Egyptology program in hot water

Months after Egyptology professor John Darnell received his one-year suspension for several violations of University policy — including an alleged relationship with associate professor Colleen Manassa ’01 GRD ’05, formerly his student — the repercussions of administrative disciplinary action are still affecting faculty and students in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department.

Darnell will not return to Yale until next fall due to sanctions imposed by Provost Benjamin Polak as a result of a University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct investigation into complaints against Darnell and Manassa, according to an email obtained by the News that NELC Chair Eckart Frahm sent faculty in his department on Aug. 3. The punishment extends by a semester what was initially a one-year suspension without pay that Darnell, who also resigned as chair of the department, announced in January.

Following Darnell’s suspension, the Egyptology program will also not be able to accept new graduate students until fall 2016, and the number of students that NELC, Egyptology’s umbrella department, can accept annually has been reduced from four to three, according to Frahm’s email and two professors in the department.

Students and professors said they do not know the reasoning behind the recent decisions, but that the changes hurt NELC and cast the future of Yale’s Egyptology program in doubt.

Frahm confirmed with the News that Darnell will not return before the 2014–’15 academic year, but he declined to comment on any of the other changes. Upon his return, Darnell will not be able to hold an administrative role, including chair, director of undergraduate studies or director of graduate studies until 2023, according to Frahm’s email. Manassa will also not be allowed to hold an administrative position until 2018.

Darnell could not be reached for comment and Manassa could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

For an undetermined amount of time, classics professor Joe Manning will serve as a supervisor for students enrolled in Egyptology as well as for Darnell and Manassa, according to the email. Manning, who studied Egyptology and Ancient History at the University of Chicago, declined to comment on what he called sensitive subject matter.

“The rationale of this decision is that due to the intimate relationship between the only two faculty members in the program, students might otherwise find it hard to seek independent advice or bring complaints,” Frahm said in his email.

Some students and faculty say the most recent changes threaten the future of the small Egyptology program — one of fewer than 10 that offer doctorates in the United States — at a time when Yale faces a projected $40 million budget deficit.

The program is already small, with seven graduate students at the beginning of the 2012–’13 academic year. All but one of those students is slated to graduate before the fall of 2016, when Egyptology can start admitting students once more. And without Darnell, Manassa is the only Egyptologist on the NELC faculty. Professors in the department criticized what they labeled as seemingly punitive measures by the administration in decreasing the number of students the whole department can accept after transgressions in only one program.

Arabic professor Beatrice Gruendler said graduate students pass down knowledge from one year to the next. Admitting fewer students interrupts that process for Egyptology, she said, and will damage the NELC Department in the future.

“I regard it as quite unfair,” said Assyriology professor Benjamin Foster. “It doesn’t make sense to us. We regard it as, if anything, close to collective punishment.”

In an email to the News, Foster said the future of Egyptology depends on two factors: when Darnell will return, and whether the University wants to restore the program’s reputation and quality.

But Gruendler was more confident about the program’s restoration.

“There’s no way that Egyptology at Yale will die from this,” she said, adding that programs regularly go through less active periods when prominent professors retire.

Arabic professor Dimitri Gutas said he is frustrated with the way in which administrators addressed the transgressions and failed to discipline what he called “breaches of academic integrity.” A liaison between a professor and student, he said, raises the question of who produced that student’s work, and Yale’s failure to address the issue of academic integrity makes it seem tolerant of such behavior.

Gutas also said he has been upset by the lack of transparency in the investigation and by the decision to impose sanctions without providing reasons or consulting members of the department.

“It’s very strange; it’s even worse than NSA. Everything is hush-hush,” he said. “I’m a senior professor in the department and I should know what is happening, but there is absolutely no information on this subject.”

The Egyptology program has “passed through a difficult period,” said Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard. He said the University will ensure that “necessary resources are available” for graduate students in the department. University President Peter Salovey declined to comment, and Provost Benjamin Polak declined to comment before speaking with every faculty member in NELC.

Frahm’s Aug. 3 email came two days after administrators released Yale’s fourth semiannual sexual misconduct report. University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler and University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct Chair Michael Della Rocca would not confirm whether any items about Darnell or Manassa appeared in the most recent report. But a case involving Darnell did appear in the third semiannual report, Graduate School Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister told the News in January, and an update to that complaint is included in the most recent report.

Egyptology is one of three subfields within NELC, along with Assyriology and Arabic & Islamic Studies.

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