Roland Fryer, an economics professor at Harvard, is a superstar by any measure. At the age of 30, he became the youngest black person ever to receive tenure at the Harvard. The MacArthur Foundation declared him a genius in 2011. And in 2015 Fryer won the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal, given yearly to the most promising economist under 40.
Then, out of the blue in 2018, the university launched an investigation into claims that Fryer was guilty of sexual harassment. The harassment in question amounted to a handful of unseemly jokes and text messages. But that didn’t stop Fryer’s inquisitors from suspending him without pay for two years and shutting down his lab.
It was an unbelievable turn of events. Abandoned at birth by his mother, Fryer clawed his way out of poverty to land a spot at the University of Texas, Arlington, earned his Ph.D. at Penn State, done postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago with the Nobel Laureate Gary Becker, and, finally, wound up at Harvard, where he eventually met his wife, a biologist, and became one of the university’s most celebrated professors.
What happened to Roland Fryer? And why? Was the sin in question the jokes and messages? Or had Fryer put a target on his back because of his groundbreaking research on the sources of racial inequality? Was his real crime refusing to toe the party line? Those are the questions that the short documentary below tries to answer.
“Harvard Canceled Its Best Black Professor. Why?” is directed by Rob Montz and it runs just shy of 25 minutes. We’ve run a lot of pieces on the takeover of our universities. But sometimes the story of one person can break through more powerfully than anything else. We think the story of Roland Fryer does just that.
Watch it here: