Economist quits German research institute after academics protest

Almost 700 scholars signed an open letter protesting Armin Falk’s appointment to the Institute of Labor Economics, referencing sexual misconduct allegations

November 20, 2023
Entrance to the University of Bonn
Source: iStock

A German economist recently appointed as the head of the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) has withdrawn from the role after almost 700 academics signed an open letter in protest, citing “severe allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power” made against him.

Armin Falk, professor of economics at the University of Bonn and until recently the chief executive of the Institute on Behavior and Inequality (Briq), was announced as the new IZA leader on 10 November, succeeding Simon Jäger. In a public statement, funding body the Deutsche Post Foundation (DPS) revealed that Briq would be “reintegrated” into IZA and Dr Jäger would step down.

In response, 678 academics – among them the 2023 Nobel laureate Claudia Goldin – signed a letter addressed to the DPS and the University of Bonn, stating their intent to renounce any IZA fellowships and affiliations unless Professor Falk’s appointment was overturned. “Appointing Professor Falk to lead IZA would be deeply damaging to the institution, demoralising to its many affiliates, and a humiliating step backward for the economics profession,” the letter read.

In a statement released on 20 November, the DPS said that Professor Falk had “asked that the DPS release him from his position as CEO of Briq and withdraw his appointment to lead IZA”. The DPS would “comply with his request with regret”, the statement continued.

Sexual abuse allegations against Professor Falk emerged on social media in October 2022, after which Briq announced an independent investigation. In March 2023, Briq stated that the allegations were “not confirmed” by the investigation, and they considered Professor Falk to be “fully rehabilitated”. In a subsequent statement, the University of Bonn said the institution considered Professor Falk to be “fully exonerated from the allegations made”.

The open letter addressed the investigations into the allegations, reading: “While we have concerns about the process through which the case was handled, we are aware an enquiry has taken place and that the allegations were not confirmed. We do not take a stance on the allegations. We nevertheless found the initial response of Briq, then under Professor Falk’s leadership, deeply offensive and irresponsible.”

The person who made the sexual misconduct allegations against Professor Falk died recently, the open letter stated, adding: “In this context, Professor Falk’s appointment to the head of IZA is insensitive and inappropriate.”

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