In response to recent scrutiny of the University’s sexual misconduct policy, the members of the Yale Women Faculty Forum’s Steering Committee sent a letter to University President Peter Salovey 11 days ago voicing concerns and suggestions about the process.
The letter, sent on Nov. 7, outlined three recommendations to improve the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and posed larger questions of gender equity at the University. The recommendations, outlined in a statement from the WFF provided to the News, suggested a general review of UWC procedures, a reconsideration of confidentiality policies and an effort to address structural issues of climate, diversity, leadership and equity across the University.
“It’s important that people don’t think this is just about sexual misconduct — it’s not,” WFF Chair and Yale School of Medicine professor Paula Kavathas said. “The conversation today is, how do we create the environment that will lead to all people thriving at the institution and achieving gender equity and diversity?”
One day after the letter was sent, Salovey responded to the WFF.
“I found the letter quite constructive, and I am delighted to be collaborating with the WFF in improving diversity and gender equity at Yale,” he said.
University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler declined to comment. Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd could not be reached for comment Monday evening.
Beyond a general review of UWC procedures, the statement specifically called for a reconsideration of the role of a final decision maker in reviewing cases and deciding sanctions.
As Yale’s system of charging a single individual — for example, the provost or dean, depending on the case — with reviewing appeals puts that individual in a “difficult position,” the WFF suggested a three-person panel instead.
“In light of the experiences using the current procedures, it is time to reconsider the methods of decision making and how to disseminate information about processes and outcomes,” the statement said.
In addition, the statement expressed concerns that Yale’s procedures lack certain standards, including specific terms for a decision maker’s recusal and the need for a decision’s justification.
The WFF suggested that having information on punishments and requiring decision makers to provide reasoning for modifying those sanctions could be useful in situations where the decision maker must balance competing concerns — for example, if penalizing a respondent could cost him or her their visa.
In its second recommendation, the statement suggested that the UWC’s current blanket policy of obligatory confidentiality — specifically that individual complainants are required to keep decisions confidential — should instead be determined on an individual basis. Since the community needs information on cases and their resolutions in order to understand the UWC process and its challenges, the University must find ways to make the knowledge available, the statement added.
“The current practices, shaped by federal regulations, are not sufficient to facilitate the development of shared norms about the problems presented,” the statement said.
Astronomy professor and WFF steering committee member Meg Urry said that while respecting confidentiality in sensitive cases is important, it cannot come at the cost of the University community’s trust.
She added that the Nov. 1 New York Times story about sexual harassment charges against the School of Medicine’s former cardiology chief, Michael Simons MED ’84, seemed to reveal “a lot of mistrust” by the medical school community in senior administrators’ decision-making.
“In a University whose leadership is dominated by senior white men, and you see the benefits and accommodations being offered to senior white men, it creates the possibility that others in the University imagine there’s preference,” Urry said. “There has to be a sense of trust which is built by information, not just friendship.”
In a third point, the statement raised concerns about the gender climate at the University as a whole, beyond cases of sexual misconduct.
“We hope that the debate about sexual misconduct, both at Yale and nationally, does not eclipse the structural issues of which sexual misconduct is a part,” the statement said. “Problems about climate, diversity, leadership and equity have concerned faculty at the Medical School, as well as at other professional schools, for a long time.”
While the statement acknowledged moves the University has made to improve the climate for women — for example, convening a Gender Equity Task Force at the medical school, creating a University-wide deputy provost for faculty development and diversity, and releasing a report last week by the Yale Visiting Committee on Diversity — it also warned that in the past “many committees and many reports have accumulated without producing sufficient change.”
In addition to the diversity report, at least seven different reports have been written within the last 10 years addressing issues of gender equity and sexual harassment on campus. Some of the reports’ findings were never made public, said WFF steering committee member and School of Medicine professor Shirley McCarthy. In particular, McCarthy cited a report that analyzed equity in faculty salaries.
She added that committees do not help much in promoting gender equity.
“A number of faculty feel that often committees are just a way to push the problem to the side,” McCarthy said. “I believe that institutional values change when leaders believe in [them] … Leadership at the top is critical.”
Kavathas said one structural change Yale could implement is setting a goal for increasing the number of female chairs at the School of Medicine and instituting a means of holding administrators accountable to that target.
According to Salovey, the WFF, in the letter, also thanked him for participating in the Gender Rules conference at the School of Management on Nov. 1, expressed support for his attendance at the first meeting of the School of Medicine’s new Gender Equity Task Force, and expressed “delight” at the appointment of a deputy provost for faculty development and diversity.
Kavathas added she is optimistic that significant change will follow these discussions, as the opportunity for real change at the University is at a level she has never seen before.
“It is a combination of both what’s happening nationally in terms of conversations, but also something unique that is happening at Yale’s campus, in terms of conversations we are having now that we have not seen in the past,” Kavathas said.
Specifically, she cited the Gender Rules conference organized by WFF and Yale Women on women’s access and equality, the Yale Diversity Summit Report of Discussions and Recommendations — produced in February 2014 by an ad-hoc committee — and Salovey’s commitment to diversity as some of the initiatives that have moved Yale toward a new level of commitment and engagement.
Urry said she recognizes that changes will not be automatic, but that Yale must commit to addressing problems of equity.
“I think as long as we lack gender equity then we are seriously deficient in being as excellent as we could be,” she said.