Former Harvard Business School Professor Sues Over Denial of Tenure

There is an interesting new lawsuit filed against Harvard Business School (HBS) by former professor Benjamin Edelman, who was previously embroiled in a controversy with a Chinese restaurant over a $4 overcharge. The controversy was raised in his tenure deliberations and has made Edelman a target with many accusing him of being elitist and petty. In reality, the complaint raises a broader range of issues after Edelman was criticized for work outside of the school in raising consumer fraud concerns. The case raises serious free speech and academic freedom concerns.
Edelman alleges a series of irregular actions taken by Harvard before denying his application for tenure.
The complaint (below) states that Edelman “does not now allege that he was entitled to tenure at HBS. But he was entitled to have his candidacy considered according to the specific procedure HBS promised.”Edelman details two early controversies in 2014. One involved an essay that he wrote titled “The Darker Side of Blinkx,” a Video and advertising conglomerate. He stated

“My concerns result in large part from the longstanding practices of two of Blinkx’s key acquisitions, Zango and AdOn. But concerns extend even to Blinkx’s namesake video site. In the following sections, I address each in turn. Specifically, I show ex-Zango adware still sneaking onto users’ computers and still defrauding advertisers. I show the ex-AdOn traffic broker still sending invisible, popup, and other tainted traffic. I show Blinkx’ namesake site,, leading users through a maze of low-content pages, while charging advertisers for video ads systematically not visible to users.”

Professors often take on political or business interests in their academic writings or outside advocacy. Edelman alleges that Blinkx hired a publicist to smear him as a result of his criticism.

Edelman then was involved in a controversy over his criticism of a Brookline restaurant called Sichuan Garden and the prices listed on its website. He says that he discovered that Sichuan Garden had overcharged him for an order and he sent some e-mails complaining about the allegedly fraudulent practice.  He admits that he was too confrontational in his emails and he later apologized.

However, the situation blew up when the controversy was picked up by While he never mentioned his HBS connection, many in the public were outraged over a Harvard professor complaining about a mere $4 overcharge.

The Sichuan Garden controversy is reminiscent of an earlier controversy that we discussed involving Yale dean June Chu, who was canned after she criticized a Japanese restaurant on Yelp.

The heat was so intense from the coverage that HBS suggested a two-year delay in Edelman’s tenure review in 2015. He agreed. However, he alleges that, in 2017, HBS came back with a vengeance despite his support from colleagues.

The “faculty review board” is accused of raising vague allegations and giving Edelman little time or ability to respond. Equally concerning is his allegation that, in addition to looking at whether he learned his lesson from the earlier controversies, HBS looked into his involvement in a class-action suit against American Airlines. The lead plaintiff in the case was a HBS professor and Edelman asked the school if there would be a conflict before joining the case.

Edelman also alleges that the school changed its tenure vote to require him to receive support from two-thirds of the faculty. Edelman received only 58% of the votes.

Tenure denial cases have a very low rate of success. These decisions turn on the judgment of the faculty on the intellectual and pedagogical strength of a candidate, matters difficult for any court to review. However, Edelman is alleging a breach of contract, “breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing” and promissory estoppel.

Edelman’s list of requested relief is interesting. In addition to unspecified damages, Edelman is asking for a declaration that HBS violated its own rules and his due process. It also includes this demand:

“Order Harvard to review Plaintiff’s application for tenure in accord with its policies, without reliance upon the 2017 FRB report, including corrective actions sufficient to dispel the harm from the 2017 FRB report and sufficient to assure that any subsequent proceedings are not tainted by recollection of that report or retaliation for this action.”

I was first sent coverage of this case that chided a professor who was denied tenure after attacking a Chinese restaurant over four bucks. I think that it is more than that.

I am deeply concerned over a professor being penalized over his work on an outside case. We saw that type of backlash at Harvard against House Dean and law professor Ronald Sullivan for his work on the Weinstein case.

Moreover, Edelman was obviously not aggrieved by the $4 as a personal financial matter. He was objecting to what he viewed as a deceptive practice. One can agree or disagree with his language or his objections, but that is a matter unconnected to HBS. Finally, the essay on Blinkx is precisely what tenure is meant to protect as academics take on powerful establishment or corporate interests. Again, Edelman insists that he was concerned with alleged consumer fraud.

It is equally troubling to read allegations how HBS allowed this tenure deliberation to become a free-for-all on such allegations. While we have not seen HBS’ response, the details in the complaint raise serious due process concerns.

None of this means that Edelman will be able to take this to trial. As noted above, courts are reluctant to be pulled into such discretionary decisions by faculties. Yet, the complaint raises serious questions over the use of outside advocacy and commentary against faculty members.

Here is the complaint against the President and Fellows of Harvard College: Edelman Complaint



27 thoughts on “Former Harvard Business School Professor Sues Over Denial of Tenure”

  1. I wondered why Edelman’s attack on the honesty of an Internet ad provider would provoke so much hostility among the Harvard Business School faculty. Evidently, at least some of his claims were wrong enough that he walked them back in a later blog. But why should anyone care? Internet ad firms live for deceit, and who cares if it’s merely scummy instead of full-on psychopathic? Perhaps this explains it, from a contemporaneous Market Watch report: “Meanwhile, Blinkx has found defenders, with investment firm Blackrock raising its stake in the company to more than 13%.” The conspiracy theories write themselves.

  2. “I am deeply concerned over a professor being penalized over his work on an outside case.”

    Good thing that professor privilege doesn’t apply to the citizenry in general, right? Who knows what would happen if
    the peasants got professor privilege. Peasants should stick to voting at the ballot box and watching nothing happen as as result.

      1. Bruce, tenure is to protect the ability of the professoriate to write and say that which their studies causes them to believe is correct, irrespective of how unpopular the ideas might be.

        1. “tenure is to protect the ability of the professoriate to write and say that which their studies causes them to believe is correct, irrespective of how unpopular the ideas might be.”

          Good, then you are arguing more conservatives need to be given tenure. Good thinking David.

  3. Edelman… so he’s a white guy and a Jew. Never had a second chance at anti-semitic, anti-white male Harvard. Here’s a contrast case, there was a lawsuit over denied tenure for a woman at Harvard. She was legit denied by the dept. However, because this happened shortly after the huge controversy over Larry Summer’s “misogynistic” comments, Harvard backed off and gave her tenure. Some animals are more equal than others.

  4. …”many accusing him of being elitist and petty”…

    That’s Harvard! and its Prodigy. HARVARD: Elitist and Petty and Pretentious and Privileged sums it up well.
    99.999% of Those whom engage Harvard are … well as We uncouth Peons and Consumers of Low Hanging Fruit would say, They ARE Stuck-Up.

    So as the ‘Cambridge’ idiom goes, That’s the Pot calling the Kettle black.

  5. Estovir, so far there is no public evidence that the Chinese balloon was doing other than collecting data on the upper atmosphere, as the Chinese stated. Do you actually believe everything that the military intelligence types spout?

    Your memory is failing: no, I was never banned from this forum nor rebuked by Darren Smith. He asked why I was here and I replied that I hoped to learn something about the law.

    I took a fascinating year-long course entitled Psychobiology from
    and in the laboratory dissected a sheep’s brain. There were, gasp, folds! But perhaps yours are smoothing out?

    According to the policy set here, we are not to insult one another. I’ve never insulted you and don’t intend to begin. Return the compliment, please.

  6. “Harvard Business School (HBS) by former professor Benjamin Edelman, who was previously embroiled in a controversy with a Chinese restaurant over a $4 overcharge. The controversy was raised in his tenure deliberations and has made Edelman a target with many accusing him of being elitist and petty. ”
    For $4.00 more, get egg[head] roll[ed].

  7. If it were Elon Musk complaining over 4$ I still would see nothing wrong with that. I might be a commie but I believe everyone regardless of income or wealth deserves to be treated fairly. As for the rest… Harvard has had many issues of late.

  8. “…many accusing him of being elitist and petty.”

    – Professor Turley.

    I like this guy already.

    “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.”

    – Walt Whitman

    This nonissue must never see the inside of a courtroom or even arbitration at WalMart; it is irredeemably frivolous. The law that bears is fundamental as the absolute 5th Amendment right to private property (if the right to private property is not absolute, all property is public). Americans cannot be denied the 5th Amendment right to private property. The owners of Harvard alone have the power to hire, fire, pay and direct employees, while employees have absolutely no power or authority to “claim and exercise” dominion over the aforementioned private property. There is no right of employees or freedom of labor in the Constitution; there is no bias or favoritism for labor or employees in the Constitution (check the Communist Manifesto, comrades). Employees enjoy the freedom of accepting employment or rejecting employment. That is all. Conditions of a contract must be met.

    Now you understand. To wit,

    “[Private property is] that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.”

    – James Madison

  9. Only 58% of the tenured faculty thought this assistant professor was worthy of being kept around. The rule for Harvard Law is 67% favorable vote. That should end the matter.

    In my opinion neither the $4 nor the Blinx were serious considerations for the Harvard facullty. JT is barking up the wrong tree here.

        1. David – so generally sitting on such committees? I mean, do you have any information about this particular case? I would think general experience can only go so far in speculating on the motives here, given the public controversies involved.

      1. You also stated that the Chinese balloon was a weather balloon, not that any of us keep track of your egregious errors on here.


        IIRC you were banned from this forum years ago in quite a public blowout and consequent rebuke by Darren Smith, precisely for being elitist, condescending and acting like a know-it-all. Perhaps these are all attributed to being a 165 lb weakling, hair falling out, poor eye sight and smooth cerebral surfaces

        NB: humans have sulci and gyri in the cerebrum due to the degree of folding of the brain parenchyma, which serve as evidence of their capacity for complex thinking. Lower mammals such as rodents have smooth cerebral surfaces

        you’re welcome

  10. Finally, the essay on Blinkx is precisely what tenure is meant to protect as academics take on powerful establishment or corporate interests.

    Taking on powerful corporate interests used to be a feather in one’s cap in liberal academia. With the political realignment taking place in America since 2008, things have gone polar opposite: liberal Democrats have infiltrated corporate America and in academia they defend it to the hilt (as they now defend the military-industrial complex). Meanwhile, blue collar workers, including members of unions, are part of a populist movement largely attracted to the GOP and its protectionist impulses. Bottom line – and just speculating here – this professor’s taking on corporate interests is probably a major part of what got him cancelled.

    1. @ OldMan: Just one nitpick: if you think the “political realignment taking place in America” (particularly in academia) dates only to 2008 you have, indeed, been asleep far too long. The vast majority of *illiberal* professors of today were the so-called hippies of yesteryear (or perhaps their children). The infiltration of corporate America you point to may perhaps have only taken decades.

      The infiltration, capture, and domination of academia has been generational. That infiltration is the offspring of the marriage of counter culture and patient subversion. It was conceived in rage and hedonism, and is determined (programmed?) to exceed and extend the aspirations of its progenitors. It has learned how to imitate altruism, and has turned the poison of its ideology into a mirage of sense, reason, compassion, and even morality itself. While crafting this mirage with the corruption of language, the infiltrators attack those very threads of society (culture) in order to overthrow it to make way for a nirvanic, Elysian Shangri-La: one in which they are the ultimate lords and rulers, and any dissention has been annihilated.

      I shudder to image the transformation of the current generation’s progeny into the next generation’s ancestry. But at least its Taco Tuesday, so we’ve got that going for us!

  11. How does racial politics work? Chinese-American students are barred from admission because of their race. But if a professor complains about prices at. Chinese restaurant, he is denied tenure.

  12. Interesting that Harvard Business School was in such a hurry to remove an obviously brilliant young talent. I am sure my political persuasion is probably opposite to Professor Edelman but I am, none the less, impressed by his CV and accomplishments. Seems to me that there is something here that is missing. Obviously there is a character or a clique of characters who wanted this gentleman gone. At least, as presented, this seems to be almost a star chamber with newer and newer “evidence” produced or generated whenever he would leap over the previously hurdle. Someone is threatened badly by his brilliance or there is something very personal going on. To have so many observers supporting him yet the FRB (picked mysteriously) goes in the opposition direction strongly suggests to me that someone specifically wanted him gone and a lot of maneuvering was done to accomplish that fact and obscure who was pushing the buttons for his exit. I suspect Professor Edelman knows but is not talking right now, except through his attorneys. I wonder what Professors Edelman’s backchannels at Harvard have told him and may be continuing to tell him.
    Please keep us up to date. Unfortunately it looks like Professor Edelman now works for Microsoft

  13. I’ll have to give the Left and HBS credit at least, they never a crisis go to waste if it pushes their agenda. Thank you, Jonathan, for an excellent article.

  14. If the restaurant owner had been MAGA. the professor’s complaints would have been rewarded with tenure and a reception featuring an open bar and hors d’oeuvres made out of ingredients regular folks have never heard of.

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