Amid persistent allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of power within the Spanish and Portuguese Department, Spanish professor Roberto González Echevarría GRD ’70 — who has been at the heart of many of the allegations — is not at Yale this term, although no public explanation of his absence has been given.
González Echevarría’s absence has become something of a taboo subject within a department already plagued by confusion and secrecy, according to faculty members, graduate students and undergraduates interviewed. The professor’s two undergraduate courses, one about “Don Quixote” and the other about Spanish Golden Age theater, were unexpectedly canceled from online course offerings in late August, with no explanation given to students or staff. The Provost’s Office sent a confidential memo on Aug. 31 to the ladder faculty in the Spanish and Portuguese and Comparative Literature Departments, in which González Echevarría holds appointments, although professors interviewed would only confirm the existence of the memo, not its contents or whether it addressed González Echevarría’s one-semester leave of absence.
The controversy surrounding González Echevarría, a professor renowned for his scholarship in Spanish literature, first emerged in March 2015, when an anonymous group of graduate students wrote a letter to the department and University administrators decrying the allegedly negative atmosphere and abuse of power within the department. The letter singled out González Echevarría, accusing him of sexual harassment.
The department has also struggled in the past two admissions cycles, not matriculating a single new graduate student. The department’s youngest graduate students are currently in their third year, meaning they have already finished their graduate coursework. Professors in the department were told this spring to adjust their teaching schedules as they would only be teaching undergraduate courses.
In response to the department’s struggles, University administrators announced in spring 2015 a broad review of the department, which led to changes such as a mandatory sexual harassment training session for the department’s faculty members and the arrival of an external director of graduate students. However, the review did not recommend any disciplinary action against faculty members, and administrators never publicly linked the sexual harassment training to the allegations against González Echevarría.
Now, his unexplained absence has left some students searching for answers but afraid to ask for them.
“I wanted to take one or even two of [González Echevarría’s] classes, so the cancellations really left a big hole in my schedule,” said an undergraduate Spanish major, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. “I have asked a couple of professors and they avoided the topic. In this department, you can’t ask certain things or people might get mad or offended. The information is so contained but it affects everyone.”
Two undergraduate Spanish majors and two graduate students in the department interviewed said they did not know why González Echevarría was taking a leave of absence, although they had all heard about the previous allegations against the professor.
One Spanish undergraduate major said there is a sense that the González Echevarría’s absence is a “hidden” topic, as faculty members the student has reached out to either did not know the situation or could not talk about it.
A department source knowledgeable about the situation, who also requested anonymity, said that the provost’s memo was “strictly confidential.” The source said the administration’s lack of transparency in addressing issues in the department is ironic, as the department’s opaque decision-making process is one of the issues that caused the initial discontent and subsequent review.
“I think the University administration is creating more problems for itself by adopting such an absurdly secretive policy,” the source said.
The cancellation of the two courses has also caused logistical difficulties. The source noted that the changes mean that upper-level seminars have to take in many more students than is usually allowed.
Various administrators interviewed confirmed Gonzalez Echevarria’s leave of absence but declined to comment further. Department Chair Rolena Adorno said Gonzalez Echevarria will return to teaching in the spring.
Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Tamar Gendler said faculty members take leaves of absences for a variety of reasons, but said she could not comment further on specific cases out of respect for the privacy of faculty members.