Home>Congress>After internal review, Princeton clears Sam Wang, but doesn’t release report

Samuel Wang, a professor at Princeton University and the director of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. (Photo: Princeton University).

After internal review, Princeton clears Sam Wang, but doesn’t release report

Controversial redistricting pundit had faced allegations of bad conduct by members of his staff

By David Wildstein, August 25 2022 6:21 pm

Princeton University has cleared embattled Princeton Gerrymandering Project director Sam Wang of allegations that he manipulated data as an advisor to the independent tiebreaker on the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission after an internal investigation but did not release any reports detailing their findings.

Michael E. Hotchkiss, a spokesman for Princeton University, told an election law blog, that an ad hoc committee of faculty members “carefully reviewed the allegations of research misconduct lodged against Dr. Wang, and found those allegations to be without merit.”

The Dean of the Faculty has accepted the committee’s findings, and the matter is now considered closed,” Hotchkiss said.  “Any other investigations involving Dr. Wang have been completed and closed with no findings of policy violations.”

It’s not clear how thorough Princeton was in their internal investigation of their own tenured professor, since they never interviewed New Jersey party leaders

“Of course Princeton did not reach out to the Republicans,” said former GOP State Chairman Doug Steinhardt, who co-chaired the congressional redistricting panel.

Democratic State Chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr. also said he didn’t hear from anyone at Princeton.

“They didn’t speak to anyone on the Democratic side,” he said.

And the Princeton investigative team never contacted former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr., who served as the court-selected independent tiebreaker and hired Wang as one of his consultants.

“Princeton did not interview me,” Wallace told the New Jersey Globe in an email.

At least one former Princeton Gerrymandering Project staffer reached today said they had not been included in the internal investigation.

The New Jersey Globe reported in April that Princeton was conducting an internal probe after his staff alleged that he rigged data to fit his own agenda on a new congressional map, and workplace harassment issues were being investigated.

At the time, Hotchkiss said  that “in general, the University avoids commenting on pending investigations out of fairness to those involved.”

But four days later, Hotchkiss backtracked, saying that an initial review showed that there was “no credible allegations of data manipulation” on the New Jersey map.   He declined to say who conducted the initial review.

Accusations that he mistreated his staff caused Princeton University directed Wang not to speak directly with his staff during the time he was serving as an advisor to the court-appointed tiebreaker for the legislative redistricting commissions in New Jersey, according to multiple memorandums, letters and emails from the Princeton University Human Resources department obtained by the New Jersey Globe.

Complaints against Wang were filed before and during the time he was serving as the advisor to Wallace.

At the time, Wallace  said he didn’t know Princeton was looking at Wang’s behavior.

“I have no knowledge of any investigation,” Wallace said in an email to the New Jersey Globe in March.

Three staffers of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, all speaking on the condition of anonymity, objected to a report Wang wrote on the redrawing of New Jersey’s House districts, saying it was biased.

The New Jersey Globe reported in January that staffers from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project quietly gave Democrats some valuable feedback that would ultimately play into their final map submission: that Republicans were doing a good job limiting the splitting of towns and municipalities and that Democrats needed to do better.

Staffers express concern over the conflict between academic integrity and the source of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s funding.  They added further confirmation to another New Jersey Globe report that major funding was coming from donors with ties to national and state Democrats.

Princeton University directed Princeton Gerrymandering Project and EIL employees to stop speaking with Wang in early January, prior to the start of the legislative redistricting process.

On January 21, Mary Beth Larkin, a senior human resources manager at Princeton, sent an email notifying all employees that Wang had been directed to communicate with his staff only in writing, copying human resources on all emails “so that the University has an ongoing record of his requests and staff responses.”

Larkin also directed that the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Oliver Avens, also be copied.

“We are asking Professor Wang to provide clear instructions to each staff member he contacts with an inquiry or assignment, and to specify a reasonable timeframe for response or handling of his requests whenever possible,” Larkin said.  “The University expects that all EIL employees will provide appropriate, substantive responses to Professor Wang’s requests within the specified timeframe.”

A February email from Larkin directed Wang’s team on how the legislative redistricting tiebreaker, former state Appellate Court Judge Philip Carchman, would run what she described as “Hotel Week,” a marathon session of meetings between the two parties at the Princeton Marriot in Plainsboro.

Wang was an inactive player in the legislative redistricting process and Carchman was unaware of the investigation, the New Jersey Globe has learned.  The result was a deal map brokered by Carchman and the two parties.

Larkin designated an EIL employee – not Wang – to give work assignments to staff and designated one person to “serve as the conduit for communications with members of the team whose involvement is required.”  She directed the staffers to “direct any questions regarding those assignments” to that individual.

On March 1, 2022, Larkin notified EIL staff by letter that the probe of Wang was ongoing.

“The University continues to take the investigation seriously,” Larkin said.  “During the pendency of the investigation, the University is also more broadly evaluating operations of EIL.”

Six days later, Lianne Sullivan-Crowley, the vice president for human resources at Princeton, told employees in a memorandum that “the measures outlined in Ms. Larkin’s letter are being implemented at the direction of the University, not Professor Wang.”

Sullivan-Crowley directed the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to immediately stop entering into grant or gift arrangements to fund their work or related projects or enter into any agreements, or to hire any additional employees or interns, “specifically, to facilitate the completion of pending investigations of workplace complaints and the evaluation of the operations of EIL.”

She also ordered them to “withdraw or rescind” any offers to interns or employees that may have been made or accepted.  The summer intern program was “placed on pause.”

“When Professor Wang was directed to implement these measures, he was also reminded of his obligation to adhere to the University’s policy against retaliation,” Sullivan-Crowley stated.

Sullivan-Crowley also said that Wang was reminded to follow Princeton’s policies regarding the safeguarding of data and information, including analytical work and computer records.

In March, Hotchkiss dodged questions on specifics regarding the Wang investigation.

“Members of the University community are always free to bring forward any concerns they may have regarding their educational or working environment.  When concerns are brought to its attention, the University investigates them in accordance with its policies and takes action to address them, if and as appropriate,” Hotchkiss stated.  “While a review is pending, the University may implement interim measures if it deems them necessary to ensure that the investigation is thorough, unbiased and fair, and that the affected working or educational environment is appropriately managed.”

This story was updated on August 26, 2022 with comment from Wallace.

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