Philip Dybvig, Professor and Nobel Prize winner, accused of inappropriate conduct
Photo courtesy of St. Louis Public Radio.
Two Chinese women have come forward with allegations that Olin Professor Philip Dybvig, the 2022 Economic Sciences Nobel Prize recipient, made them uncomfortable during their time as students at Washington University.
These allegations have gained international attention online after a former Olin graduate student posted an allegation of misconduct on WeChat, a social media platform used by many Chinese international students, on Oct. 12.
Dybvig did not respond to multiple requests for comment on these allegations. Andrew T. Miltenberg, a lawyer who specializes in campus misconduct, due process, and Title IX law wrote to Student Life that he is representing Dybvig.
Miltenberg declined to comment for this piece.
The alum, who requested to be anonymous, wrote a detailed allegation of misconduct against Dybvig in Chinese on WeChat in a post that has now been liked thousands of times and reposted on Twitter.
In this post, the alum, who will be referred to as Z, wrote of various interactions with Dybvig in which she said he pulled her onto his lap for a photo, gave her a box of chocolates, touched her hand while sitting on a couch together, and messaged her on Facebook telling her he missed her smile.
Student Life spoke to this alum about the allegation she posted online.
Z was born and raised in China where she earned her bachelor’s degree, before coming to the United States in 2011 to pursue her master’s degree at Olin.
Within the first week or so of her graduate program, Z said that the business school organized a welcome party at a bar on Delmar Boulevard which is where she first met Dybvig.
During this interaction at the bar, Z said Dybvig spoke in Chinese with her which she found pleasantly surprising.
Dybvig has spent significant time in China, where he was the Director of the Institute of Financial Studies at Southwest University of Finance and Economics in Sichuan, China from 2010-2021.
“Back then, as a brand new international student in the Business School, all we wanted to do was network and get to know as many people as possible, including students and professors,” Z said.
Z said that after they started chatting, someone at the bar said “let’s take a picture together” and while the photo was being taken, “Dybvig actually grabbed me and forced me to sit on his lap.”
“In that moment, I felt a little bit weird, but I thought he was just being very nice or friendly so I didn’t think too much of it,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘oh maybe that’s just how American people are.’”
Z said she has since deleted the photo because it made her uncomfortable to keep.
Some time after that initial interaction, Z said Dybvig emailed her that he had brought a gift back for her from a business trip and she should come to his office. She said she went to his office and he proceeded to close the door, asked her to sit down, and “he sat right next to me” and offered her a box of chocolates.
“I was still feeling that he was friendly, so I was happy and I accepted it, but then he started touching my hand and getting really close and started saying ‘oh, I think you’re really pretty, I really like you,’ that kind of stuff,” Z said.
She said she could also see an email draft open on his computer of him calling someone “tianmeizi??” which is a Chinese term she translated to ‘sweet girl’ and said he had also used to address her. She added she did not think this email was directed to his wife because the term also means ‘little girl.’
While they were sitting on the couch together, Z said Dybvig touched her hand in a way that made her uncomfortable. “I really wanted to leave, but I didn’t know how so I gave an excuse — I asked him to start explaining some economic formula to me I had just learned in class so at least I could keep some distance with him,” she said.
Z said that he stood up and wrote a formula on the whiteboard and then came back to sit next to her on the couch. Around this time, she said an Olin Professor walked in and “his face looked awkward and a little bit shocked.”
“He saw that I was sitting next to Philip Dybvig with the door closed in his office,” she said. The professor left, and Z soon left the office because she felt uncomfortable staying, she said.
Later that day, Z said that she bumped into three of her classmates and told them of her interaction with Dybvig. Z did not respond to requests for the names or contact information of any of the three classmates she spoke with that day.
Z said that following the encounter in his office, “he kept emailing me and wanting to meet more, but I felt so uncomfortable, and by then I knew it’s not just a friendly gesture. No professor would be touching a student’s hand and telling her he really likes her.”
After receiving these emails, Z said she wrote him an email saying something like, “I don’t feel comfortable at all, and if you keep doing things like that I’m going to take measurements.”
She said she deleted all of these emails because she “got really grossed out,” but she thinks he replied saying that “it’s just a misunderstanding, we don’t have to make things serious,” and then he stopped messaging her.
A few years after she graduated, Z said Dybvig “randomly messaged me on Facebook again, saying that he misses my smile and he still really likes me and wants to meet up if possible. I thought it was super disgusting, so I deleted his message and then blocked him on Facebook.”
Z sent a screenshot to Student Life of her list of blocked Facebook accounts, and Dybvig’s name is on the list.
She said she never reported Dybvig to the University while she was a student because she was worried about retaliation of any sort from the school.
As Chinese international students, “[we] try to not make any trouble, because if we do, there’s a chance we might be kicked out of school,” Z said. “And then we have to go back to China which defeats the purpose of studying really hard and working towards the goal of studying abroad.”
The allegations that Z brought forth prompted other students to speak with Student Life regarding alleged misconduct from Dybvig.
A Brown School alum spoke to Student Life about an experience a few years ago where she heard about misconduct from an economics professor at the University.
This former student asked to remain anonymous for legal reasons and to not take away space from survivors. She will be refered to as X.
X said that her husband, an Olin Business School alum, heard at a business school event several years ago that “an economics professor at Olin who had the greatest chance of getting a Nobel Prize [had been] constantly harassing Chinese international students.”
She said that the woman who spoke to her husband “said that a lot of people knew about [the harassment], but no one reported it.”
X reported what she heard from her husband to the Title IX office, three years ago. “Back then I didn’t know the name of the professor, I just knew that he had the greatest chance of getting a Nobel Prize and that’s what I told the Title IX office.”
“They said because I didn’t know [the professor’s] name and because [I was] not a victim myself, there’s nothing they could do.”
After she read Z’s comment online, X reported what she had heard years ago to the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center (RSVP) at the University and once again emailed Title IX. She said she has since spoken with people at both offices, but they have not yet followed up with her.
X added that Chinese international students may be hesitant to come forward with allegations of misconduct because they are taught in China that Western people are very open and passionate. The way Chinese people are brought up learning about Western people can lead them to rationalize certain types of physical contact as being normal in the West, she said.
A law school student, who will go by Y for anonymity, also came forward saying an interaction with Dybvig made her uncomfortable. Y took a photo with Dybvig at her friend’s Olin graduation ceremony in 2019.
In the photo, which she sent to Student Life, Dybvig’s left-hand fingers are wrapped around Y’s waist while his same hand can’t be seen at all in similar photo with a male individual.
“I felt very uncomfortable because he held my waist in a very rude way and I felt uncomfortable and hurt,” Y said. “My body was stretched because he forced my waist close to him.”
Y said she avoided any situation in the future where she might have to interact with him.
Later that day when the photo was taken, she asked her father how American men usually comport themselves when taking photos with girls. During that conversation, she didn’t show her father the photo or tell him details of what made her uncomfortable.
In a follow up message to Student Life, Y wrote that after Dybvig won the Nobel Prize, she showed her father the photo and he said “this was definitely not a normal way [for a man to stand with a girl]” which is when she “decided to disclose [her] story.”
“I was not sure if I was thinking too much of this, but now I feel like I wasn’t thinking too much [of this] because he was really rude,” she said.
The allegations against Dybvig, namely Z’s allegations, have been circulated heavily on Twitter.
Jennifer Doleac, an economics professor at Texas A&M University tweeted about the allegations on Oct. 20.
“Recent allegations of sexual harassment and worse against Armin Falk & Philip Dybvig are super troubling, not least because the economics profession & academia more broadly have demonstrated *zero* ability to hold people accountable for such behavior,” she wrote.
These allegations have also been reported on an Instagram page called ‘metoo_washu.’ A post on their Instagram page says that “Multiple students have accused Professor Dybvig of sexual harassment.”
The University has not released any official statement on these allegations. When emailed for a comment from the University, Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications Julie Flory wrote that “we wouldn’t comment or share information about any specific case or individual.”
“I can tell you that we take sexual misconduct very seriously and that we will investigate any allegations that are reported to the university,” Flory added.
According to Flory, Dybvig has been on an approved, year-long faculty leave since July 1, which will last through June 30, 2023.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Dybvig’s lawyer did not provide a comment to Student Life. The article has also been updated to reflect that Z’s comments were circulated heavily on Twitter, not X’s.