Professor shares experience with on-campus ban
Robert Trivers, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, received a five-month ban from campus beginning April 2012 for initiating what colleague Lee Cronk called a violent confrontation.
Trivers co-published an article in the publication “Nature,” detailing how sexual selection on Jamaicans is the result of their bodily symmetry. A year later, he reanalyzed the work and discovered his postdoctoral scholar William Brown fabricated data in this study.
He published his re-analysis as a short book, “The Anatomy of a Fraud,” which led to a 27-month investigation by the University that verified the data as fraudulent.
Failing to investigate and prove fraud could have resulted in Rutgers losing all of its funding from the National Science Foundation, which funded Trivers’ research with a $25,000 grant, he said.
Trivers said he asked Cronk, a co-author on the paper, about the falsified data. But during this confrontation, Cronk accused Trivers of approaching him violently.
“I believe the most transparent way to resolve the disagreement is for Professor Trivers to place the original data online for others to objectively analyze,” said Brown, now part of the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom.
Brown declined to comment further. Cronk also declined to comment.
Trivers said six weeks afterward, Fran Mascia-Lees, a dean in the Department of Anthropology, and Doug Greenberg, the former executive dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, requested to meet with him.
Greenberg’s office sent a five-page letter stating that he was banned from campus without the presence of an armed police officer, Trivers said.
“It’s hard to live in a town more than half of which is Rutgers,” Trivers said. “[You] just hope you don’t step off the sidewalk and end in Rutgers property.”
Rutgers also removed him from his Sakai account on the same day, he said.
“The semester was basically over at this point,” he said. “I was going to tell the students that I was banned from campus but would work as closely as possible with whoever replaced me.”
David Hughes, the undergraduate director at the time, removed him from the Sakai site, he said. Hughes sent announcements to the classes declaring that Trivers took an unexpected leave and was to be replaced by Robert Lynch, a graduate student.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Trivers. He’s funny and approachable,” Lynch said.
Trivers said the University acted without regard for undergraduate welfare.
“If they were, they would have certainly encouraged me to work with my replacement. No, they made students limp to the finish line,” he said.
The five-page letter Trivers received also told him he had to arrange a meeting with a forensic psychologist to evaluate him for violence, he said.
“After an hour and a half with him, he told me I wasn’t a danger to anybody,” he said. “I [wasn’t] a danger to a colleague, I wasn’t a danger to myself or anybody.”
The psychologist offered to give Trivers three hours of cognitive therapy.
After completing the therapy, Greenberg requested another meeting. Trivers was given four hours to provide his account on the various accusations of violence against him.
Due to such short notice, he submitted a written response instead, he said. He turned it in the next day.
“The dean warned me that he had it in his power to suspend me without pay. Now, to take away a tenured job is extremely difficult. To suspend you without pay is trivial, they only need to find you in violation of policy,” he said.
Greenberg wrote back, rejecting Trivers’ counter-narratives, he said. But Trivers believes this was an act of discrimination against a disability on account of his bipolar disorder.
A manic episode would be proper grounds to ask Trivers to stay off-campus, but this had not occurred in 12 years, he said.
“I’m very careful about violence. I don’t even point,” he said. “I give a bent-finger point, that’s the most I can come up with. Pointing is like a gunshot.”
He invited the students to talk to him at Makeda Restaurant on George Street after their finals, he said. Roughly half his students showed up.
Scott Avery, a School of Engineering senior, said he took Trivers’ class “Deceit and Self-Deception.”
“[The class] had an open, personal environment. You didn’t have to raise your hand. You could say what you wanted to,” he said. “Trivers is very open-minded and approachable.”
Trivers believes Rutgers’ rushed reaction served no conceivable function and thinks it was harmful to his students.
The two students The Daily Targum spoke to did not mention feeling intimidated.
“Two weeks before the end of the semester — I don’t see why there was a hurry to kick me out,” he said.
With the ban over, he continues to conduct research in Jamaica. Recently, Trivers published a paper detailing his research in Jamaica on the relationship of knee symmetry and speed in 100 meter and 200 meter racing events.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Robert Trivers co-published a paper in Nature magazine on sexual assault in Jamaicans as a result of their bodily symmetry. It should have stated that the paper discussed their sexual selection.