Following weeks of controversy surrounding professional and sexual misconduct at the Yale School of Medicine, a Tuesday evening town hall meeting, moderated by School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern, attracted over 100 faculty members with the promise of addressing their concerns.
The town hall was prompted by a recommendation by the Ad Hoc Task Force on Gender Equity, which launched in July to address issues that impact the career advancement of women in the School and the under-representation of women in leadership positions. Despite conceding that Alpern was humble and took questions for over an hour, attendees criticized certain responses regarding the tolerance of sexual harassment at the medical and the lack of female department chairs.
“I’m committed to respectful care and equitable treatment of faculty staff and students as well as maintaining an environment that is respectful and addresses any misconduct of any kind is critical in achieving the mission of the school,” Alpern told the News Tuesday night.
Alpern said he thought it was important to clarify pervasive misunderstandings in the community during the first 10 minutes of the meeting First, he said he was committed to maintaining a fair environment that promptly responds to instances of misconduct. Second, he recognized the importance of an independent grievance process and denied any suggestions of having influenced or manipulated such processes. Finally, he affirmed that the revenue generated by a person involved in a grievance process holds no bearing on the results of such proceedings.
One faculty member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said that at one point, Alpern said there was a zero-tolerance policy of sexual harassment at the medical school, and the audience immediately started groaning and laughing in disbelief.
“They knew that wasn’t true,” the faculty member said.
The faculty member also said that during the discussion, Alpern was questioned on whether he plays favorites with department chairs and major grant recipients, which Alpern denied.
“That’s not true. I don’t do that,” Alpern said to the News. “I have never played favorites with anybody.”
After the meeting, three more faculty members who wished to remain anonymous said they were skeptical of whether any change would come from the meeting, which is the first of two scheduled for this month. One faculty member said one attendee proposed holding frequent faculty forums to keep the dialogue going.
Another faculty member defended Alpern, adding that he was sincere in wanting to address problems like diversity and gender equity. The same faculty member said attendees were more frustrated with the lack of women rising in the ranks than they were with Alpern himself.
According to the Yale Diversity Summit Report of Discussions and Recommendations, which collected data from the fall of 2013, 63.5 percent of the medical school ladder faculty is male, and 36.5 percent is female. Twenty-eight department chairs are men, and two are women. Four associate deans are male. Six are female.
During the meeting, an anonymous attendee said Alpern was questioned on what could be done to increase female promotions to department chair. The attendee said Alpern responded that search committees could be more diligent about naming women to department chairs.
Alpern told the News that although 50 percent of assistant professors at the medical school are female, the statistic drops to 20 percent for female full-time professors. While Alpern said these statistics are nearly identical to the national average, he recognized that their methods for hiring, which included placing many women on hiring committees, have not been working and he needs to develop a new plan.
Complaints of professional misconduct at the medical school surfaced when former Cardiology Chief Michael Simons MED ’84 was able to maintain his position as director of Yale Cardiovascular Research Center following allegations of sexual harassment that were initially reported by The New York Times. Several faculty members interviewed by the News last month claimed this was a soft consequence following allegations that he sexually harassed one of his researchers. The University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct recommended Simons be removed from his position and be ineligible for high administrative roles for five years, though he was ultimately put on an 18-month suspension by Provost Benjamin Polak.
Alpern said that while the Gender Equity Task Force has been receiving a lot of key input from faculty and will be devising recommendations for the administration, he does not want to place the entire responsibility for solving arising issues on the task force. Alpern added that he will be reviewing notes taken during the meeting in an attempt to understand all of the crucial issues.
“The burden is on me,” he said. “Addressing these issues is a very high priority for the medical school and for me.”
The second town hall is scheduled for Dec. 8.