This year, the Spanish and Portuguese Department’s graduate admissions process culminated in an anomalously low yield rate: zero percent.
At an April 16 faculty meeting, professors learned that none of the five students offered admission to the department’s graduate program had matriculated. The department did not keep a waitlist this year — it usually does not — and this fall, no new students will join the department’s graduate program.
“We have a splendid record over quite a spread of years of getting a very good acceptance rate for new students,” Spanish Director of Graduate Studies Noël Valis said. “This is extraordinarily unusual.”
Spanish professor Anibal González-Pérez GRD ’82 said he was saddened but unsurprised by this development. Several professors indicated that the low yield could be the consequence of the March 6 unsigned letter claiming that an individual in the department sexually harassed others within the department — students and faculty, alike — and the controversy that followed. The letter also detailed divides between junior and senior faculty members, issues with the curriculum and the alleged intimidation of graduate students.
The anonymous letter indicated that recently, visiting prospective graduate students have been “warned of the hostile environment and encouraged to go elsewhere.” One graduate student who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation confirmed that these warnings did occur, but only some graduate students sent them.
“Most of us try just to be candid, and I haven’t gone so far as to warn anybody against coming, but to give them sense of the landscape,” said one student who did not send a formal warning. “‘Warning’ suggests the reason they didn’t come was because we were discouraging them. I think that they were discouraged by the environment they picked up on.”
Spanish Department Chair Rolena Adorno also pointed to a March 25 article in the News that detailed the letter’s concerns about the department’s environment, along with student and faculty responses. Once online, the article “went viral,” she said.
Spanish professor Kevin Poole, who will leave the department at the end of this academic year, said he and one of his colleagues have received questions from friends and colleagues about the department’s issues.
“The very fact that people have called us or emailed us asking about information in those articles lets us know what’s going on here has been made known quite widely,” Poole said. “I don’t want to say that all five of the students based their decision on what’s going on in the department right now, but I most definitely cannot discount the idea that it did have some effect.”
With offers made to students in February and an April 15 acceptance deadline, Valis said, she believes the timing of the letter and article contributed to this year’s yield rate.
On March 24, the University announced in an email to students and faculty in the department that it would undergo a “climate review.” But Adorno said she does not think the department review is related to this year’s graduate student yield.
Valis said the lack of incoming students will not affect the courses offered in the department next fall, though it will influence the size of these classes.
One of the anonymous students said prospective students may be aware of other problems within the department, such as the faculty’s adherence to conservative literary interpretations, the department’s limited conference funding and the difficulty that many alumni of the department have in their job searches. But Valis said the department’s record of placing graduates in tenure-track positions is “outstanding.” She noted that alumni have recently been hired at institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan and McGill University.
French Director of Graduate Studies Christopher Miller said his department, which also does not maintain a waitlist, has never had a year in which no students accepted their offers. Similarly, Italian Department Chair Giuseppe Mazzotta also said that in his memory, the department has always had at least one student. None accepting, he added, would be “largely unusual.”
Germanic Languages and Literatures DGS Carol Jacobs said in her time at Yale, it has never happened that no students accepted the department’s offers.
There are currently five students in their first years of the Spanish and Portuguese Department’s graduate program.