Darnell suspended following affair with fellow professor, former student

John Darnell, chair of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department, announced his one-year suspension from the Yale faculty in a department-wide email Tuesday, explaining that he had violated University policy by maintaining an intimate relationship with a student and a professor under his review — infractions that sources said were an open secret within the department.

Four individuals with close ties to the department told the News that Darnell’s policy violations involve NELC associate professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Colleen Manassa ’01 GRD ’05, who was his student as both an undergraduate and doctoral candidate. The relationship was common knowledge within the department, the sources said, and three sources confirmed that Darnell and Manassa, who are both professors within the Egyptology subdivision of the department, have had romantic relations at least since when Manassa was a graduate student.

Professors, students and alumni declined to be quoted due to the small size of the department, which currently has 10 professors, including Darnell, and 21 graduate students. Darnell, who will retain tenure at the University throughout his suspension, did not respond to multiple requests for comment last week. Manassa declined to comment last Friday on whether she had an intimate relationship with Darnell. She remains employed as an associate professor.

In the Jan. 8 department-wide email, Darnell said he agreed to the suspension and resigned as chair, writing that his violations consisted of maintaining an intimate relationship with a student under his direct supervision, participating in the review of a faculty member with whom he had an intimate relationship and using his leadership role in Egyptology to cover up his illicit behavior. The Yale University Faculty Handbook states that professors must avoid sexual relationships with students over whom they have “direct pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities.”

According to the Faculty Handbook, the University president may convene a body called the University Tribunal to rule on tenured professors accused of violating policy. The Handbook also states that “it is desirable that informal procedures (looking to the possibility of a settlement of the dispute) be invoked before a Tribunal Panel exercises jurisdiction.”

University President Richard Levin and University spokesman Tom Conroy declined to comment on how administrators and Darnell determined his punishment.

Darnell and Manassa have collaborated on numerous academic projects in recent years. The two professors taught the undergraduate course “The Age of Akhenaton” in spring 2011 and co-authored multiple publications. According to Manassa’s faculty page, she is currently working on a monograph titled “Inscribed Material from the Quarries of Gebel el-Asr” with Darnell.

Manassa majored in NELC as an undergraduate and enrolled as a doctoral candidate in the department after graduation, earning her Ph.D. and joining the faculty as an assistant professor of Egyptology in 2006.

Though Darnell will not teach “Demotic Texts,” the course he was slated to teach this semester, Manassa will supervise senior essays and teach the undergraduate course “Egyptomania” and two graduate courses during the spring term, according to Online Course Information. Darnell and Manassa were scheduled to give a lecture titled “Echoes of Egypt: Conjuring the Land of the Pharaohs” at the Peabody Museum on Jan. 16, but Melanie Brigockas, public relations director for the museum, said she was “informed by Colleen that she will be giving the talk herself and not in conjunction with John as originally planned.” She added that Manassa provided no further details.

Levin wrote in a Jan. 8 email to the department that Yale College Dean Mary Miller will interview members of the department and advise Levin on the selection of a new department chair for the fall 2013 term, and Director of Graduate Studies Eckart Frahm will serve as acting chair in the meantime. Frahm said Egyptology students are currently one of his “main concerns,” particularly those whose dissertations Darnell advised. Frahm said he is coordinating the reassignment of Egyptology students to other advisers, adding that the new advisers may come from other departments at Yale or outside the University.

“For NELC students, this may be somewhat embarrassing, but I don’t think they are substantially affected in their classes or anything else,” Frahm said. “I will try to make this as least disruptive to the department as possible.”

As of last Friday morning, Frahm had met with all Egyptology graduate students currently in New Haven to discuss their plans and concerns, and he said he will speak with the remaining few when they return to campus. Frahm added that their main concerns pertain to dissertation advising and course selection.

Though Darnell’s departure leaves the Egyptology discipline within NELC with one professor, one professor emeritus and Manassa, Frahm said Darnell’s absence should not significantly impact course selection for Egyptology students since Darnell was scheduled to teach only one credit class this semester. He added that he does not anticipate Darnell’s absence to have any additional effects on teaching this year.

Darnell joined the Yale faculty as an assistant professor in 1998.

Correction: Jan. 16

A previous of this article misidentified Colleen Manassa ’01 GRD ’05 as an assistant professor.

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