To hear Michael Simons MED ’84 tell it, the sexual misconduct case against him — which ended in Simons’s removal from his posts as chief of cardiology at the Yale School of Medicine and director of the Yale Cardiovascular Research Center (YCVRC) — exhibited a “lynch mob mentality.” But numerous faculty and administrators interviewed disagreed with Simons’s characterization.
“The faculty felt Simons’ original penalty was not adequate,” said professor of immunobiology at the School of Medicine and chair of the Women’s Faculty Forum Paula Kavathas, referring to Provost Benjamin Polak’s decision to turn a permanent removal from the helm of the cardiology department, recommended by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, into an 18-month suspension. “There was no lynching involved.”
Simons was accused of sexual harassment and retaliation in 2013, after School of Medicine researchers Annarita Di Lorenzo and Frank Giordano complained that Simons had made unwanted advances towards Di Lorenzo, and then, in retaliation, prevented Di Lorenzo’s husband Giordano from being promoted.
Simons, who refused an interview with the News because he felt he had already expressed in the Yale Alumni Magazine his perception of his treatment, acknowledged an “error in judgment” in his sexual conduct in an email to the Alumni Magazine. But he said that the details of a New York Times article on the case, which included claims that Simons had removed Giordano’s name from a grant — thus preventing him from receiving credit for the work — were wrong.
In an email to the News, he added that coverage from the New York Times was one-sided, as no one at the Yale Cardiovascular Research Center had been interviewed, and thus their side of the story — in defense of Simons — has been unheard. Members of the YCVRC, including Medical School Cardiology Professor Martin Schwarz and Vice Chairman of Pharmacology William Sessa, declined the News’ requests for comment.
Professor of Cardiology and Cellular and Molecular Physiology Anne Eichmann, who in the past has supported Simons, said she could not comment directly on whether Giordano was rightfully denied promotion. However, she suggested that “looking at [Giordano’s] publication records and grant records is an objective way to assess promotion.”
Eichmann also stressed that the weakening of Simons’ original punishment needs to be put into context, noting that Simons was brought in to create a basic science program — with which, she added, he has done a great job — and the University wants to protect that program. She added that Simons created a wonderful working environment in the basic science department, that his hiring of women was second to none, with almost equal numbers of men and women faculty in the YCVRC, and that the Times coverage of the case was completely skewed.
“The whole [Times] article was biased in favor of the ‘victim,’” she said.
While Dean of the School of Medicine Robert Alpern refused to comment directly on the case because of confidentiality reasons, he said that the way Simons’ case was dealt with is no different to how anyone else’s case would have been handled.
A DIFFERENT REACTION?
Despite Alpern’s claim, several women faculty interviewed suggested that the end result of the Simons case stood in contrast to a practice of responding to sexual misconduct at the medical school with minimal, or even nonexistent punishment.
In particular, Kavathas cited the 2006 sexual harassment and academic misconduct case involving Pharmacology Chair Joseph Schlessinger and his secretary as evidence of the contrary.
Mary Beth Garceau filed a lawsuit against Yale because her boss, Schlessinger, had been sexually harassing her for three years, but the University had refused to step in despite numerous complaints. In Garceau’s sworn statement, she alleged that Schlessinger made comments about her breast size and underwear style, in addition to showing her hardcore pornography at work. Garceau’s case was settled outside of court. Schlessinger remains chair of pharmacology.
Kavathas said that Simons’s removal occurred in a different context than Schlessinger’s case, but that the former marked an improvement in how women’s issues are dealt with at the University.
One faculty member, who chose to remain anonymous to protect their privacy, speculated that the reason different actions were taken in the Simons and Schlessinger cases had more to do with administrators’ priorities.
“I can only speculate that the difference was in the amount of pressure applied from the highest echelons of the Yale administration,” the source said, noting that different administrations were involved in the two cases.
The Times article suggested that, unlike Schlessinger, Simons was originally kept in his leadership position, because of the amount of grant money he brought in. Simons brought nearly $5 million of grant money to the University in the last three fiscal years, and never brought in less than $1.5 million over the past five years.
“As far as we are concerned, this has caused a lot of trouble in our department,” Eichmann said. “I think we should try to put it behind us.”
Simons was removed from his directorships on Nov. 13, 2014.