Two sources close to the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department said they approached administrators about a “hostile work environment” in the department as early as 2010, two years before John Darnell resigned as chair of the department and was suspended from the faculty on Jan. 8.

Four sources said Darnell and Colleen Manassa ’01 GRD ’05, a former graduate student and current associate professor who is alleged to have maintained an intimate relationship with Darnell since at least 2000, exhibited psychologically damaging behavior toward students and professors in the department in recent years, such as threatening to revoke funding for individual academic projects. Two individuals with close ties to the department said that when they approached senior University administrators with their concerns beginning in 2010, they were told the University could only launch an investigation if the individuals filed formal complaints before the administration.

The sources said they decided not to pursue a formal complaint — which cannot be filed anonymously — because they feared retaliation from Manassa or Darnell, who held administrative leadership positions in the NELC Department and its Egyptology subdivision.  One source said the complaint system engenders “a common culture of fear among the grad students.”

Pamela Schirmeister, associate dean of the Graduate School, confirmed that she met with NELC graduate students who raised concerns over a hostile work environment in the department around 2010. A graduate student who approached Schirmeister said the dean informed the student that the school could launch an investigation against Manassa and Darnell if the students filed a formal complaint, but could not take any action otherwise.

Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said that, to his knowledge, no student has filed a formal complaint against Darnell.

As chair of the NELC Department, Darnell controlled funds from the William K. and Marilyn M. Simpson Endowment for Egyptology at Yale, allocating grant money to individual student projects. Darnell was the only adviser for Egyptology graduate students, and without his support, they could not advance through the graduate program or find a job in academia, an individual close to the department said.

In a Jan. 8 email to graduate students and faculty in NELC, Darnell announced that he had resigned as chair and agreed to a one-year suspension for violating University policy by maintaining an intimate relationship with a student under his direct guidance and with a member of the faculty under his review. In divorce documents filed on Nov. 5, 2012, before the Connecticut Superior Court, Deborah Darnell, John Darnell’s wife, alleges that he had maintained an intimate relationship with Manassa since at least 2000, while Manassa was still an undergraduate.

Deputy Provost Frances Rosenbluth said she referred students who approached her about the relationship to Pollard, and Pollard said all conversation he has had with graduate students from NELC were about their research and mentoring. University President Richard Levin and Yale spokesman Tom Conroy declined to comment on the circumstances that prompted administrators to investigate Darnell’s alleged policy violations.

Manassa enrolled as a graduate student in the department in 2001 and was appointed an assistant professor of Egyptology in 2006.