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Elliott Hall, which houses the Barnard Career Development Office.

Barnard administrators have allowed Career Development Office Director Robert Earl to remain in his position despite five years of serious complaints that he created a toxic workplace for employees.

Under Earl's leadership, at least 19 staff members have left Barnard's Career Development office, which generally employs an average of 12 people, since 2009. Since August 2014, 10 staff members have left the office.

Spectator has confirmed at least two formal complaints filed with Barnard's Human Resources department five years apart, both alleging that Earl cultivated an unhealthy work environment.

Several current and former employees interviewed by Spectator said that the turnover rate has been largely influenced by Earl's behavior, and expressed frustration with how the administration has handled the complaints.

"It's actually really astonishing to me that he's still employed there," a former employee said. "He doesn't merit the kind of basic level of respect that you need to have for someone that you're working for."

The former employee requested anonymity, fearing "personal and professional retribution, especially as Barnard HR and general leadership has failed to act on years of warnings about Mr. Earl's behavior."

Barnard President Debora Spar, Dean of the College Avis Hinkson, and Vice President of Human Resources Catherine Geddis declined to comment on the issue through a spokesperson, who said that "the college does not comment on personnel matters."

In an interview with Spectator, Earl refused to comment directly on the allegations.

"While I can't talk about personnel issues, I will talk about my management style," Earl said. "I treat others as I would expect to be treated. I treat my staff fairly, I treat my staff with dignity."

Spectator contacted each current and former employee who worked in the office in the last five years to provide them with an opportunity to refute the allegations made against Earl. None did.

'Contemptuous about women'

Several former female employees have claimed that Earl made inappropriate comments and exhibited sexist behavior in his interactions with both students and employees.

"I wouldn't even just say he's sexist in the sense of old-fashioned [attitudes]. He's actually a very misogynistic person," the first former employee said. "He's really contemptuous about women."

A current employee said that women in the office are particularly "afraid of Robert," and are "afraid of being verbally abused."

Earl's inappropriate comments became frequent enough that a former employee said they were advised by UAW Local 2110 representatives to begin keeping a log of his comments. Spectator obtained a copy of the log, which included a comment in which Earl called a female TV anchor a "prostitute" during a staff meeting.

The former employee documented their concerns about advice Earl gave to students regarding their physical appearances.

"He frequently told students that one of the things he'd recommend for them for a job interview is to go get a makeover first," the former employee said. "He advised students who were interviewing on Wall Street whether they should show cleavage during interviews."

However, alumnae interviewed said they have had positive experiences working with Earl, and the College highlighted several achievements in new programming and services during Earl's tenure.

Amreen Vora, BC '09, said that Earl was integral in helping her apply for a job with Teach For America in the fall semester of her senior year.

"I thought he was great," Vora said. "I had a really great working experience with him."

Sonal Kumar, BC '11, said she had a similarly positive experience with Earl.

"He's been absolutely fantastic—very supportive, always making me feel confident for achieving my professional goals and personal goals," Kumar said. "I really can go to him for anything."

Under Earl's tenure, the Career Development office launched a series of Recruiter in Residence programs, which provides students with career counseling, educational workshops, and consultation services. The office also launched Barnard Finance Focus, a five-week training program designed to prepare women for careers in finance—currently, 75 students are registered.

But former Senior Associate Director for Employer Relations and Campus Recruitment Antonia Vitale maintains that Earl shouldn't work at a women's college.

"I don't think he understands women, and I think he's the last person who should be trying to empower a woman as she's starting her career, given that he can't even respect the women that he works with," Vitale said. "It's so ironic."

‘Toxic' work environment 

But the allegations of sexism only comprise one part of the unhealthy work environment that Earl cultivates, according to employees interviewed.

“It was just absolutely the most toxic work environment that I've ever been part of, in any way,” the former employee said.

Three former employees told Spectator that they had left the Career Development office directly because of Earl's behavior.

"The level of intimidation and fear that everyone's working under made it impossible for any of us to address any of this in any kind of meaningful way," the first former employee said. "We were all completely frightened—and legitimately so—that we were going to lose our jobs, because he would tell us during staff meetings, ‘all of you are replaceable.'"

Another former employee said that Earl was often unreceptive to employee input regarding programming.

"We were never really listened to in any true way, so after awhile you back off on pushing new things that you think are going to be good," the second former employee, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from Earl, said.

Employees interviewed described his management style as disorganized.

"Robert didn't have any sort of training for me whatsoever. I think he didn't even meet with me until three days in," Vitale said of her experience when she first joined the staff.

"I think the big issue for me was not just that it was a completely unsupportive work environment," she added. "He doesn't really value the opinions of the people who are working for him, and he is intimidating."

Conflicting interests

Several current and former employees said that Earl, who also serves as the pastor of the Harlem-based church Shekinah Glory, was frequently absent from the office.

"We never knew where he was, so you'd have your weekly meeting with him and it would be like, 'Is he going to be there or is he not?'" the second former employee said. "There was one summer when I was there where I barely saw him."

In addition to being absent from the office, current and former employees also said that Earl frequently conducted church-related business at Barnard during working hours.

"I would go into his office to ask him a question and he has the Bible out and he's preparing for Bible study," a third former employee, who requested anonymity in order to protect their professional reputation, said.

Escalation of events

The administration seemed to take action after Vitale spoke with Vice President of Human Resources Catherine Geddis following an incident between Vitale and Earl.

Two months into her job at the office, Vitale filed a Human Resources complaint about Earl after he allegedly took her aside and began to "verbally attack" her in his private office.

"He didn't like the way that I had done a report for him," she said. "He was getting really angry and it was really uncomfortable. I was in his office and he made me shut the door, and I was feeling really, really anxious about the situation."

Emma Volk / Senior Staff Designer

After Vitale's last day of employment at Barnard, administrators called for a "listening meeting" for the Career Development staff, which Geddis and Earl attended, according to an email obtained by Spectator. The meeting was meant to be an opportunity for staff members to air their grievances to Earl and Geddis.

Dean of the College Avis Hinkson also sent an email to all Career Development staff members informing them that as a follow-up to the "staff discussion about the climate" in the office, a coach had been hired "to address the issues that have been expressed." The coach met with each staff member individually, according to a current employee.

But as these conversations were occurring after Vitale's resignation, Spectator learned that the office failed to notify IBM, who had been in conversation with Vitale to schedule a case interview workshop with students, of her departure. As a result, an IBM representative informed the Career Development office that they would not hold the workshop because they had not heard back from Vitale after waiting weeks, according to an email obtained by Spectator.

The office reorganizes

Less than a month after the staff meeting occurred, all Career Development staff members were informed that the office would be reorganized. Shortly after, the UAW Local 2110 Union filed a grievance with the College for failing to notify the union of the reorganization in advance.

Before the reorganization, Earl oversaw the entire Career Development office and reported to Hinkson. As a result of the reorganization, Earl no longer leads Student Employment Services, which oversees on-campus jobs, federal work study, internships, and the civic engagement program. It is now led by Korinne Peterson, who previously served as the senior associate director for student employment. Student Employment Services will continue to report directly to Hinkson.

Earl, who will continue to lead the Career Development side of the office, which mainly oversees student counseling, campus recruitment, job and internship services for current students and alumnae, now reports directly to Vice President for Development Bret Silver.

Silver said in an interview with Spectator that one impetus for the reorganization was that Barnard hired a new alumnae relations director.

"We now have an infrastructure for Career Development to pair up with a really strong unit within the development department," Silver said. "The timing just felt right mainly because of the strength that we had on that side of the house."

"The real synergy between Career Development and the development division is in the Alumnae Affairs office," Silver added. "It's about engaging alums with the life of the college through their professional achievements, which is really helpful to students who love to meet alums and love to see what they can aspire to and learn about what they've done after they've left college."

But current and former employees said the reorganization seems linked to the complaints made against Earl.

"It's just too crazy for me that the college wouldn't do anything about this, or that this [reorganization] is their answer," a current employee said.

The third former employee said that the restructuring "makes no sense."

"I don't know why they don't just focus on the problem, which is Robert," the former employee said.

Current employees said that the office environment has become increasingly tense since Spectator's interview with Earl, with increased pressure applied concerning staff members speaking to Spectator for this story. Vice President Silver, who now oversees the office, also sent an email to the staff telling them to forward any concerns or comments from students, alumnae, or press to Barnard's media relations director.

This month marks the seventh year that Earl has been the director of Barnard's Career Development office.

"It sounds like it's gotten much worse since I've left," the third former employee said. "HR now knows about it, so I don't understand what the holdup is."

Michael Ouimette, Caroline Chiu, Catie Edmondson, Ben Libman, and Mary Claire Morris contributed reporting.

Michael Ouimette is the editor responsible for this story. He can be reached at michael.ouimette@columbiaspectator.com.

jclara.chan@columbiaspectator.com | @jclarachan

Barnard College Career Development Office
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