For UWC reform
A version of this letter was sent Wednesday to University President Peter Salovey and the Yale Corporation.
It is, of course, with sadness for Yale that I read the front-page article in the recent New York Times describing the case of Professor Michael Simons. Although I do not know the details of the case, I am deeply troubled by the process involved in this case and wish to propose a modification in Yale’s processes to improve our fairness and independence in future cases.
As stated in the Times and elsewhere, it appears that while an independent University review committee acted with thoroughness, fairness and independence, its recommendation was over-ridden by provostial actions that, according to the Times account, appear to have prima facie elements of conflict of interest.
As a former chair of the Yale College Executive Committee, I had occasion to participate in several similar cases, the outcomes of which required both diplomatic and principled disposition. In the case of recommendations from the Yale College Executive Committee, it is possible, under certain circumstances, to appeal to a Committee of Review which has three options: sustain the Executive Committee’s findings, remand the case for reconsideration by that committee or issue a public statement of its views on the matter. As I understand the Undergraduate Regulations, and as I was assured by the dean with whom I worked, neither the dean of Yale College nor the provost or president would intervene to overrule this process (although I am sure they had the legal authority to do so).
I suggest that Yale University as a whole might be well-served by further insulating the administrative officers from potential and real conflicts and increasing confidence and transparency in the process by adding a second-level appeal committee (independent of the administration) to review recommendations by such University-Wide Committees as was convened in the Simons case. This review committee, similar to the Yale College Committee of Review, would have the options of affirming the original outcome or remanding the case for reconsideration by the original or another faculty review committee. Further, and most importantly, the president (and consequently, the provost and the relevant dean), although having the legal authority to overrule any decision, should make it clear that he or she has sufficient confidence in the Yale University faculty to foreswear this authority.
The writer is a professor of therapeutic radiology and history of medicine and science.
In support of Michael Simons
I am a staff member and professor in the field of vascular biology and angiogenesis at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and I have personally known Dr. Michael Simons for 10 years. Throughout this time, Simons has been an extremely supportive colleague, a valuable mentor and a true gentleman.
I started my own lab in 2000. In the first several years, I was busy writing grants, building a research team and publishing papers. My lab had initial successes — we were able to publish a series of high-profile manuscripts and secure funding. But, despite authoring articles in prestigious journals, I was still largely unknown in the field. As a foreigner and a woman, I found establishing connections more daunting than conducting research. I did not participate in many scientific meetings and did not have many chances to travel to promote my research, as I had a child in 2003. Frankly, I was not known in the field at all.
At the beginning of 2007, Simons invited me to present my work at the upcoming Gordon Conference on vascular cell biology. Intrigued by my published work in PubMed, Simons took a chance on me as a young scientist without tenure or strong connections.
My first talk at the Gordon Conference as an independent investigator opened doors for me as a researcher and helped propel my career. Dr. Simons introduced me to a number of outstanding researchers who later became my collaborators and friends. Moreover, he helped boost my confidence as a young investigator in the field.
Many of my peers have been similarly empowered by Simons’ support and mentorship. Despite the fact he is considered a “titan” in the field, he is very modest. His approachability shows that he truly cares about helping others succeed and advance our field.
As a female scientist, I can testify that I know of nobody who supports women in science as strongly as Michael Simons. Women are well-represented in every meeting he organizes. Dr. Simons has recruited many outstanding female scientists to the Yale Cardiovascular Center.
In our many years of working in the same field, Simons and I have also become friends. As a friend, I have always found Simons to be a real gentleman. He radiates positivity and empathy. I know I can always count on Michael for support and advice.
I believe that Michael Simons is not just a brilliant researcher who pushed the field of vascular biology to a new level. He is a true leader in the field, and I am sure that everybody in our scientific community who really knows Simons supports and respects him. I join many investigators in my field in expressing genuine hope that this story will not tarnish his career and outstanding research.
The writer is a professor at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio.