ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Breach of K Claim for Denial of Tenure Can Proceed Against Harvard University

Benjamin Edelman, who taught at Harvard Business School for eleven years, is suing Harvard University for wrongful denial of tenure. He has set up a website explaining his reasons for suing and tracking the progress of his case. His complaint is here.  He alleges breach of contract, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, and promissory estoppel. 

HBSIt seems that there were no obstacles to Mr. Edelman's tenure that related directly to his teaching and scholarship. Rather, Mr. Edelman ran into trouble based on his extracurricular activities, concerns about his undisclosed consulting activities, and some anonymous complaints. In one notorious episode, Mr. Edelman launched a campaign against a local Chinese restaurant that charged prices higher than those it advertised online. Apparently, the University objected to Mr. Edelman's zeal in remonstrating over a $4 overcharge, and Mr. Edelman apologized for his conduct.

Hypothetically, one can imagine that a university might not want to grant tenure to someone whose abrasive conduct might reflect poorly on the institution or who is routinely disrespectful of students or staff (making no assumptions as to the nature of the anonymous complaints in Mr. Edelman's case). Mr. Edelman seems to have been a Wunderkind, and the dispute is not about either his credentials (pure Harvard) or his professional performance. Still, nobody should be compelled to receive a life sentence to have a jerk as a colleague. Of course, these processes are opaque, so it is understandable that Mr. Edelman is miffed, and of course, the rest of us are left to guess about what motivated Harvard's decision.  People can be nice geniuses. I've worked with many people who combined extraordinary intelligence and drive with outsized humility and humanitas.

However, Mr. Edelman alleged procedural irregularities aplenty. Harvard moved to dismiss.

Last month, the Massachusetts Superior Court denied Harvard's motion to dismiss. The opinion references both Harvard Business School's Policies and Procedures with Respect to Faculty Appointments and Promotions ("Tenure Policy") and the Principles and Procedures for Responding to Matters of Faculty Conduct ("P&P"). However, it seems that Mr. Edelman's claims arise under the P&P alone. Disappointingly for this Blog, Harvard did not contest whether the P&P constituted a contract for the purposes of its motion to dismiss. With that impediment removed, the court had no difficulty concluding that Mr. Edelman's factual allegations sufficed to state claims on all three of his causes of action.

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