More than 80 graduate students and union members convened in the lobby of Provost Andrew Hamilton’s office Monday, demanding an open forum with Yale administrators to protest alleged discrimination in University employment practices.
Most of the assembled protestors from the Graduate Employees and Students Organization as well as Locals 34 and 35 gathered outside the Hillhouse Avenue office while their leaders attempted to personally deliver the letter to the provost, but the group subsequently entered the building when the attempt proved unsuccessful. The protestors complained that Yale’s number of minority tenures, Ph.D. recipients and graduate students are all below the national average, while University officials maintained they are committed to encouraging diversity.
“We’ve been fighting for issues of equal access for a long time, addressing issues that have not been resolved,” GESO Co-Chair Melissa Mason GRD ’08 said. “There’s only one black woman with tenure among the graduate faculty, and it doesn’t seem like Yale has a plan for fixing that.”
Some protestors distributed “media advisory” packets, including copies of complaints addressed to Yale administrators, testimonials from former graduate students alleging University discrimination, and statistics taken from a 2003 GESO report on discrimination in Yale’s recruitment, hiring and retention of minority students and faculty.
Mason and other protestors said their attempts to foster dialogue with University administrators — including President Richard Levin and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler — have been rebuffed, but Hamilton said he has made their concerns a priority.
“We are all working hard to find creative ways of doing this, but it is a challenging problem with no quick and easy solution,” Hamilton said. “I met in the last few weeks with graduate student representatives to talk about a wide range of issues of concern to them.”
Hope Johnson, a member of the Local 35 executive board, said she and the other protestors are confident that an open dialogue with University administrators can affect change.
“We just want to meet so we can sit down and talk about some real solutions,” Johnson said.
Hamilton said he would be willing to meet with GESO and union representatives at a scheduled time, but he was unavailable when they arrived on Monday.
“Today, the first day of the semester, is one of the busiest days of the year, and I had meetings scheduled all day,” Hamilton said. “The group … was making unreasonable demands that I cancel my previously scheduled meetings to talk to them. This was simply not fair to the people with whom I was meeting.”
University spokesman Tom Conroy said Yale’s commitment to diversity is unparalleled, but acknowledged that any system dedicated to increasing diversity is imperfect.
“I think that there’s probably no institution that values diversity in its faculty’s staff and student population more than Yale, and the University is active in many ways to ensure diversity and to increase representation among the faculty and staff and students among any populations that are underrepresented,” Conroy said. “It’s an ongoing effort.”
In a speech to the assembled crowd, Mason said she was convinced those in the room would continue to fight for an open forum with University administrators.