One month ago, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations chair John Darnell admitted to an affair with a student-turned-professor under his direct supervision. His actions violated policies set forth in the Faculty Handbook. Darnell and various administrators reached an informal resolution, deciding that a one-year unpaid suspension from the faculty would be sufficient punishment.
But it is important to remember that Darnell did not only violate the explicit terms of the handbook. Even more troubling, his relationship with associate professor Colleen Manassa ’01 GRD ’05 created a culture of intimidation and mistrust under his departmental leadership — compromising the ability of students and faculty within the department to pursue academic research and free expression in an open and safe environment.
Through his abrupt departure, Darnell fractured his department. Today, NELC has only one full-time Egyptologist and his former students are without their primary adviser. This state of affairs threatens the ability of its students to further their research and their careers.
But the revelation of Darnell’s affair did not merely expose a scandal in the NELC Department; it also revealed that our University — an institution that, over the past several years, has made too many headlines for its sexual climate — lacked an effective structure for handling the situation.
In the Darnell case, the University relied upon a system of complaints that would have revealed the name of anyone who came forward. This system forced NELC students and faculty to make an impossible choice: Stay silent and attempt to learn and teach in a hostile environment, or challenge Darnell and risk his retribution. When early student concerns were raised, it is clear that administrators did not heed the warning.
Given the extent and duration of Darnell’s actions, a one-year suspension from the faculty is a mere slap on the wrist. Though he has resigned from his leadership of the NELC Department, Darnell will return to Yale next January to resume his teaching and research.
While we would like to propose a more adequate punishment for Darnell’s policy violations, we are left unable to do so. The Faculty Handbook outlines the rules that govern professors’ work at Yale, yet it lacks any clear description of how rule-breakers will be punished.
In fact, after outlining the many reasons why a professor must not have an intimate relationship with a student under his or her direct supervision, Section XXI, Part B of the Faculty Handbook offers a one-line suggestion concerning possible punishment: “Violations of the above policies by a teacher will normally lead to disciplinary action.”
Furthermore, Yale’s official policy suggests that it is “desirable” to reach an informal — and therefore closed-door and nontransparent — resolution. This weak reaction to such severe violations of University policy leads us to question whether the University sees its faculty regulations as a codified set of rules, or merely strongly worded suggestions.
Until administrators explain their method for determining Darnell’s punishment — and how that punishment is commensurate with his actions — the former NELC chair will serve as a testament to students and professors across the University that violations of Yale’s own rules will not merit serious punishment.