In light of recent media coverage, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct will host an internal town hall meeting, tentatively set for this afternoon, to discuss its policies and address potential concerns, according to an email obtained by the News.
Over the past two weeks, the University’s handling of sexual misconduct has received significant media attention. On Nov. 1, The New York Times exposed a case of sexual harassment at the School of Medicine, and last Friday, the News reported the details of another case of alleged sexual misconduct between two Yale College students. Last Thursday, UWC Chair David Post sent an email to committee members proposing a meeting that will allow them to voice any concerns or questions they might have about UWC procedures.
“At this time, the UWC and our procedures are receiving considerable attention and scrutiny,” Post wrote. “I know many of you may have questions or concerns about the issues raised by the press coverage and resulting conversations across the Yale community.”
A UWC member who asked to remain anonymous, citing confidentiality requirements, said it is important that the committee revisit its procedures in light of recent media attention.
The member added that while it is not clear exactly how any potential procedural change would be implemented — it could come from within the committee or from the administration — the UWC is a relatively new body that has continued to adapt since its creation.
“I think the general feeling among many members of the committee is that there are some cracks in the foundation,” the member said. “We all find the work we do very valuable, very necessary, but if the way we’re doing it isn’t working or isn’t producing just outcomes, then we need to revisit how we go about things.”
The UWC member said the recent media coverage has done its best to be fair with the material it has been given, but ultimately no one but the people in the room during a UWC hearing can truly understand how any panel reaches a decision.
In an open letter to University President Peter Salovey and the Yale Corporation, which was also printed as a letter in the News on Nov. 6, professor of therapeutic radiology and history of medicine and science William Summers suggested that the UWC implement a second-level appeal committee to review UWC recommendations. Summers is a former chair of the Executive Committee, which employs a similar process.
University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler could not be reached for comment early Sunday afternoon. Eleven other UWC members also could not be reached for comment.
While some School of Medicine faculty have expressed concerns about the UWC process following the sexual harassment allegations against former cardiology chief Michael Simons, other faculty members interviewed were more optimistic.
“I think that the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct is a very good thing, and I am glad that Yale has it,” American Studies professor Laura Wexler wrote in an email. “That said, it seems apparent that ideas for improvement might be helpful, and I am pleased and impressed that the Committee will hold this town hall.”
Of 11 professors contacted, seven declined to comment. Four of those seven said that they were aware of the recent media coverage but did not know enough about UWC procedures to comment.
Sociology professor Jeffrey Alexander acknowledged the difficulties in designing sexual misconduct policies, especially as national conversation about the topic has not yet arrived at any clear consensus.
“This is an extraordinarily complicated issue, not only for this university and others but for the entire nation,” he wrote in an email. “Because cultural expectations about sexuality are changing with such incredible velocity, there is much ambiguity inside of what seems an emerging consensus. It will probably be some time before cultural expectations become transparent and norms become consensual, no matter what policies and laws decree.”
He added that the problems faced by the University in sexual misconduct cases are not specific to Yale’s policy-makers or attributable to any malicious intent on their part.
“My sense is that the problems Yale is experiencing are not caused by evildoers,” he said. “Authorities are trying hard to get it right even when they get it wrong.”
Women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor Margaret Homans said she has been following the coverage closely and would be interested in attending a meeting about UWC procedures. She did not comment further, except to “join [her] voice to the general chorus of dismay.”
Overall, the anonymous UWC member said, the town hall will be a valuable opportunity for committee members’ voices to be heard. The member added that it would hopefully help spread the information to the larger campus community.
“It’s important to me that if the committee is visiting its procedures, regardless of what those changes are, I think the student body should be informed,” the member said.
The UWC is composed of 42 students, faculty and staff.