage was, of course, the New York Times who based their article on a leaked internal Harvard report (read: this NYT article was written at least in part by his prosecutors) and seemingly had the mission to portray him as a rampant sexual harasser. “If you read it in the New York Times, you would believe him a monster,” says lawyer Scott Greenfield in this great blogpost in which he concludes that the allegations were concocted. The RealClearInvestigation article rips the NYT article to shreds, point by point. It’s obvious the NYT piece was a hit job. The author of this NYT article is Ben Casselman, the same guy who butchered Harald Uhlig. Ben is a ringleader of the twitter mob, and as per his reputation, this article is littered with omissions, mischaracterizations, half-truths, and lies. I can’t stress this enough: Casselman doesn’t give a fuck about black people. He only cares to look like he is woke and doesn’t care who he steps on in the process — typical sociopath behavior.
While the NYT had the most skewed coverage out of sheer malice, The Crimson had the most skewed coverage out of sheer incompetence. They covered this saga in multiple articles from beginning to end, and it was hilariously bad. Just 3 weeks ago, they wrote a piece calling for him to be fired. Never mind that he was assigned a punishment and served it. The principles of restorative justice would suggest that he has therefore afforded an opportunity to make amends for his “crime” and be accepted back into the law-abiding community. This principle might seem obvious to you and I, but you must realize that a SJW journalists do not have such trifling things as “principles” — only blind, ruthless ambition to work for NYT after they graduate from Harvard. As an anonymous commenter on EJMR points out, “Anything ever written by a ‘journalist’ should be discounted 100%, anything ever written by a student ‘journalist’ should be discounted 200%.”
But was RF’s 2-year suspension really about jokes from a decade ago? Or is there another reason the powers-that-be would want to shut him down? To be clear, Harvard didn’t simply suspend him for 2 years. They shut down his entire lab, a “renowned, well-funded economics lab with over 40 research projects ongoing at the time of its closure.” Now he is banned from supervising graduate students and still deals with the stigma every day.
“I want to be able to tell the world this is a false allegation. I am going against a lot of people’s advice in supporting Roland. People do not want to hear that an accuser might not be telling the truth. They tell me, ‘They’ve already taken Roland down and they’ll take you down.’ I’ve been isolated.”
— a PhD student advised by Fryer
The point I am driving at here — and what most mainstream articles miss altogether — is that there is plenty of motivation for a witch-hunt. RF is the guy who infamously proved in a 2018 publication that there are "no racial differences" in officer-involved police shootings. Imagine writing a paper in the height of the biggest civil rights issues of our time saying “meh it is not all that bad.” People hated him for that. They hate that he is willing to tell the truth. Even his own RAs hated him for that. Legend has it that he once had a newly hired female RA literally refuse to work on his paper with Tanaya Devi on police investigations because it was "going to make BLM look bad." He fired her for that. She then testified as a witness about the "toxic" environment he created. These are the types of people we are dealing with in this case. Total railroading, total witch hunt, total lack of due process. Yet Jeffrey Toobin does much worse and is back on air! Why? He has the right politics. Likewise, Martin Nowack at Harvard had sex with students and let Jeffrey Epstein hang out in his center. He had paid leave (must be nice to have paid leave!) from Harvard and is back. Why? You guessed it. He has the right politics.
You can’t imagine (or maybe you can) how frustrating it has been to watch the authoritarian left crucify Dr. Fryer and yet wonder aloud about race in the economics profession. How do they square that in their own heads? They only like diversity if you think, act, talk, and walk like them. Roland Fryer seems to break their brains. Some stuff he does looks liberal. Other stuff looks conservative. He is not a democrat or republican. He doesn’t fit into any box. He is not the right kind of black scholar — neither to blacks, who want him to say police shootings only happen because of white supremacy — nor to whites, who want him to behave like the good little black boy.
“It's not just white people who think Roland is too black; black people also think Roland is too white, especially after his police shootings paper.”
— a PhD student advised by Fryer
No, he is his own man, and possesses a certain kind of swagger common in certain communities and unheard of among professors. It is almost poetic that the left aggressively went after one of the only black economist in the profession who actually grew up in a bad neighborhood, while venerating silver-spoon rent-seekers. For example, Anna Opoku-Agyeman is a PhD student at Harvard Kennedy School and a recipient of massive affirmative action. She is the loudest voice in the entire profession in favor of abolishing standardized testing in the name of “equity,” but her father is a Professor with a PhD, and her aunt was the Minister of Education of Ghana, a country of ~31 million people. She went to a private school that charges $31,000 tuition. Why does she need a lower academic bar to clear, over say, a poor asian kid? This is by design. These are the types of nice little diversitocrats that Harvard likes, and I am sure she will make a terrific and prestigious Dean one day. Harvard doesn’t want actual diversity; they just want different shades of skin color who all think in lockstep. Their affirmative action policies are explicitly designed to ensure that higher income people stay higher income and to prevent lower income people from rising up through hard work and natural talent. This is the future of academia. People grifting to get ahead.
This gets to the next point: how much of this happened because people at Harvard are rich, spoiled, sheltered brats? To what degree should adults be handled with kid gloves? If Dr. Fryer made any mistake here, it was that he treated his colleagues as equals rather than as children. He felt he could joke around with them. He did not adjust to an increasingly puritanical and pearl-clutching culture with increasingly arbitrary rules and norms. Of course these norms will hurt people who are less familiar with the rules… AKA people who grew up in lower socioeconomic status environments. In contrast, those who grew up privileged like the aforementioned Ms. Opoku-Agyeman know how to navigate these environments. It comes naturally to them. They know how to play the game. Perhaps this is partly why these norms exist in the first place: just like affirmative action, they are designed to ensure that higher income people stay higher income.
It may very well be worth the tradeoff to clean up the atmosphere where people "have on occasion made off-color jokes and commented on one another’s lives outside of work, including their dating lives" in order not to discourage women. But a tradeoff it is. A sterile environment where people make no jokes is also going to discourage some people. It may be a place of lower trust. Etc. You don't get anything for free. Again, those tradeoffs may be worth it. But the woke twitter crowd denies the existence of tradeoffs in these things at all, which is just not a serious position.
Actually, somewhat ironically, a totally sterile environment might make it harder for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to fit in. PCness is not something you learn to master if you grow up in a low social status environment. But my impression is anyways that the most vocal PC proponents fit the checkbox of an underprivileged group but are very well off themselves. These people are researching poor people and can’t handle a butt joke? Go to a poor neighborhood. Talk to poor people. These people would spontaneously combust if they actually talked to them like humans and not “subjects”. Humans tell jokes. Dirty jokes. If you can’t handle it...find another line of work. Grow up. Literally. Go work on a loading dock or garage or something where you run the risk of breaking a finger or hand...you know, poor people jobs. People tell jokes. Way worse than he did. Snobbery is ruining the country.
Lost in this discussion is yet another contributing factor: this scandal took place at the height of the #MeToo era, when the policy was to shoot first and then render due process later. Look, I am all in favor of making economics more hospitable to women — who isn’t? — but not at the expense of getting rid of fairness and due process.
This process has been deeply flawed and deeply unfair. … It shows what the current [#MeToo] movement, some blood in the water, and good coaching [of witnesses] can produce.
— Harvard law professor Ronald Sullivan
So did all this really happen because of his research agenda? Maybe. Several of his colleagues warned him that his research agenda would ruin his career, but he ignored them. It seems like the perfect storm where he already rubbed too many people the wrong way, already made too many enemies, so the police shooting paper might have been the thing that ignited the fire and then everyone just watched it burn instead of standing up and saying this is wrong. At the very least, it’s obvious if he hadn’t published the police shooting article, this would be handled totally differently by the press. If Fryer’s research had instead found that police disproportionally hate and kill black people, Ben Casselman would be licking his feet rather than rallying a mob against him. In a more enlightened era in the future, this will be recognized as a witch hunt.
Bringing this article full circle — back to lynching — it is hard for me not to see obvious comparisons to Emmett Till, who was literally lynched (as opposed to professionally/metaphorically lynched) for offending a white woman in 1955. That woman, on her deathbed, finally admitted he didn’t whistle at her (which is why they hung him). I sometimes wonder whether Dr. Fryer’s assistant will ever come clean on her deathbed and say, “okay I was just trying to get a payout from Harvard.” I doubt it. She ruined his life. He still suffers every day for this, and she should feel guilty for that.
So what can be done? Normally, here is where I would lament about how hopeless the situation is, about how broken academia is, about how attaining justice is impossible. The frustrating thing about this case, however, is that redemption is well within arms reach, but the neoliberal gatekeepers of the profession refuse to grant it. Instead, they have colluded to instill a “climate of fear” in the profession:
“There’s a climate of fear of defending Roland. You can’t be seen to be out of line on this. If you defend someone who’s accused, there’s an attitude that you’re perpetuating the system and we’re coming after you next, because you must be guilty too.”
— Anonymous Fryer supporter at Harvard
When I was asking around about this case, a famous economist told me that no one would change their views unless a liberal person defended Fryer, which ain’t gonna happen. Literally all it would take to make his life markedly better is for an Athey, Reinhart, Woolridge, Katz, Poterba, Summers, Levitt, Piketty, Wolfers, Krugman, Romer or Goldin to stand up and full-throatedly defend him in public, but they are all either too cowardly, too self-absorbed, too ignorant, or too prejudiced. They talk a big game about supporting minorities in the profession, but when the rubber hits the road, none of them have skin in the game. None of them is willing to risk their own reputation. Pathetic.
I know there are at least dozens, if not hundreds, of senior academic economists reading this right now. I would like to make a personal plea directly to each and every one of you. I am on my knees begging, pleading — even if it goes against every fiber of your being — please: believe the black man over the white woman in this “he said, she said” situation. You know it is the right thing to do. The evidence overwhelmingly demands it. One single bigshot liberal name is all he needs to speak up and the house of cards will fall, the illusion will be shattered, and he can get back to living his life. You can correct a great injustice just by standing up in public and uttering the truth. You can be a hero.
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