Princeton University is investigating Sam Wang for research misconduct and toxic workplace issues
Princeton University has launched an internal investigation into Sam Wang, the controversial head of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, after members of his staff alleged he manipulated data to fit his personal agenda and mistreated people who worked for him.
As a result of the investigation, Princeton University ordered Wang not to speak directly with his staff while he served as an adviser to the court-appointed tie-breaker for New Jersey’s legislative redistricting commissions, according to several memoranda, letters and e-mails. from the Department of Human Resources at Princeton University obtained by the New Jersey Globe.
In addition to complaints that Wang created a toxic work environment that included acts of retaliation and threats of employment, and a possible violation of Title IX, three people directly linked to the Princeton Gerrymandering project have confirmed that the university is investigating. also on allegations of research misconduct against the professor of neuroscience. -became an activist for redistricting. The New Jersey Globe is withholding the names of the three individuals, who feared becoming the target of further reprisals from Wang.
Complaints were filed before and during the period that Wang served as an adviser to the Independent Congress’s redistricting tiebreaker.
While working on the New Jersey redistricting, Wang was accused of manipulating data to get the result he wanted, the three people confirmed.
“He was falsifying the numbers to get his way,” one individual said. “He had a program. He was good at hiding it when necessary, but it was clear that Sam wanted the Democrats to win and he was willing to cheat to make that happen.
Staff members of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project raised considerable objections to a report Wang had written on New Jersey’s congressional redistricting, which they called biased. A senior legal strategist on Wang’s team, a top law school graduate who had clerked for two federal judges, worked through the night to rewrite sections that leaned in favor of the Democratic map in a bid to seek the appearance of greater objectivity.
The Congressional redistricting tie-breaker, former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr., said he was relying on “the partisan fairness assessment of the maps of Wang in his amplification of why he voted for the Democratic card.
Wallace said the cards submitted by both parties were constitutional and compliant with federal voting rights law.
But Wallace was unaware that Wang was facing an investigation at Princeton for research misconduct.
“I’m not aware of any investigation,” Wallace said in an email to The New Jersey Globe.
Internally at Princeton, there were concerns that Wang was manipulating Wallace, a 78-year-old technophobe, into feeding him data with a spin.
“Sam is a salesman. He knows how to do this,” one of the individuals said.
The Democratic card has 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 Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) , Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) more favorable to the Democrats. A Republican card would have made all four races competitive.
For his work as Wallace’s redistricting adviser, 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 Princeton’s Electoral Innovation Lab (EIL) did most of the work calculating Democratic and Republican card submission numbers, including what was described as a considerable number of hours preparation for card negotiations, Princeton University did not receive any payment.
Instead, consulting fees were paid directly to Wang, records show.
Wang declined to comment and referred inquiries to Princeton University’s communications office.
“Generally, the University avoids commenting on ongoing investigations out of fairness to those involved,” said Michael E. Hotchkiss, spokesman for Princeton University.
The New Jersey Globe reported in January that staffers at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project had quietly given Democrats valuable feedback that would ultimately play into their final map submission: that Republicans were doing a good job limiting the division of cities and municipalities and that the Democrats needed to do better.
Staff members express concern over the conflict between academic integrity and the source of funding for the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. They added further confirmation to another New Jersey Globe report that major funding came from donors with ties to national and state Democrats.
Allegations that Wang abused his staff
Since the New Jersey Congressional map was passed, several Princeton Gerrymandering Project staff members have left their jobs, most prematurely and some due to Wang’s partisanship over data and personal arrogance. The remaining employees are currently furloughed, despite major redistricting events happening across the country right now.
Princeton University ordered employees of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and EIL to stop speaking with Wang in early January, before the legislative redistricting process began.
On January 21, Mary Beth Larkin, senior human resources manager at Princeton, sent an email notifying all employees that Wang had been asked to communicate with his staff only in writing, copying human resources on all emails. mails “so that the University has a continuous follow-up”. record of their requests and the staff’s responses.
Larkin also ordered that Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Oliver Avens be copied as well.
“We ask Professor Wang to provide clear instructions to each staff member he contacts for an inquiry or assignment, and to specify a reasonable time frame for responding or processing his inquiries whenever possible,” said Larkin said. “The University expects all EIL employees to provide appropriate and substantive responses to Professor Wang’s inquiries within the specified timeframes.”
A February email from Larkin directed Wang’s team on how the legislative redistricting tie-breaker, former state appeals court judge Philip Carchman, would arrange 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 transaction card brokered by Carchman and the two parties.
Larkin designated an EIL employee – not Wang – to assign tasks to staff and designated a person to “act as a channel for communications with team members whose involvement is required.” She ordered staff members to “direct any questions regarding these assignments” to that person.
On March 1, 2022, Larkin informed EIL staff by letter that the investigation of Wang was ongoing.
“The University continues to take the investigation seriously,” Larkin said. “Pending the investigation, the University is also evaluating EIL’s operations more broadly.”
Six days later, Lianne Sullivan-Crowley, vice president of human resources at Princeton, told employees in a memorandum that “the actions outlined in Ms. Larkin’s letter are being implemented at the direction of the university, and not from Professor Wang”.
Sullivan-Crowley directed the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to immediately cease entering into or entering into any grant or gift arrangements to fund their work or related projects, or hiring additional employees or interns, “in particular, to facilitate the completion of ongoing workplace complaint investigations and the evaluation of EIL’s operations.
She also ordered them to “withdraw or rescind” any offers to interns or employees that may have been made or accepted. The summer internship program has been “paused”.
“When Professor Wang was tasked with implementing these measures, he was also reminded of his obligation to adhere to the University’s policy against retaliation,” Sullivan-Crowley said.
Sullivan-Crowley also said Wang was reminded to follow Princeton’s policies regarding the protection of data and information, including analytical work and computer records.
Hotchkiss, the Princeton spokesman, avoided questions about details about the Wang investigation.
“Members of the university community are always free to raise concerns about their school or work environment. When concerns are brought to its attention, the University investigates them in accordance with its policies and takes action to address them, as appropriate,” Hotchkiss said. “While a review is in progress, the University may implement interim measures as it deems necessary to ensure that the investigation is thorough, impartial and fair, and that the work or teaching environment affected is managed appropriately.”
Larkin declined to comment when reached at her office on Wednesday. Arens did not respond to a call at 11:27 a.m. Wednesday seeking comment.
It is not immediately clear whether internal Princeton University policy conflicted with the confidentiality agreements between the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and the redistricting commissions. But it has been confirmed that various iterations of redistricting maps – considered top secret by the commissioners – have been shared with Princeton’s human resources office and with a university dean.
Wang National Profile
Wang, who has sought a national platform for his views on redistribution issues, appears to have created problems for Princeton University in other states as well.
A Republican North Carolina lawmaker has sought to remove Wang as a research assistant to a court-appointed special master for parliamentary and legislative redistricting, alleging the Princeton professor violated a court order by s engaging in ex parte communications” with the experts retained by the applicant before and after their official appointment. But a judge in that case rejected a GOP bid to impeach 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’, said a person associated with the group at the New Jersey Globe.
When the staff complained to Wang that they considered the change in rank to be unethical, he allegedly lambasted and threatened retaliation against them.
A person recounted how Wang once added a deadbolt to the door of the Princeton Gerrymandering project office to keep his staff out.
In New York, where the state Court of Appeals on Wednesday struck down the state’s Congressional and Senate districts, a former Princeton Gerrymandering Project research associate, Jonathan R. Cervas, has become the appointed special master by the court responsible for redrawing the maps.
Cervas, now a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, worked for Wang from 2018 to 2021 and co-taught a course on recutting and gerrymandering at Princeton.