In the days since University President Peter Salovey announced a series of revisions to the formal procedures of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, members of the Yale Community have begun theorizing why certain modifications to the procedures were made, and questioning the reasoning behind them.
According to the new UWC procedures, which were drafted by a five-person faculty committee chaired by law professor Kate Stith, complainants and respondents in formal complaints of sexual misconduct will now receive only the final decision about disciplinary action, and not the UWC panel’s original recommendations. Previously, both parties received the disciplinary recommendations of the UWC panel — a group of five UWC members who hear the facts of a case — as well as the final disciplinary decision rendered by an administrative decision-maker with the authority to independently accept, modify or reject the panel’s recommendations. Now, if the decision-maker — who is the dean of the respondent’s school or the provost if the respondent is a faculty member — changes the recommended punishment, neither the complainant nor the respondent will know, although the decision-maker is now required to consult with the UWC panel before making any modifications.
Discrepancies between recommended and final punishments in Yale’s sexual misconduct proceedings generated national attention last November, when The New York Times revealed that University Provost Benjamin Polak lightened the recommended punishment for former School of Medicine cardiology chief Michael Simons MED ’84. The UWC found Simons responsible for sexually harassing Annarita Di Lorenzo, a young Italian researcher at the medical school. Though the UWC originally recommended permanently removing Simons from his post, Polak issued just an 18-month suspension.
The subsequent controversy and outrage led the University to announce that Simons “had decided” not to return to his post, according to the Times.
While Stith and two UWC members interviewed decline to comment on whether the Simons controversy affected the newly modified procedures, School of Medicine professor and former Women Faculty Forum Chair Shirley McCarthy MED ’79 said she believes the case had an impact.
“I’m sure it did [impact the recent modification],” McCarthy told the News. “The UWC came up with a decision and it was overturned by the provost. It seemed to most everybody that the UWC had the resolution that seemed the most fair. To have that overturned just didn’t make sense.”
Stith said the modification stems from the committee’s desire to make UWC procedures match other disciplinary processes at Yale. In many other disciplinary procedures, Stith said, the affected parties are provided with only the panel’s findings and recommended conclusions, but not its recommended sanctions. She cited the Dean’s Procedure for Student Complaints and the Provost’s Procedure for Student Complaints — both of which govern student complaints about discrimination from faculty members — as well as faculty complaints regarding reappointment, tenure or violations of University policy as examples where the parties involved do not receive the recommended official action.
“A number of other disciplinary processes at Yale function this way, and I believe the committee wanted to align the UWC procedures with other [similar ones],” UWC chair and ecology and evolutionary biology professor David Post told the News.
Stith also stressed the companion modification that requires the decision-maker to consult with the UWC panel before suggesting sanctions that are different from the panel’s original recommendations.
Yale School of Medicine professor and current WFF Chair Paula Kavathas said the WFF agreed that the process by which final decisions were made could be improved.
“[The new procedures] will require a conversation with the opportunity for direct feedback from the committee members before a final decision is made,” Kavathas told the News. “I am pleased that this change and others were approved.”
Besides the modified role of the final decision-maker, the revisions also clarified the informal complaint process and altered the criteria for the fact-finder, who gathers the relevant parties’ testimonies before formal hearings.
According to University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler, because informal complaints could previously be submitted to both the UWC as well as to Title IX coordinators, students sometimes mistakenly believed that there were two different informal resolution processes. Now, informal complaints will be explicitly handled by Title IX officers, although UWC members will still be available for consultation. Spangler said the clarification — which was recommended by a Yale College Council and Women’s Center undergraduate survey released in April that revealed confusion about the informal process — is intended to make clear that there is only one informal process. Her office is working to provide more information about the informal process to detail the options available for addressing complaints, Spangler added.
Additionally, the fact-finder was previously required to be “independent” of the University, but now is only required to be impartial and properly trained in UWC procedures.
“New Haven and Yale are interwoven,” Stith explained. “A ‘no connection with Yale’ criterion cuts out many who have the experience, integrity and judgment to be excellent independent and impartial fact-finders.”
When the UWC was established in 2011, administrators expected to revise its procedures periodically, especially after the UWC accumulated more years of experience in addressing sexual misconduct on campus, according to Salovey.