Tim Hunt, Ellen Pao, and how to get rid of old tenured faculty

Seventy-two-year-old Tim Hunt, the English Nobel Prize-winner, was forced to resign a professorship after some public comments. This has gotten a lot of press due to the number of people who enjoy thinking of themselves as smarter than a Nobel laureate. Let’s benchmark Hunt’s career-ending statement against Kleiner Perkins’s experience employing Ellen Pao:

Tim Hunt Ellen Pao at KP
Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab
You fall in love with them Married partner wants to have sex with her
they fall in love with you She wants to have sex with married partner, assuming that he will leave current wife and children.
when you criticise them, they cry When you criticize her, she goes to court for “$16M. Shake that pu$$y!” (reader comment on February 2015 post, though it was later reported that Ellen Pao was seeking an additional $160 million in punitive damages)

Would it be fair to say that Kleiner Perkins incurred roughly $10 million in legal fees and a lot of aggravation to confirm Hunt’s hypothesis, at least with respect to this particular “girl in the lab.”?

[Update on the Ellen Pao case: the unsuccessful plaintiff now seeks $2.7 million to cover some of her legal fees and costs (cnet) in exchange for waiving her appeal rights against Kleiner, which presumably already incurred at least $10 million in legal fees and expenses. Coincidentally this is the amount that Pao’s husband owes in legal fees for one of his lawsuits and also the amount that the IRS is trying to get out of him (link from post about the total litigation generated by the Pao-Fletcher team). Will she get her fees paid? “You get your fees paid if you’re a female family court plaintiff,” said one litigator, “but having a vagina doesn’t get you a free lawsuit in other venues.” (see previous post about how Ellen Pao would have fared in family court)]

More productively, the Hunt case provides some guidance for universities struggling with how to get rid of old tenured faculty. The original concept of tenure was paired with a mandatory retirement age, e.g., of 65. Such age-based mandatory retirement is now prohibited by federal law and schools have discovered that it is not rational for highly paid and unproductive professors to retire. Being on campus is like being at a lively cocktail party. Why trade that to sit home alone?

Tenure doesn’t mean job security, however. A friend who is a physics professor at UC Berkeley points out that he “can be fired for any reason, except incompetence.”

A lot of older professors hold beliefs that aren’t in sync with current political dogma. People who were “liberal” in the 1970s would be called “reactionary” today. At Harvard College, 96 percent of professors support Democrats (Crimson). It should be easy to winnow out a lot of older professors simply by exposing their failure to keep pace with evolving concepts of what it means to be “liberal” or “Democrat.” Get out a video camera and ask a series of carefully crafted questions:

Eventually one of these oldsters will probably say something sufficient to justify termination on the basis of creating a hostile environment, etc.



8 thoughts on “Tim Hunt, Ellen Pao, and how to get rid of old tenured faculty

  1. According to this article, Kleiner’s legal fees are “only” $1M, not $10M.


    If the legal fees were really $10M, then Kleiner would have made a more generous settlement offer to Pao before trial than it did (they offered her just under $1M). Even if you think you have a winning case, at a minimum you should offer (slightly less) than your anticipated amount of future legal fees. That way, not only will you save money vs going to trial (and with no possibility of losing and having to pay much more) but also the time and effort that you will spend on the case, avoid airing dirty laundry in public, etc.

  2. That 96% of Harvard profs. support Democrats is not sufficient. It should be at least 100% if not more (in some precincts in Philadelphia, voter turnout exceeds 100%). Even if only 4% of Harvard faculty possess reactionary views, this is 4% too many. When colleges say that they want “diversity” , they mean the exact opposite. The only kind of diversity that is actually important (diverse points of view, not different shades of skin tone) is the kind that is not allowed.

    In the UK Guardian, it was helpfully explained the other day that “because race is tied to identity politics and not biology”, Clarence Thomas is not really “black” but Rachel Dolezal is.

    We have truly passed thru the looking glass where words mean what Humpty Dumpty chooses them to mean, neither more nor less. So, literally, white can mean black. Actually Humpty Dumpty sounds too comical and non-threatening. This is really scary. It’s more like Goering saying “Wer Jude ist, bestimme ich!” (I decide who is a Jew). Fortunately, Thomas has a job for life, subject only to impeachment by Congress and not some kangaroo kampus kourt.

  3. Izzie: http://blogs.wsj.com/venturecapital/2015/04/23/kleiner-perkins-is-seeking-nearly-1-million-in-legal-fees-from-ellen-pao/ explains the difference between “legal costs” (what Kleiner is entitled to recover from Pao) and “legal fees” (the bulk of what Kleiner spent to defend itself): “Court documents filed Wednesday by Kleiner Perkins show that the firm’s attorneys accrued costs of $972,814.50 for the case. The fees include $864,680.25 for expert witnesses and $58,878.69 for deposition costs. The amount doesn’t include the costs of the attorneys themselves.”

  4. Hunt should not be surprised at the outcome given his own assessment of women in mixed sex labs, “When you criticize them, they cry.” Hunt’s comments made women cry. When women cry the men who made them cry get fired. That’s one way to get unisex labs, all women.

    fyi.. For interesting cultural insight, search Twitter for #DistractinglySexy. A convulsive hoot.

  5. The reaction to his inappropriately triggering banter was actually quite mild. Here in America, we have other ways of dealing with recalcitrant academics — and especially with their family relations who engage in triggering speech that we really don’t like. See the documentation of our leading criminal satire case at:


  6. If Kleiner really spent $10M in legal fees to defend a $16M claim, they really screwed themselves. Apparently their highest offer to Pao was only $1M and at the time that she quit they only offered her a few hundred thousand in severance. They could have settled this case much earlier by making a better offer to her much earlier (and obtained a confidential settlement that would have spare them adverse publicity). I would even bet that if they had offered her the $1M that they offered on the eve of trial on day 1, she would have taken it then, before she had her own big legal fees and none of us would have ever heard about this case.

  7. Izzie counting diversity within the framework of a black and white world of two parties is a ridiculous exercise.

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