Darnell suspension rattles Egyptology

When John Darnell agreed to a one-year suspension from the Yale faculty following numerous University policy violations, he left the Egyptology division of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department without a chair and with just one full-time faculty member — associate professor Colleen Manassa ’01 GRD ’05, with whom he allegedly had the intimate relationship that led to his suspension.

Darnell, the only tenured Egyptologist at the University, served as chair of the NELC Department prior to his suspension and advised all seven Egyptology graduate students. Eckart Frahm, acting NELC chair, said he and Graduate School Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister are in the process of establishing a “committee structure” advising program for Egyptology’s seven graduate students, who he worries will suffer from the effects of Darnell’s suspension even after they graduate and advance in their careers. Frahm said it would be “naive” to suggest that Darnell’s resignation and suspension will not taint the reputation of the department in the field, calling his departure a “huge psychological blow” to NELC.

“Clearly what we have to deal with right now is a rather major crisis that affects mostly the graduate students in Egyptology,” Frahm said.

Darnell announced his resignation as NELC chair in a Jan. 8 email to graduate students and faculty in the department, citing an intimate relationship with a student under his direct supervision and with a professor whom he reviewed as reasons for his departure. Since his suspension, multiple sources have told the News that the person involved in Darnell’s violations was Manassa, who allegedly began an affair with Darnell in 2000, according to divorce documents filed by Darnell’s wife before the Connecticut Superior Court on Nov. 5, 2012.

Frahm said he is determined to minimize the effects of Darnell’s resignation and suspension, especially for the Egyptology graduate students.

“Students shouldn’t be held responsible for anything outside their control,” Frahm said.

Frahm said he plans to meet with Schirmeister in the next two weeks to finalize the official structure of the advising committee, in which each graduate student will be assigned one primary adviser, as well as at least two additional professors or professional Egyptologists to consult on drafts of their dissertations. While members of the NELC faculty said they are willing to step into advising roles, Frahm said he also has been in talks with potential advisers at other universities and met privately with each graduate student.

Despite Frahm’s efforts, Egyptology students remain concerned for their academic career prospects.

One Egyptology graduate student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to a reluctance to be associated with Darnell’s resignation, said the disciplinary action taken against Darnell has resulted in an “unfortunate situation” that affects all Egyptology students to varying degrees. The student added that the Egyptology students have been approached by Graduate School administrators, who expressed their intention to work with students for the betterment of the program as a whole, and have been assured by Frahm and Schirmeister that the graduate students are their first priority.

Though another Egyptology graduate student said the program’s small size means that fewer classes will be offered to the students during their course-work years following the suspension, Frahm said he does not anticipate that the department will struggle to provide teaching in Darnell’s absence.

Manassa, who serves as director of undergraduate studies for NELC, declined to comment on the effect of the department’s leadership transition on undergraduates. She is currently the only Egyptologist on the NELC faculty.

Frahm said he does not think Darnell’s resignation and suspension have had an “enormous impact” on the other two subdisciplines of NELC — Arabic Studies and Assyriology. NELC graduate students said the three NELC subfields operate essentially as three different departments, despite the fact that they share the same administration. Arabic professor Beatrice Gruendler said her students have not interacted extensively with Egyptology and were “not at all affected” by Darnell’s absence.

Five graduate students in other NELC subdivisions said Darnell’s absence will not impact their research, adding that Frahm has fulfilled his duties as acting chair.

The NELC Department has a total of 21 graduate students across its subdivisions.

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