- screengrab via YouTube
Two months after his wife died of cancer, Garth Saloner, dean of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, started a romantic relationship with a professor who also worked at the school, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
That professor, Deborah Gruenfeld, was still married to but separated from another GSB professor, James Phills, who was later fired from the school.
Since then, Phills has filed a lawsuit claiming that Saloner was able to make decisions about the professor’s employment even though he was sleeping with his wife. The ensuing sex scandal at GSB led to the announcement that Saloner will step down at the end of the academic year.
The story was first reported in September by Ethan Baron of Poets and Quants, a news website which covers business schools.
- screengrab via YouTube
Phills claims that as his divorce proceedings with Gruenfeld soured, Saloner made it clear that he didn’t want him to return to the school, according to Bloomberg.
Below is an excerpt of a Facebook chat that occurred between Gruenfeld and Saloner that Bloomberg published. The first part of the exchange refers to Phills taking leave from Stanford to working at Apple:
Gruenfeld: Maybe he’s staying at Apple.
Saloner: Let’s hope. We deserve something good tomorrow. We’ve earned it. …
Gruenfeld: Sadly, deserving has not bought me much so far.
Saloner: The universe owes us. Big time.
Gruenfeld: “I agree. Maybe we’re turning a corner on that.”
And in a more bizarre conversation, Saloner, apparently in jest, made a reference to a French film where the heroine severs the penis of her lover.
“Knife. Penis. Town Square. Got it,” Saloner wrote to Gruenfeld, apparently making a joke about what should be done to Phills.
Town Square is the outdoor commons area on the GSB’s campus, according to Bloomberg.
Saloner and GSB refute Phills’ claims in the lawsuit.
“As many of you know, the university and I have been vigorously defending a baseless and protracted lawsuit related to a contentious divorce between a current and former member of our faculty,” Saloner wrote in a press release. “I have become increasingly concerned that the ongoing litigation and growing media interest will distract all of you from the important work that you are doing and unfairly impact this stellar school’s deserved reputation.”
For its part, Stanford says it treated Phills “fairly and equitably.” Stanford further said that as soon as the relationship began, Saloner informed Stanford leadership.
“Dr. Phills’ teaching position at Stanford was terminated in 2015 when he failed to return to his university employment after the university had granted him multiple leaves of absence for lucrative opportunities in Silicon Valley, including leaves to work at Apple Inc., beyond what is normally allowed under university policy,” Stanford said.
Saloner was well-liked on campus and an inspiration, according to the Stanford News, which described him as a pioneer in economics and e-commerce for his work on network effects.
But the Bloomberg piece paints him in a different light and says there are allegations from staff at the school that he created a hostile work environment for them.
Last year, 46 current and former GSB employees wrote a letter to the school’s provost that complained of a “hostile work environment – especially to women and individuals over 40 – ruled by personal agendas, favoritism and fear.”
We have reached out to Saloner, Stanford, and James Phills for comment.