Scandal still strains Egyptology

Photo by Baobao Zhang.

In January 2013, allegations emerged of an affair between Egyptology professor John Darnell and Associate Professor Colleen Manassa ’01 GRD ’05 while Manassa was a student under Darnell’s supervision. One year after the scandal, students and faculty in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) department — the umbrella department of Yale’s Egyptology program — are still hurting from the consequences, which include Darnell’s continued suspension from the University and a consequent lack of advising for graduate students in the program.

Darnell and Manassa are the only two faculty members in Egyptology at Yale, and Darnell was the only senior professor and advisor in the Egyptology program. One graduate student in the program, who requested to remain anonymous, said graduate research has been “severely halted” by Darnell’s suspension.

Assyriology Professor Benjamin Foster GRD ’75 said the University tapped history Professor Joseph Manning to mobilize graduate advising committees to replace Darnell — often looking to outside scholars for membership in the committees. But the University has not offered financial compensation to these outside advisors and some have declined to assist the Yale students, according to the graduate student.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said Manassa is unable to advise the Egyptology graduate students because she does not have tenure. But Foster said the reason Manassa is not currently advising graduate students has more to do with the “situation of last year.”

Foster said the current uncertainty of Egypt’s political climate has further impeded the research of Yale’s Egyptology graduate students, with the department hesitant to send students into a dangerous situation.

“It’s not a place we’re eager to see our students go,” Foster said. “You don’t want people out in rural Egypt if there’s going to be a revolution.”

Since Darnell’s suspension, at least one of the seven graduate students listed on the Egyptology program’s website has dropped out of the program.

When news broke of the scandal last year, the University imposed a one-year suspension without pay on Darnell, which meant that the professor would be back on campus this semester. But last semester, University Provost Benjamin Polak extended the sanctions until fall 2014 as a result of an investigation by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.

Darnell’s absence has strained Yale’s already-small program in Egyptology, halting the admission of new Egyptology graduate students until fall 2016 and lowering NELC’s annual admission cap from four to three graduate students.

“At the present time, we’re not taking graduate students in Egyptology, so obviously not doing that well at the moment,” Foster said.

James Allen, an Egyptologist at Brown University, said the nine other North American universities that offer Egyptology graduate programs have not benefitted from Yale’s hiatus.

Brown’s Egyptology program regularly receives 15 times more applications than it can admit, Allen said, noting that the same figures apply elsewhere. As no graduate program can increase its number of accepted students, Yale’s suspension is not benefitting other graduating programs, but rather limiting the number of slots for aspiring Egyptologists in the United States and Canada.

While Allen said Yale’s program has suffered a “setback,” Foy Scalf, an Egyptology graduate student at the University of Chicago, said top-notch research has come out of Yale’s Egyptology program in the past year. Scalf cited a museum exhibit and catalogue produced by Manassa, a book by Darnell and “compelling” papers at conferences by graduate students Niv Allon and Julia Hsieh as examples of this research.

“The research being produced by the Yale Egyptology department remains among the top of the field,” Scalf said.

Still, if he were applying to graduate programs today, Scalf said he would be concerned that the fallout of last year’s scandal could have negative consequences for his future career.

Darnell and Manassa could not be reached for comment.

There are 10 academic Egyptology programs in North America.

Comments