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Princeton University Professor Samuel Wang, the head of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. (Photo: Princeton University).

Princeton University investigating Sam Wang for research misconduct, toxic workplace issues

Head of Princeton Gerrymandering Project faces probe over data manipulation, retaliating against staff

By David Wildstein, April 28 2022 9:01 am

Princeton University has launched an internal investigation of Sam Wang, the controversial head of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, after members of his staff alleged that he was manipulating data to match his personal agenda, and for mistreating people who worked for him.

As a result of the probe, 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.

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In addition to complaints that Wang created a toxic work environment that included retaliatory acts and job threats, and a possible Title IX violation, three individuals directly connected to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project confirmed that the university is also investigating allegations of research misconduct against the neuroscience professor-turned-redistricting activist.  The New Jersey Globe is withholding the names of the three individuals, who fear that they could become the target of further retribution by Wang.

Complaints were filed before and during the time Wang was serving as the advisor to the independent congressional redistricting tiebreaker.

While working on New Jersey redistricting, Wang was accused of manipulating data to achieve the outcome he wanted, the three individuals confirmed.

“He’d fudge the numbers to get his way,” said one individual.  “He had an agenda.  He was good at hiding it when he had to, but it was clear Sam wanted Democrats to win and he was willing to cheat to make that happen.”

Princeton Gerrymandering Project staffers raised considerable objections to a report Wang had written on New Jersey’s congressional redistricting that they said was biased.  A senior legal strategist on Wang’s team, a graduate of a top law school who had clerked for two federal judges, worked through the night to rewrite sections that were tilted in favor of the Democratic map in a bid to seek the appearance of greater objectivity.

The congressional redistricting tiebreaker, former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr., said that he relied on Wang’s “evaluation of partisan fairness of the maps” in his amplification of reasons why he voted for the Democratic map.

Wallace said that maps submitted by both parties were constitutional and complied with the federal Voting Rights Act.

But Wallace was unaware that Wang was facing a probe at Princeton for research misconduct.

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

Internally at Princeton, there were concerns that Wang was manipulating the 78-year-old technophobic Wallace by feeding him data with a spin.

“Sam is a salesman.  He knows how to do that,” one of the individuals said.

The Democratic map worsened the re-election prospects of one of their incumbents, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) in New Jersey’s 7th district, while making districts represented by Reps. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown), Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) more favorable to the Democrats.  A Republican map would have made all four races competitive.

For his work as Wallace’s redistricting advisor, the state paid Wang $15,375, according to Office of Legislative Services records obtained by the New Jersey Globe.

But while the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and the Electoral Innovation Lab (EIL) at Princeton did most of the work crunching numbers of Democratic and Republican map submissions, including what was described as a considerable number of hours preparing for the map negotiations, Princeton University did not receive any payment.

Instead, the consulting fee was paid directly to Wang, records show.

Wang declined comment and referred requests for information to the Princeton University Office of Communications.

“In general, the University avoids commenting on pending investigations out of fairness to those involved,” said Michael E. Hotchkiss, a spokesman for Princeton University.

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.

Allegations that Wang abused his staff

Since the New Jersey congressional map was adopted, several Princeton Gerrymandering Project staffers have left their jobs– most of them prematurely and some because of Wang’s placement of partisanship over data and personal arrogance.  The other employees are currently on leave, despite major redistricting events occurring across the nation right now.

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.

Hotchkiss, the Princeton spokesman, sidestepped 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,” said Hotchkiss.  “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.”

Larkin declined comment when reached in her office on Wednesday.  Arens did not respond to a call at 11:27 AM on Wednesday seeking comment.

It’s not immediately clear whether Princeton University’s internal policy conflicted with confidentiality agreements between the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and the redistricting panels.  But it was confirmed that various iterations of redistricting maps – considered top secret by the commissioners — was shared with Princeton’s human resources office and with an academic dean.

Wang’s national profile

Wang, who has sought a national platform for his views on reapportionment issues, appears to have also created issues for Princeton University in other states.

A Republican lawmaker in North Carolina sought to remove Wang as a research assistant to a court-appointed special master for congressional and legislative redistricting, alleging that the Princeton professor violated a court order by engaging in “substantive ex parte communications” with experts retained by the plaintiff before and after their formal appointments.” But a judge in that case denied a GOP bid to remove him.

In Pennsylvania, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the new congressional map an overall grade of “C,” but under pressure from a major donor, Wang later changed the grade to “B,” an individual associated with the group told the New Jersey Globe.

When staff complained to Wang that they viewed the grade change as unethical, he allegedly lashed out and threatened to retaliate against them.

One individual recounted how Wang once added a deadbolt to the door at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project Office to prevent his staff from entering.

In New York, where the state Court of Appeals invalidated congressional and State Senate districts on Wednesday, a former Princeton Gerrymandering Project research associate, Jonathan R. Cervas, has become the court-appointed special master tasked with redrawing the maps.

Cervas, now a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, worked for Wang from 2018 to 2021 and co-taught a class on redistricting and gerrymandering at Princeton.

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