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University investigates Princeton Gerrymandering Project's Sam Wang for research misconduct, toxic workplace

<h5>Professor Sam Wang is the founder of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of Jason Rhode</h6>
Professor Sam Wang is the founder of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. 
Courtesy of Jason Rhode

The University launched an internal investigation of Princeton Gerrymandering Project (PGP) Director and neuroscience professor Sam Wang for research misconduct and toxic workplace issues, the New Jersey Globe first reported on April 28.

The New Jersey Globe also claimed that Wang has a “possible Title IX violation.” But in a statement to The Daily Princetonian, Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss denied this claim.

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“There is no Title IX complaint pending against Professor Wang,” Hotchkiss wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “Although its general practice is not to comment on pending personnel matters, given recent press reports and the reputational implications associated with alleged violations of Title IX, the University considers it important to correct the record.”

Wang was a crucial figure in New Jersey’s redistricting efforts earlier this year. He served as an advisor to John E. Wallace Jr. and Judge Philip Carchman, the chair of the Congressional Redistricting Commission and the non-partisan 11th member of the Legislative Apportionment Commission, respectively. The redistricting map that passed was created by Democratic members of the Commission and had some bipartisan support, but some State Republicans sued the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, among other groups. That suit was dismissed in court on Feb. 3.

(The New Jersey Globe is edited by David Wildstein, also the author of the April 28 reporting, who prior to his current role at the news outlet was a Republican Party operative in the state. In July 2017, Wildstein was sentenced to probation for in part orchestrating the gridlock on the George Washington Bridge, widely known as the “Bridgegate” scheme associated with former Gov. Chris Christie.)

According to the Globe, “members of [Wang’s] staff alleged that he was manipulating data to match his personal agenda.”

Staffers of the Gerrymandering Project raised objections and said that a report Wang had written on New Jersey’s congressional redistricting was biased, per the Globe.

One unnamed individual connected to PGP alleged to the Globe that Wang would “fudge the numbers to get his way” and that he had a “agenda” favoring Democrats in terms of PGP’s work.

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The Globe withheld the names of the individuals of those who spoke with them, citing fears that they could face retribution by Wang.

Former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr., who was the congressional redistricting tiebreaker, told the Globe that he relied on Wang’s “evaluation of partisan fairness of the maps” as one reason for why he voted for the Democratic map over the Republican one. 

According to the Globe, the Democratic map that passed hurt the re-election prospects of one incumbent and representative of New Jersey’s 7th district Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). On the other hand, the map helped the districts represented by Reps. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), and Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.). They also claim that “a Republican map would have made all four races competitive.”

Wang deferred all comments to Hotchkiss and the University Office of Communications.

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“Based on an initial review conducted after the Congressional Redistricting Commission completed its work, the University knows of no credible allegations of data manipulation pertaining to the work product delivered to the commission,” Hotchkiss wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’

In his initial comments to the Globe, Hotchkiss is quoted as having said only that “[i]n general, the University avoids commenting on pending investigations out of fairness to those involved.”

In the Globe’s reporting, Wang was also accused of mistreating those who worked for him and engaging in “retaliatory acts and job threats.”

The Globe article claimed that “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.” Other PGP employees, the Globe alleged, are currently on leave.

According to “multiple memorandums, letters and emails” apparently obtained by the Globe, the University directed Wang “not to speak directly with his staff” when he was serving as an advisor and analyst to the court-appointed redistricting map for New Jersey. 

On Jan. 21, Senior Human Resources Manager Mary Beth Larkin sent an email, per the Globe’s reporting, telling employees that Wang had been directed to communicate with his staff exclusively in writing, copying human resources and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Oliver Avens on all emails “so that the University has an ongoing record of his requests and staff responses.” 

According to the Globe, Larkin designated, not Wang, but an Electoral Innovation Lab (EIL) worker to give work assignments to PGP staff. She also chose one person to “serve as the conduit for communications with members of the team whose involvement is required,” and told the staffers to “direct any questions regarding those assignments” to that individual, the Globe reported.

On March 1, Larkin notified EIL staff that the probe of Wang was ongoing, per the Globe.

“The University continues to take the investigation seriously,” Larkin wrote in a letter obtained by the Globe to the staff. “During the pendency of the investigation, the University is also more broadly evaluating operations of EIL.”

University Vice President for Human Resources Lianne Sullivan-Crowley, is alleged to have told employees less than a week later in a memorandum, cited in the Globe, that “the measures outlined in Ms. Larkin’s letter are being implemented at the direction of the University, not Professor Wang.”

Sullivan-Crowley ordered staff to not hire any additional employees or interns and to “withdraw or rescind” any offers to interns or employees that may have been made or accepted. She also told them to stop entering into grant or gift arrangements to fund their work or related projects and told them not to enter into any agreements, according to the Globe.

“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 in the memorandum, quoted in the Globe.

Larkin and Sullivan-Crowley did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Hotchkiss added in a statement to the ‘Prince’ that members of the University community are welcome to bring forth any concerns they 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 wrote. 

“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,” Hotchkiss added.

Lia Opperman is an Assistant News Editor who often covers University affairs, student life, and local news. She can be reached at liaopperman@princeton.edu, on Instagram @liamariaaaa, or on Twitter @oppermanlia.

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