Almost two weeks after its first meeting on Nov. 3 the Yale School of Medicine’s Gender Equity Task Force is remaining silent about its plans moving forward.
The task force, chaired by Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Diversity Linda Bockenstedt, was launched in July following discussions among the medical school administration about gender issues before sexual harassment allegations against former cardiology chief Michael Simons MED ’84. But the lack of communication coming from the task force has made several medical school faculty members concerned about its objectivity, necessity and potential efficacy.
“What we don’t need is another faculty committee that’s just going to waste a lot of people’s time doing yet another report that’s going to get buried,” said professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry Joan Steitz.
A medical school faculty member, who asked to remain anonymous because she was afraid of the administration responding negatively, agreed with Steitz, noting that the school does not need another committee but rather a leader who is willing to change the school’s climate.
According to School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern, the lateness of the task force’s first meeting had nothing to do with a lack of enthusiasm for its mission, but was rather due to the hectic schedules of the individuals involved.
Alpern added that the administration was made aware of the Times’s investigation in the week prior to the article’s publication. Still, he said it was a “total coincidence that the first meeting was the Monday after the article was printed by the Times.”
Eleven of 13 faculty members interviewed raised concerns about the task force’s objectivity. Though eight committee members are female, all but two of the 12 were appointed to positions — including chiefs, associate deans, chairs and directors — by the medical school administration.
“Our task force seems to feature a lot of the same people the University has already appointed. Is it really objective or are there favorites?” said another medical school faculty member, who asked to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation by the administration.
Despite the lack of confidence in the task force expressed by multiple faculty members, cardiology professor Steven Wolfson said he thinks the task force is making a serious effort to improve the climate for women at the medical school.
Alpern said that one of the criteria for being a task force member is the ability to think independently, but the first anonymous source said that a large number of outspoken faculty who have worked on gender equity in the past were left out. Alpern said he thinks the 12 individuals selected are the best for the job.
Earlier last week, the Yale Diversity Summit Report of Discussions and Recommendations — produced in February 2014 by an ad-hoc committee that assessed the state of diversity in all areas of the University — was released by University President Peter Salovey to all Yale faculty. Faculty members interviewed said they were unsure of why it took nine months for the report to be released, and the first anonymous source said there are other reports that are being kept from the Gender Equity Task Force. For instance, the individual said that the Yale Medical School Salary Committee — established to examine wage disparities between genders — made its statistical findings available to the administration, but not to the task force.
Bockenstedt would not comment on the direction of the task force beyond referring to the task force’s website, which outlines its plans to review 11 reports spanning from 1999 to 2014. The website does not say anything about what happened at the Task Force’s first meeting. All other committee members either declined or could not be reached for comment.
According to the Diversity Summit Report, 36.5 percent of the ladder faculty at the School of Medicine are female. The report contained 16 recommendations, the last of which was to disseminate the results of the Yale Diversity Summit.