We are hard-pressed to find an issue more worthy of Jonathan Holloway’s focus as dean than sexual violence. Previous editorials in this series have addressed student body expansion, academic resources, classroom space. This matters more.
Sexual misconduct is finally getting the attention it deserves — the attention of the media, of health professionals and of lawmakers.
At least part of the national media’s attention has been trained on Yale. A front page New York Times story in October raised questions about the University’s handling of a case of sexual harassment at the medical school. The details of the case, which involved purported sexual advances and professional reprisal, could not match the gut-wrenching description of an alleged gang rape in a fraternity at the University of Virginia, reported this month by Rolling Stone.
Too often university administrators run from the issue of sexual misconduct, which disproportionately affects college campuses. But it’s the job of the Yale College dean to safeguard the values of the undergraduate community — Holloway should own this issue. He should elevate it and pledge his time and energy to reinvigorating the aspects of the University’s procedures that work and reforming the aspects that do not. Where decisions lie outside Holloway’s control, as many in fact do, he should fight for a seat at the table, or at least exert pressure from the outside.
In other words, Holloway should lead.
Surely, Yale has come a long way in tackling this issue, and we acknowledge that our University is leaps and bounds ahead of other schools in even having a special committee that tries cases of sexual misconduct. We have no doubt that members of the University Wide-Committee are exceptionally committed to creating a safe sexual climate on campus.
In focusing on the procedures of the UWC, we do not mean to inflate the role this disciplinary body plays in Yale’s sexual culture. It’s ultimately the responsibility of individual members of our community to hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct. But the two are linked.
This editorial leaves undisputed large parts of UWC procedure, including the existence of an informal and a formal complaint process. Chiefly, Yale’s interest should be in ensuring people feel safe to bring complaints forward and ensuring those complaints are adjudicated fairly. By and large, Yale is on the right track.
Still, recent media reports reveal that there is room for improvement. We have several specific recommendations, which we hope Holloway will champion.
First is timeliness and accountability. A News investigation of a UWC case (“Enough alcohol to call it rape?” Nov. 7) revealed that the UWC repeatedly failed to abide by the timeline outlined in its online procedures. The appointment of a fact-finder, the fact-finder report and the final panel report all came days or weeks late. Further, Holloway did not render his final decision in the case within 14 days following the hearing.
This is unacceptable. As students, we are docked a letter grade when we turn in an assignment a day late. One would think deadlines mattered equally to administrators handling claims of sexual assault.
The problem extends beyond scheduling. The complainant in the News’ story reported difficulties in email communication with Title IX Coordinator Angela Gleason and others to the point that she felt like a “petulant toddler” — hopelessly sending unanswered emails to people who are supposed to be figures of calm authority in these proceedings.
Psychologists and health professionals tell us that one of the most profound impacts of sexual assault is the loss of control; victims are robbed of agency. Readers may draw different conclusions from the details of the News’ story about the merits of the claim, but everyone deserves to be treated with respect. A higher degree of care and responsiveness is called for.
We’ve heard from sources, both within the UWC and beyond, that the body is under-staffed, lacking the requisite personnel to handle the volume of cases it is tasked with deciding. Everything must be done to make sure the UWC has the resources it needs to do this most important job.
Second, the fact-finder assigned to each case must be independent of the University, as dictated by UWC procedure. A supervisor from the Yale Child Study Center was appointed fact-finder in the case examined by the News — hardly independent of the University. The independence of the fact-finder is necessary to ensure the probe into the case proceeds without bias.
Finally, we recommend the creation of a decision maker oversight panel. Sometimes the final decision maker — the provost, a dean or another administrator, depending on the respondent — merely signs off on the decision of the five-person UWC panel, which examines evidence and interviews both parties and additional witnesses. But, as the Times story revealed, sometimes this person unilaterally, and drastically, alters the recommended punishment.
This is too much power in the hands of an individual who didn’t sit through the hearing or speak to the parties. In order to reduce the likelihood of misinformed decision-making — and to eliminate the possibility of conflict of interest — an oversight panel should review cases in which the final decision maker chooses to modify or reject a UWC recommendation.
We urge Holloway to use his position as dean of the College to advocate for these three recommendations. It is an opportunity to make sexual climate the issue that defines his deanship.