HARVARD LIE SCHOOL: An Exposé of Corrupt Harvard Law School Administrators
The untold story of how Marcia Sells, a power-tripping Dean of Students at Harvard Law School, stole three years of an innocent student’s life, while other admins and faculty looked the other way.
TL;DR: In May 2018, a group of administrative deans at Harvard Law School (HLS), led by the school’s now former Dean of Students Marcia Sells, colluded to place Ben Badejo, then a first-year student, on a wrongful involuntary “academic leave,” based on a demonstrably false claim by Sells that Badejo had stated to another of those deans (the school’s registrar, Lisa Burns), that he would not be taking his spring final exams. Those same deans would then prevent Badejo from resuming his studies by rejecting his petitions to return that fall, telling him to write a new petition requesting to return as of the following semester, and then denying that new petition for no logical reason. This would continue, semester after semester, for three years. Meanwhile, these deans inexplicably refused to give Badejo routine paperwork that they knew he needed (and that he had explicitly requested) in order to transfer or restart his studies elsewhere, thus preventing Badejo from continuing his studies at any law school (or other graduate or professional school) for three years, to present day.
In late 2020, audio was discovered of the very conversation between Badejo and Burns (the same conversation Sells cited when placing Badejo on leave). This audio, as well as documents from the law school’s Administrative Board (nominally chaired by Professor Robert Sitkoff, with Sells, Burns and a third dean, Catherine Claypoole, serving as members) showed that Sells, Burns, and likely other administrators as well, knowingly lied to place Badejo on leave, and ignored that Ben had disputed that lie, not only in person (to Sells, witnessed by others) but even in writing to the Administrative Board. Shortly after this audio came to light and was circulated to HLS faculty in December 2020, Marcia Sells suddenly resigned from Harvard Law School in the middle of the school year (leaving the HLS Dean of Students Office, which serves 2,000 students, without a leader for the past eight months and counting) and was announced by the New York Times as the Metropolitan Opera’s first chief diversity officer. Meanwhile, Badejo has been left languishing in academic and vocational purgatory, where he remains today. HLS administrators (communicating from a generic email address rather than under their own names) began claiming in May 2021 and June 2021 that Badejo is withdrawn from HLS, in direct contravention of the school’s removal (nine months earlier) of its “involuntary withdrawal” provision from its Handbook with students, making Badejo’s supposed involuntary withdrawal a clear breach of contract by Harvard Law School.
This story is about much more than administrative malfeasance. It is also a stunning look at what really occurs behind the scenes at the world’s most influential law school and at so many other institutions with national and global reach: administrative bloat, the melding of politics and corporate purpose, suppression of ideological diversity, professional bullying, and the propagation of illiberal values.1
Update: An attorney has expressed willingness to represent Ben in litigation - but not for free. A fundraiser for the legal fees has been set up here (GoFundMe) and here (GiveSendGo). Please contribute.
Imagine being admitted to Harvard Law School. For many people, such an accomplishment would be a dream come true. Now imagine being forced onto an involuntary academic leave of absence from Harvard Law School, during your first-year spring finals period, based on a provable lie by your school’s dean of students that you had stated that you would not be taking your final exams. Imagine clearly telling administrators and faculty that this was a lie, and being ignored.
Next, imagine being emailed multiple letters by Harvard Law School’s dean of students, on school letterhead, first telling you that you MUST NOT discuss your leave of absence “with others, including other Harvard administrators, faculty or staff,“ (click here to read) – later expanded to also include all former Harvard faculty and staff (click here to read) – and being told in those same letters that if you contact anyone else, you will not be allowed to ever return to Harvard Law School.
Now imagine also being denied routine paperwork you need to reluctantly transfer to or restart your studies at any other law school or graduate school in the country, leaving you unable to continue your studies, through no fault of your own, while also being unable to explain to anyone why you are not at Harvard Law School.
Finally, imagine being in this situation for over three years – for all of your late twenties and into your early thirties – to present day, while faculty and administrators at Harvard Law School do nothing to help you, even after an audio file completely exonerates you and proves that you were wrongfully placed on leave based on a lie.
This is the story of how a promising young man named Ben Badejo was targeted by a Harvard Law School administrator for years, while other Harvard administrators and faculty either did nothing, or joined the mob. This story is tragic, it is infuriating, and worst of all, it is true.
This is a complex case full of alleged bad actors (not including Badejo), twisted grievances, convoluted rules, and irrational vendettas. The people involved are smart, and sophisticated; they run Harvard Law School, which produces some of the best lawyers in the world. They know better than anyone how to weave a Machiavellian web of mean-spirited lies and legalese, and they take great pleasure in doing so as underhandedly as possible. It is a total clusterfuck. There are so many squirrely legal details revolving around this case that if this article attempted to address them all in great detail, you might get lost in the weeds and stop reading. Therefore, throughout this article, I try to bring us back to a birds-eye view periodically, so that it is digestible, without leaving out key facts and necessary details.
The good thing about this story is that Badejo’s claims are all independently verifiable, as he began copying many (and in some cases, most) full-time Harvard Law School faculty, as well as several non-faculty staff, on key emails about this situation beginning in September 2020, attaching documents and correspondence for their review. Those individuals can confirm that they are aware of the situation or can deny receiving the emails, if they really were not copied on these emails – so there should be no question as to the authenticity of any emails or other documents. Dozens of those faculty and staff, perhaps intentionally, perhaps unintentionally, sent (and have continued to send) read receipts to Ben Badejo in response to multiple emails from him that they were copied on, which further shows that they are likely aware of the situation – and that they have been aware of it for some time now.
A hyperlinked outline of this article is below – click each heading to jump to that part of this post. [Note: the hyperlinks may not work on mobile browsers.]
When I first heard about this case, the biggest thing I couldn’t wrap my head around was – why? Why would HLS administrators just make things up and ruin the lives of their own students? It didn’t make any sense. It’s all so contrary to their reputations. Really intelligent people doing things that are nonsensical and harmful. It makes me wonder if they were convinced to treat Ben a certain way, for bad reasons, and now don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that their assumptions and beliefs (or perhaps even other lies that this former dean of students may have told) were simply not true.
It’s hard to believe that the problem was Ben, considering comments that Ben’s first-year section-mates made about him during their spring term (anonymously, mind you):
Perhaps, from Sells’ perspective, there was a problem with Ben, or rather, a problem with his identity. You see, though Ben Badejo might be a first-generation Nigerian-American (and therefore, black, like Sells), he is also Jewish (surprise!), and he was actively involved in pro-Israel politics prior to enrolling at Harvard Law, having served from 2015 to 2017 on the New York Young Leadership Council of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. He traveled to Israel numerous times, and participated in Israel advocacy programs like Fuel for Truth and Legion Krav Maga. What does this have to do with Sells? Well, there were a few other complaints and concerns about Sells over the years, many related to issues of concern to some Jewish and Israeli students. Sells and the Tribe go way back.
Two months after Sells arrived at Harvard Law in September 2015, an unknown person scrawled a swastika (link) onto a desk in an HLS classroom. Following complaints from students, Sells sent an email about the incident, but would only refer to the swastika as a “symbol of hatred,” without actually describing it as a swastika.2 3
Later in the 2015-2016 academic year, in late March, Sells reportedly told a student (who happened to be a conservative critic of some of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign tactics), that a sign with the name “Trump” in it could be offensive to students in the same way that a sign with the name “Hitler” in it might be offensive to Jews. (Click here to read coverage of that situation from FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.) In other words, Sells equated the monster who murdered six million Jews and tried to take over the world, with the semi-isolationist president who was the most reliably pro-Israel president in decades (to the chagrin of the left) – and who was also the first American president with a Jewish child and grandchildren.
The following month, a student at HLS who was an activist in the HLS chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, caused an uproar when he asked visiting Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, to her face: “How is it that you are so smelly? ... [you’re] very smelly, and I was just wondering” (calling her a smelly Jew). This remark was rebuked by many members of the HLS Jewish community, who were in turn rebuked, at least indirectly, by Marcia Sells. Sells accused some of them of “cyber-bullying” and “bigotry,” according to a Harvard Crimson article about the hubbub (linked here) — and the student whose comments set off the controversy was never punished.
It wouldn’t be hard to believe that Sells thought Ben Badejo didn’t have the right (i.e., left) political and ideological leanings, and perhaps tried to push him out, as her own personal contribution to the #resistance. After all, Ben’s classmates’ comments about him, above, suggest that he was both well-liked by those who knew him well and known for bringing some heterodox ideas into the mix at HLS. Relatedly, it is possible that Sells had gotten wind of two occurrences in April 2018 in which Ben’s pro-Israel and contrarian positions may have been sussed out by some members of the HLS community.
First, Ben Badejo was part of the team of students who helped organize the Israel Summit at Harvard (link), a university-wide student-run day-long event held in early April 2018 at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, MA. The event aimed to “broaden students’ horizons” with respect to Israel by highlighting Israeli social entrepreneurship and business as well as offering networking opportunities for Harvard students. Ben was one of the two graduate or professional school students on the planning team, which was led by Max A., a student at Harvard College. Ben was the only HLS student on that team, and in addition to helping with overall planning of the event, he was responsible for coordinating non-financial graduate student organization co-sponsors of the event, across Harvard’s graduate and professional schools. Ben added the event to the HLS calendar in March 2018, after which point it was on Harvard Law’s daily email digest of upcoming events (which most HLS faculty, staff and students receive in their inboxes each morning). Sells was probably displeased about this.
Ten days after the Israel Summit at Harvard, in mid-April 2018, a black undergraduate student at Harvard (reportedly having a bad reaction to medication or drugs, to the point that he had undressed in the middle of a five-lane street directly across from HLS buildings) was physically tackled and struck by Cambridge police. The HLS Black Law Students Association immediately (that night) alleged on Twitter that “police brutality” had taken place (read the tweet here), leading Cambridge Police to defensively (and perhaps unprofessionally) tweet back a preliminary police report revealing the student’s name. Ben expressed in a Facebook post and to some friends that it seemed that BLSA might have better served the student by focusing on protecting the student’s privacy, collecting evidence, getting in touch with the student’s family, and keeping cool heads. He also indirectly criticized BLSA for seeming to have put a policy reform goal ahead of the needs of the student involved. Several BLSA members – as well as a number of very liberal and very white non-BLSA members – were apoplectic and wrongly accused him of having supported police brutality. That said, many HLS students agreed with Ben, including some BLSA members, who direct-messaged and texted him to say so — and he had meaningful conversations with both BLSA and non-BLSA students offline.4
This all still doesn’t seem like enough reason to wage a scorched earth campaign, though. Why ruin his life over a petty political grudge? This all seems like… small fries?
The answer — or at least my pet theory — is chilling: Why do serial killers kill? Because they want to kill. Birds must fly, fish must swim, and deans must meddle. There’s no further “why.” Why do insane people push strangers onto train tracks in the NYC subway system? Because they are insane, and because they can. Why did HLS let Sells get away with all of this? Because they cannot believe – or admit to themselves or to others – that they hired someone who was quietly insane. Perhaps Sells thinks she is a good person, though… totally delusional. I am sure she has already rationalized that blackballing Ben is a noble, good deed. After all, the means justify the ends, right? If a goal is morally important enough, any method of getting it is acceptable. And being anti-racist, or anti-fa, or pro-BDS is clearly a morally important enough goal.
And perhaps Sells is just a pathological liar and also careless. Just this past summer, months after leaving Harvard Law, Sells let Barnard Magazine – the self-published magazine of her alma mater, the all-women’s Barnard College5 – falsely describe her as a former Columbia Law School and Harvard Law School “law professor,” despite the fact that she had never been a law professor (or any other kind of professor) at either school. Barnard Magazine didn’t correct the “error,” (if it actually was an error, rather than planted false information) – not even in the online version of the magazine. Sells didn’t have them correct it either (though she surely read it and knew it was wrong). It was only in late September 2021, after Ben Badejo emailed leadership at Harvard Law School, Harvard University, Barnard College, Columbia University, and Columbia Law School to point out the ridiculous situation (link), that the article was then corrected later that same day.
Wrongful Plagiarism Accusation – and Cover-Up? (October 2017)
It appears that this all began with a false accusation of plagiarism by Sells and two other non-professors at HLS, Diana Newmark and Susannah Barton Tobin6 – an off-the-books accusation in an in-person meeting in October 2017. According to Ben, these staffers did not even tell Ben the meeting would be about alleged plagiarism – they only introduced the accusation after he walked into Sells’ office and the meeting began. No evidence or explanation was ever provided, either during that meeting or after it. During this ambush, one of the people at the meeting said to him, “Your [First-Year Legal Research and Writing “Closed Memo”] was decent/good, if you did write it yourself,” and later said during that meeting, “What are you going to do differently in order to pass?” Sells continued, threatening Ben, saying to him, “We hope you know that employers will call us to ask about your professionalism, and we will respond.” In addition to these wrongful accusations and inappropriate threats, Ben believes that these staff also spread the rumor to faculty, and believes that he was penalized (despite the total absence of evidence for the accusation), in the form of a substandard grade on his transcript for his fall Legal Research and Writing course. Ben claims that after he sent all of his working files to the instructor (after seeing the substandard fall course grade on his transcript once it was released in early 2018), administrators, including Sells, began pretending they had never accused him in the first place. Toward the end of the 2017-2018 academic year, in early May, Ben told HLS Dean John Manning, in writing, about what had occurred, at which point Sells, according to Ben, pretended that the October 2017 meeting either never happened in the first place or had happened before he submitted his paper (and thus couldn’t have been about that paper, which was the only written work Ben had submitted at the time).
Here’s the kicker: to this day, nobody at Harvard Law School will confirm in writing to Ben Badejo that he was accused of plagiarism – but nobody will deny it in writing either. Marcia Lynn Sells departed in February 2021 (more on that later) without ever admitting or denying in writing that the plagiarism accusation occurred. Badejo recently emailed Susannah Tobin and Diana Newmark, copying HLS faculty, asking Tobin and Newmark to confirm or deny that there was a plagiarism accusation (see email thread here, beginning with the September 19, 2021 email); neither Newmark nor Tobin have responded.
[JANUARY 2022 UPDATE: In the four months that have passed since Badejo’s email dated September 19, 2021, neither Tobin nor Newmark have admitted that they accused him — but they also have not denied it either. See email dated January 13, 2022 here. If the accusation indeed occurred (as Badejo credibly claims), and if it was justified (i.e., had a legitimate basis), Tobin and Newmark would simply admit to making the accusation (and, ideally, they would explain the basis of it). If, however, the accusation actually did not occur, Tobin and Newmark simply would have denied that it occurred, by now. But they haven’t done that either. Through their silence, Tobin and Newmark are choosing to neither admit nor deny that the accusation occurred — because they know that it did occur, that it was unjustified, that it was wrongful, and that it was defamatory as a matter of law. The entire Harvard Law School full-time faculty, as well as Harvard Law School and Harvard University leadership, appear to be aware of all of this.]
There is also a three-page summary of the accusation which Badejo drafted years ago, in August 2019 (linked here). I will refrain from copy-pasting it here. You can go read it yourself if you need more details, and which side of the story you land on, is up to you. I obviously side with Ben Badejo.
(If you can’t tell already, I guess I should offer the disclaimer that I side with Ben on pretty much everything in this story. Yes, I probably have some bias. I am telling one side of the story, but with a good bit of detail – maybe Harvard should do the same.)
Potential Title IX Violations – by Harvard Law School? (October 2017 - January 2018)
Interestingly, there is a Title IX component to this story as well. As mentioned in detail in the email thread linked above (see questions 10 and 11 in that email thread), two of Harvard Law’s Title IX coordinators during the 2017-2018 academic year were Marcia Sells (the dean of students) and Lisa Burns (the registrar). There was a third HLS Title IX coordinator as well – Catherine Claypoole (dean for academic and faculty affairs). All three women also served on the HLS Administrative Board, also known as the “Ad Board,” which handles both non-disciplinary and disciplinary matters (but not Title IX complaints, which go through a separate process). Ben didn’t commit a Title IX violation and wasn’t even accused of one. According to him, “the only things I touched during my first year at Harvard Law School were overpriced casebooks, unfortunately.” In fact, it was Harvard Law’s Title IX coordinators themselves who arguably caused HLS to violate Title IX, owing to the way they handled Ben’s request to no longer be in Newmark’s course for the spring (as described in his three-page summary), following the wrongful October 2017 five-women-on-one-man baseless plagiarism accusation.7
Once Ben finally told HLS Dean John Manning about that wrongful accusation in May 2018 and they got wind of it, I think they thought to themselves, “Our baseless five-on-one plagiarism accusation was both defamatory and a potential Title IX issue (gender bias). Plus, not letting him switch instructors (and telling him in writing that “under no circumstances” could he switch) may have been a prima facie violation of Title IX. Fuck this. Put him on involuntary academic leave to make this all go away.”
Is it really so hard to believe that five women could mistreat a man, and could act in a biased and/or discriminatory way toward him?
The Exam Access Record Fabrication; Sells Lies to Wrongfully Place Badejo on Leave (May 2018)
The audio file (more on this below) proved that when Ben met with the registrar (two hours before Marcia Sells then suddenly placed Ben on leave), he clearly did so to discuss a specific issue: the registrar, Lisa Burns, had written wildly incorrect exam access records in an email to Ben days earlier (i.e., an incorrect statement regarding when exam prompts supposedly had been downloaded, such statement being off by several hours). The audio file showed that the registrar repeatedly denied to Ben that the exam access records she had emailed were incorrect, and that Ben then revealed to the registrar that he had administrator-level computer access logs (which he still possesses) proving that the registrar was wrong. Then, after the registrar refused to admit or at least consider that she was wrong, Ben calmly stated to the registrar that he would be going to the office of HLS Dean John Manning for guidance and would then return. Ben clearly stated that he intended on completing all of his exams, and he absolutely never said that he wouldn’t. The audio file confirms all of this.
When Ben arrived at Dean Manning’s office a few minutes after meeting with the registrar that day in mid-May 2018, Manning’s assistant at the time, Ann Wheelwright, told Ben that Manning was not available to meet at that time, said that Ben could not schedule to meet with Manning at any other time, and said that Ben should meet with the dean of students, Marcia L. Sells. It seemed to Ben that the registrar, Lisa Burns, had quickly contacted Wheelwright and asked her to keep him from meeting with Manning.
Ben met with Sells, who insisted that she would be placing him on leave, and who showed him a letter on HLS letterhead, signed by her, that said Ben had told the registrar that he would not be taking one or more of his final exams. This was a total fabrication. It was such a big lie, nobody would expect the registrar and dean of students to tell it. According to Ben, he repeatedly insisted that the claim was false (in person, with another administrator from the HLS Dean of Students Office (DOS), Jeffrey McNaught, observing while sitting next to Ben), but Sells didn’t care. They must have been totally confident it would work. And they must have been scared shitless that if Ben didn’t go away somehow, they would look like habitual liars. Now here we are, three years later, and they look like habitual liars (which they are).
Sells would then tell Ben that he could petition to return as of the Fall 2018 semester, stating in person that before he returned, he needed to show “productivity” through the summer (but not beyond the summer) through his summer internship – even though no productivity requirement for returning from academic leaves existed in the Handbook as written at the time (see copies of Harvard Law’s past five handbooks here). Ben also reports that during that same meeting, Sells threatened to take away his summer public interest funding, which he had already been approved to receive by the school’s financial services office, and which he needed for the most basic living expenses while doing his otherwise unpaid summer 2018 internship (as he had already planned to do before being placed on leave). Ultimately, according to Ben, Sells yielded a few days later and said she would let him have his summer public interest funding – but she still wrongfully placed him on an involuntary academic leave, by lying that he had triggered Section X-D-6 of the 2017-2018 Handbook (link) (by allegedly telling Burns that he would not be taking his remaining exams….which never actually happened).
Ben would petition numerous times to return from leave as of the Fall 2018 semester. Despite doing what he was told to do in order to return, Sells denied his petitions anyway, telling him to petition again for the next semester, only to deny his subsequent petition and tell him to petition yet again to return the following semester, ad infinitum, for years. Ben has repeatedly asked why he was not allowed to return in the Fall 2018 semester. He has also asked whether Sells placed him on leave in May 2018 after first consulting HLS Administrative Board chair Robert Sitkoff, as the HLS Handbook required her to do at the time (link). HARVARD LAW SCHOOL REFUSES TO ANSWER EITHER QUESTION (click to read correspondence).8 Sells also wouldn’t give Ben a “good standing” letter he requested from her, which he needed to reluctantly transfer to or restart his studies at any other law school – but she never actually said he was not in good standing. Ben has been stuck in no-man’s-land ever since, unable to study anywhere toward a law degree or other graduate or professional school degree, since May 2018.
Did Harvard Law School Violate Harvard’s Information Security Policy? (October 2019)
According to Ben Badejo, in October 2019, while on this absurd leave of absence, he reported to Harvard Law School Dean John Manning, Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow, Harvard University Provost Alan Garber, and the Harvard University Office of the General Counsel, that the staff of the HLS Dean of Students Office (also known as “HLS DOS” or simply “DOS”), led by Dean of Students Marcia Sells was using personal NON-HARVARD file-sharing, cloud storage, and Gmail accounts to store and to transmit the most sensitive and confidential HLS student records in violation of the Harvard Information Security Policy and Harvard Staff Personnel Manual.9
Ben obtained proof that this had happened, including clear proof that Senior Director of Student Affairs and Administration Jeff McNaught had engaged in this wrongful conduct and strong evidence that he attempted to conceal what he had done. Ben provided this proof to Dean Manning, President Bacow, Dr. Garber, General Counsel Diane Lopez, and one or more members of Harvard Corporation, Harvard University’s senior governing board. Dean Sells’ office responded by trying to excuse this inexcusable behavior, made statements that strongly suggested that her office had done this on numerous occasions, and then stopped responding. The HLS student body was never notified of the situation.
Instead of thanking Ben (and bringing him back from leave), the HLS Administrative Board (perhaps simply deferring to Sells) kept him on leave and pretended he had not saved Harvard Law School from even bigger issues down the road. To this day, HLS has never denied that Jeff McNaught did indeed violate the Harvard Information Security Policy and Harvard Staff Personnel Manual – though McNaught did leave the HLS Dean of Students Office (DOS) in January 2020, a few months after Ben’s October 2019 report to the head honchos. HLS Dean of Students Marcia Sells might have directed this behavior or engaged in it herself on one or more occasions, and she was almost certainly aware of the efforts to cover up and excuse what had occurred even after Ben reported it to Harvard Law School and Harvard University leadership.
Ben Badejo Files a Civil Rights Complaint Against Harvard Law School (May 2020)
On May 15, 2020, Ben filed a thirty-page complaint against Harvard Law School and Harvard University with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) alleging fifteen acts of unlawful retaliation and fourteen acts of unlawful discrimination against Ben and/or other Harvard Law School students over a two-year period, continuing to present day, in violation of certain civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (including President Trump’s Executive Order 13899, Combating Anti-Semitism) and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. OCR confirmed receipt of Ben’s complaint and informed him that it was under evaluation, though a formal investigation apparently still has not been opened, seventeen months later.
They are obviously dragging their feet as a legal tactic, and sadly it seems to be working. It seems to me that OCR is just sitting on it – perhaps because Biden’s appointees to OCR are now in place (at least as acting appointees) or soon will be, and don’t want to investigate Harvard. Or perhaps because they (OCR and Harvard) privately hoped that that Ben would delay a costly civil suit against Harvard (which he cannot financially afford in any way) while hoping for OCR to set things right, until the statute of limitations for any claims related to this mess had run out. Or perhaps because they know that arcane rules in OCR’s Complaint Resolution Manual (linked here) make complainants worry that if they file a complaint in civil court, OCR will dismiss the complaint filed with OCR (even after having sat on it for a year or more) by claiming that the civil rights complaint filed with OCR is now duplicative and thus should not proceed (even if the civil suit is filed after the OCR complaint precisely because OCR has failed to act). Meanwhile, a former Harvard employee, Mia Karvonides, has been an enforcement director at OCR since just a few days before President Trump took office in 2017 (see news coverage here and current OCR staff list here). Conflict of interest much? Indeed, personnel is policy. Republicans: in January 2025 (or whenever you’re about to move back into the White House), try to remember that it only takes one last-minute lame duck hire by an outgoing Democratic Party administration to neuter a key office in a federal agency (like OCR at U.S. ED), especially if that hire doesn’t require Senate confirmation.
Harvard (and other institutions) are famous for relying on this kind of tactic: play on both sides of the regulator-regulated game, like a hand shadow puppet show. Draw things out as long as humanly possible; the more years that pass before an investigation begins, the better. The last time a student filed an OCR complaint against HLS, in 2010, alleging that the school did not have proper controls in place to prevent and address sexual harassment, it took four years before the complaint was resolved (link). HLS had to agree to bolster its Title IX compliance, in a manner that some HLS professors, including many of its women professors, considered to be an overcorrection, and had to agree to be monitored by (or at least report to) OCR for three years, until 2017 or 2018. HLS probably doesn’t want to go through that again. Unfortunately, they may have really screwed up, thanks to certain women administrators (some of whom were triple-hatted as Title IX coordinators and Administrative Board members) who falsely accused a male student of plagiarism, based on no evidence, and then, when that failed, ultimately tried to throw him out based on a new knowingly false accusation that he told the registrar that he didn’t want to take exams. Weird shit, but that’s what seems to have happened. You’ve got to hand it to Harvard – putting their woman (Karvonides) on the inside of OCR was a great way to ensure that OCR wouldn’t investigate alleged misconduct at Harvard.
The Smoking Gun Audio (Late 2020)
Where did I get this audio from? In December 2020, a YouTube link to the audio was sent to over a hundred full-time HLS faculty, fifty or so HLS administrative staff, and Harvard’s president.
One of these kind souls forwarded it unsolicited to me, after reading my latest article about Roland Fryer, an unrelated-to-this-case professor in the Harvard Economics department who was also unjustly persecuted by power-tripping Harvard administrators. This points towards a systematic problem with their culture. Given that it might come up in litigation later, I won’t be making a copy of it or sharing it at this second, though if Badejo permits, I’ll share it. If so, I’ll update this post to include the link – if you’re subscribed, you’ll get an update alert in your inbox. At a minimum, I can confirm that the audio absolutely does exist and that it proves exactly what he claims it proves.
Maybe this situation reflects a systematic problem not only with Harvard, but with law schools in general. Case in point, see the recent article by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic titled “A Worrisome Peek Inside Yale Law’s Diversity Bureaucracy, ” which describes the same kind of behavior occurring at Yale Law School. These deans are bullies. It is a pattern.
The audio file basically shows how most of the same people who were involved in either accusing Ben of plagiarism (Sells, Newmark, and Tobin, witnessed by Clark and Hubbard), covering it up (all of the above), or forbidding Ben from switching out of Newmark’s class (Sells, Newmark, Tobin, Burns, and Claypoole), were actively involved in unbelievable hijinks during spring exams before then pushing Ben out. According to Ben, the following occurred during exams:
DOS staffer Lakshmi Clark falsely stated (in an email to Ben) that Ben had been told by a registrar’s office staffer named Megan Markov (who reports to Burns) in a separate email the morning of May 9, 2018 to take an exam that day that had been previously scheduled for a different day. In reality, no such email from Markov ever existed, and Clark and Markov clearly knew that before Clark emailed Ben; Ben has raised this with HLS in writing, but they haven’t responded.
Several of Ben’s exams were moved against his will (by Clark, Sells, and Burns), including an exam Ben explicitly asked to take as originally scheduled to avoid disruption of his exam prep schedule, only to be told by Clark that he was being “aggressive” by politely asking to not have all of his remaining exams moved around without notice – at which point Ben yielded to the administrators. Ben had already taken the exam for his upper-level elective course (Corporations).
Burns, the registrar, then re-sent Ben the new exam schedule, including a demonstrably false exam access/download record, copying Sells and Clark. Ben went to meet with Burns to discuss it.10 The audio is of that very discussion between Ben and Burns.
This was the very conversation which Dean of Students Marcia Sells had cited in order to wrongly place Ben on leave, going so far as to state that the registrar had personally told her that Ben had specifically stated that he wouldn’t be taking one or more of his final exams.
The audio file proved that Ben never said what the dean of students claimed he had said to the registrar, and that he had said the exact opposite to the registrar, repeatedly.
The audio file irrefutably proved that the dean of students, Marcia Sells, had knowingly lied, and that the registrar, Lisa Burns, either worked with Sells in advance to lie about Ben, or, at a minimum, absolutely knew that Sells lied (because Sells sent the leave of absence letter, in which she lied about Ben, to Burns and to Claypoole, as well as to other HLS administrators, including HLS Administrative Board chair Professor Robert Sitkoff).
The audio file also showed that Burns had stated to Ben during their May 2018 conversation that when she informed Ben via email in January 2018 that “under no circumstances” could he switch to a different lecturer’s Spring 2018 LRW course (mentioned earlier in this article), she had done so following a discussion about Ben’s request that she had with Sells and Claypoole.
Slinking Off Into the Night (January 2021)
In January 2021, The Harvard Crimson wrote a glowing tribute (link) to outgoing Harvard Law School Dean of Students Marcia Lynn Sells, in which she was praised for her “instrumental role” in shaping the “framework for furthering the vital goals” of inclusion and belonging at Harvard.
Something smells fishy about this article, though… something that no mainstream press has ever pointed out. She left a high-level university administration position mid-way through the academic year? At the beginning of the semester? With no replacement announced? During a pandemic? For a newly created diversity job at an opera that wasn’t even operating at the time? That doesn’t really make sense. Could she have been pushed out over her alleged treatment of Ben Badejo or other students?
It is certainly not out of the question. Just look at the convenient timing. Only a couple weeks after the audio file was circulated to upper management in December 2020, Marcia Sells left Harvard for good, gone in a puff of smoke.
The Victim Impact
What are three to five years of your life worth to you?
This mess has dragged on for three and a half years now, and as mentioned earlier, Sells wouldn’t give Ben the paperwork he needed to transfer. It is hard to believe that Harvard Law School administrators would deprive him of several years of his education and career as retaliation for reporting misconduct by HLS staff. But it looks like they did. Ben can prove it, and at this point, both the U.S. Department of Education and Harvard Law School leadership know Ben can prove it.
Feel free to estimate yourself whatever a Harvard-trained lawyer’s salary (plus bonus) is worth over three or four years – or five, if Ben has to restart his studies next fall and graduate in 2025. (He was supposed to graduate in 2020.) Consider the financial impact of these lost wages, and the massive opportunity cost of leaving the workforce for law school to begin with. “Going to Harvard Law School is supposed to make your life better – not worse,” Ben says.
The Current Dilemma; How to Help (Pt. 1)
This nightmare is ongoing; we are in the middle of it. It is unresolved. Ben is still hoping to resume his studies at Harvard Law School. Over three years have passed. It seems that some of the administrators who were involved in the original situation are still trying to prevent him from returning, so that they do not have to look him in the eye for the next several years, knowing full well that they acted so inappropriately for so long and at such great cost to him, for no good reason.
Not long before the current 2021-2022 school year began, the administration claimed that Ben was withdrawn, even though the HLS Handbook had been amended as of the September 2020 edition so that it no longer stated that students could be withdrawn involuntarily by HLS (as opposed to being removed via disciplinary expulsion). Seriously.
What’s more, the administration told Ben he could reapply to HLS (apparently with no guarantee of readmission) – but the normal admissions deadline for students wishing to begin (or in Ben’s case, restart) first-year studies in August / September 2021 had passed months before, in February 2021. When Ben contacted the J.D. Admissions Office in August 2021, he was told he couldn’t be “admitted” this year, and that office apparently did not answer him when he asked why he should not simply be re-enrolled as an active student (rather than “admitted”). That office told Ben he could apply during the 2021-2022 admissions cycle for admission to the J.D. Class of 2025 (enrolling next fall), but when the application was released in mid-September 2021, Ben found that it includes a mandatory question requiring all applicants to check a box attesting that they have never before been enrolled in a J.D. program (see screenshot here).
Was that confusing? If so, it’s not because you’re stupid. It’s because Harvard Law School administrators are cruel. Let me summarize: Harvard Law School administrators claim that Ben is involuntarily withdrawn even though Harvard Law School itself had written its own policies (in its Handbook – its contract with students) to REMOVE their own ability to withdraw a student (like Ben) involuntarily. Then they told Ben to reapply. Then they intentionally created a requirement in the application that they knew Ben would be unable to satisfy (that is, never having been previously enrolled in law school), so that he would be unable to actually reapply. That’s where we are, folks.
Again – Kafkaesque.
Honestly, this seems like something that could be solved in five minutes with a letter and a meeting, especially now that Marcia Sells is gone and they can call the whole thing a “misunderstanding.” Unfortunately for Ben, HLS administrators are mostly ignoring his emails and requests to meet (even via Zoom).
Some supportive emails to the dean of Harvard Law School and other HLS and Harvard University leadership would be very helpful at this time. Their publicly available contact information is summarized below, or you can CLICK HERE to automatically open up an email in your default email program with their email addresses automatically filled in for you:
HLS Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs Catherine Claypoole: email@example.com (there’s no “e” before the “@” symbol in her email address, even though there’s an “e” in her last name)
HLS Dean of Student Services Jessica Soban (who stepped into that new position in 2020 and now apparently oversees student services offices across HLS, including the Dean of Students Office and Registrar’s Office; Soban also happened to be Dean of Admissions when Ben was admitted in 2017): firstname.lastname@example.org
The currently leaderless Harvard Law School Dean of Students Office (DOS): email@example.com (which, according to the Internet Archive, had fourteen full-time employees in late 2018 and now has seven, two of whom just joined this week….awkward)
Moving Forward; How to Help (Pt. 2)
Where is the most senior Harvard Law School official, Harvard Law School Dean John Manning, in all of this? Is the influence of liberal administrators so strong that even a conservative dean (like John Manning, a supposed conservative and a former Scalia clerk) cannot stand up for a conservative student? Is this the state of conservatism in America?
Is there reason to be optimistic? Honestly? Yes! I think Harvard Law School administrators should have to answer to the federal government, to the HLS community, and to the public, about what has gone on here. Ben has a strong case and wins on merit alone. That being said, he needs all the support he can get to fight vs. these Harvard Law School administrators, so people should share this article widely and email their thoughts (and their support of Ben) to Harvard using the email addresses above, or contribute to legal fees here (GoFundMe) or here (GiveSendGo). I know there are especially many lawyers reading right now — share it with your lawyer friends! The more pressure is put on HLS administrators, and the more that influential people read this article, the closer we get to the tipping point where Ben Badejo is reinstated and gets his life back. Let’s try to make that happen.
Update (11/1/2021): An attorney has expressed willingness to represent Ben in litigation - but not for free. A fundraiser for the legal fees has been set up. If you wish to support Ben, you can contribute to a legal fund here (GoFundMe) or here (GiveSendGo).
Parts of this story about Harvard Law School may remind you of the recent story about the persecution of Yale Law School student Trent Colbert by administrators there (a/k/a “TrapHouseGate.”) There are certainly parallels: both Trent Colbert and Ben Badejo are Federalist Society members, and the dean of students at each school was involved in the alleged bullying of each student at each school. Further, Ellen Cosgrove, dean of student affairs at YLS, previously was dean of students at HLS; Marcia Lynn Sells, now-former dean of students at HLS, replaced Cosgrove there. (The other main character in the YLS story, Yaseen Eldik, graduated from Harvard Law School and worked on projects at HLS with Jeff McNaught.) However, there is one key difference between the two situations: the YLS story shows what happens when hard-left elite law school administrators threaten to ruin the lives of conservative students, while the HLS story shows what happens when administrators make good on those threats. It may seem hard to believe that Badejo’s story also involves an audio file, but it does – and Badejo first discussed this publicly in August 2021:
Even before arriving at HLS in September 2015, some of Marcia Sells’ Twitter activity from her since-deleted account (@ballerinaDTH) suggested that she was a critic of Israel, or at least critical of some of its policies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and mere criticism might not suggest much about how Sells would treat students, but in the context of everything else she did to make some Jewish students at HLS uncomfortable (or worse), it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that she might want to exact “justice,” or perhaps, exact some revenge, against a student she may have believed had the wrong (i.e., favorable) disposition toward Israel.
[Update: Some of Sells’ since-deleted Twitter activity also suggests a not-so-charitable disposition toward white people and conservatives. Sells deleted her @ballerinaDTH Twitter account in February 2020, approximately two weeks after Badejo shared this collection of Sells’ tweets on social media (see Facebook post here).]
Marcia Sells’ troubling approach to issues of concern to Jewish students at Harvard Law School would repeat itself in October 2018, when an assailant murdered eleven Jews at the Tree of Life / Or L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When Sells finally sent an email to the student body about the massacre (several days after it happened), she didn’t refer to it as an anti-Semitic attack (or otherwise use the word anti-Semitism), she hardly described what had occurred, and she did not direct students to support resources on Harvard’s campus. A day and a half later, Marcia Sells sent a more appropriate email, in a follow-up email that seemed like damage control. Both emails are available here.
[Update: It was also reported in Tablet Magazine that less than two hours after Sells’ sent the first email, which did not direct students to any resources or even address the Tree of Life massacre as motivated by anti-Semitism, she sent an email to the entire HLS student body “about Harvard’s commitment to fighting discrimination of students based on their gender identity, calling out the various LGBTQ groups by name and including a long list of resources as well as a mental health hotline.” In other words, Sells knew that there was an expectation to express support for certain segments of the HLS student body. The Jewish segment apparently was not one of them.]
Ben saved the Facebook post — though it’s set to private at the moment — including all comments to it, so there’s a record of what was really said if this account is disputed or if people assume the worst.
Marcia L. Sells is a graduate of Barnard College. She serves as a member of Barnard’s Board of Trustees, and her daughter, Alix Kruta, attends the school. According to her LinkedIn profile (link), Marcia Lynn Sells is also a 1984 graduate of Columbia Law School, though she was not admitted to the bar until 1986 (link) and stopped practicing law after a few years. As of October 27, 2021, Marcia Sells still lists Harvard Law School as her employer in New York bar records, even though she resigned as of mid-February.
According to Badejo, the two non-professors were: (1) Visiting Legal Research and Writing Lecturer and Climenko Fellow Diana Newmark, and (2) Managing Director of the HLS Climenko Fellowship Program, Director of the First-Year Legal Research and Writing Program, and Assistant Dean for Academic Career Advising Susannah Barton Tobin. (These people love having lots of titles.) Two additional HLS employees in the HLS Dean of Students Office (DOS) were brought into the meeting right as it began – Lakshmi Clark and Carolyn Hubbard.
A course change can be an appropriate or necessary “interim measure” or “supportive measure” pursuant to Title IX – even if the student doesn’t make a formal Title IX report. That doesn’t mean that any student can switch a class at any time. However, it does mean that a Title IX coordinator who tells a student that “under no circumstances” can the student switch into a different simultaneous session of the same course taught by another instructor, is almost definitely not doing the job of a Title IX coordinator properly. Or at all.
Marcia Sells once claimed in a September 2018 letter (which she emailed to Ben, copying HLS Administrative Board chair Professor Robert Sitkoff) that she had consulted Sitkoff before placing Ben on leave in May 2018. If this wasn’t actually true (which is a plausible explanation for why the Ad Board refused in June 2021 to answer Ben’s direct question about this one way or another (see email here), then Sells in fact lied to Ben in that September 2018 letter, and Rob Sitkoff (who was copied on and received that letter) necessarily knew that Sells lied. Yet Sitkoff never told Ben that Sells lied – not even after Sells resigned years later. To put it differently, Marcia Sells and Rob Sitkoff may have caused Harvard Law School to breach its contract with Ben Badejo by putting him on leave in May 2018 without following the process specified in the Handbook as written at the time (i.e., by putting him on leave without the required prior consultation between Sells and Sitkoff), and then by intentionally lying to Ben, in writing, in September 2018, that they indeed had followed specific Handbook provisions in May 2018 which they in fact knew they had not followed. Now-former HLS Dean of Students Marcia Sells and HLS Registrar Lisa Burns may have also caused Harvard to breach its contract with Ben Badejo by putting him on leave by way of clearly lying about the conversation between him and Burns – and Harvard apparently doesn’t deny that Sells knowingly lied.
Ben discussed this on Facebook in January 2020 (see https://bit.ly/3CrKS5A — it’s a public post, but you might need to log in to Facebook to view it). He also has provided a summary write-up of his October 2019 report to HLS leadership about the information security policy violations, with additional background, available at https://bit.ly/2XWkDVP.
Amazingly, HLS Registrar Lisa Burns actually privately admitted to Ben Badejo, days later, in writing, that he was right about Burns’ exam access record being incorrect. Burns actually stated this in an email that she sent to Ben Badejo on May 17, 2018 (linked here).