No person should face sexual harassment or bullying in the workplace. The News condemns in the strongest terms what a University panel deemed sexual harassment and hostile behavior at the School of Medicine — improper conduct brought to light by The New York Times on Saturday.
According to the Times, Annarita Di Lorenzo, a medical school researcher, and her husband, a cardiology professor, filed a formal complaint in 2013 accusing cardiology chief Michael Simons of sexual misconduct and professional retaliation. The University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct recommended that Simons be removed from his position and be ineligible for high administrative roles for five years.
Following this recommendation, Provost Benjamin Polak, the final decision maker on UWC cases involving faculty members, reduced the penalty to an 18-month suspension and mandated sexual harassment training.
Compared to the UWC recommendation, this is a minor rebuke.
Polak’s decision to modify the UWC recommendation so drastically is troubling. Given what we know about the case, we applaud the UWC for recommending Simons’s dismissal as cardiology chief. We reserve firm judgment on Polak’s decision-making process, namely because he has declined to clarify his reasoning to the News. But questions linger: What information made Polak come to such a radically different conclusion? What made him think the panel’s decision was too severe?
There is merit to concerns that Polak’s decision discredits the UWC as a body designed to adjudicate claims of sexual misconduct. A faculty member interviewed by the News questioned current procedures: “What’s the point of going through the whole [UWC process] if it then gets overturned or modified substantially?” We are asking the same question.
We are concerned about the message this type of discretionary decision-making sends. The UWC hears and decides cases, but the final fate of complainants and respondents depends on an administrator’s judgment. We worry that an opaque chain of command might discourage members of our community from reporting instances of sexual misconduct.
When asked for comment on the case by the Times, Yale said Simons “had decided” to step down from his position as cardiology chief.
This should be a humbling moment for Yale. In a campus-wide email Monday evening, University President Peter Salovey pledged zero tolerance for harassment and bullying while defending Yale’s current method of dealing with sexual misconduct. Instead of providing clarity on what allowed Simons to violate University policies with impunity, Salovey described the work of the newly formed Task Force on Gender Equity.
Why is the task force always created after media scrutiny? We don’t need more panels and committees. We need adequate punishment for people who break the rules.
We are concerned about what the events of the last few days reveal about the University’s attitude toward sexual misconduct. In addition to the authority of the UWC, what this case once again calls into question is Yale’s genuine commitment to fostering a culture of sexual respect.
Administrators must convince us that they are more concerned with the human costs of harassment and assault at this school than with consequent public affairs nightmares. Yale will survive an embarrassing front-page story in the Times. A hostile sexual culture and work environment are permanent scourges.