After two years of controversy, Yale administrators have assembled a committee to provide oversight on hiring and promotion decisions within the Department of Spanish and Portuguese — a department students said was plagued by rampant harassment and faculty abuse of power.
Two weeks ago, in an email to the department’s faculty, Dean of Humanities Amy Hungerford unveiled a committee comprised of eight professors from across the University that will oversee the administration of the Spanish and Portuguese Department for the next three years. Members of this program committee will have full voting rights on hiring and promotion decisions within the department. Hungerford’s Sept. 14 announcement is Yale’s latest response to years of unrest in the department, which has failed to attract a single graduate student each of the last two years.
“The Department of Spanish and Portuguese, despite its academic distinction, is of a size and configuration that will make it difficult to rebuild without an infusion of support from the University,” Hungerford wrote in the email. “This, in turn, requires a temporary reorganization of the department’s leadership structure.”
Hungerford told the News that the program committee, which will be chaired by French professor Howard Bloch GRD ’98, will take steps to ensure the department follows Yale’s standards for tenure review outlined by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office. The review process became a point of contention in the department last year, after one professor appealed a denial of tenure decision.
Bloch told the News that he thinks the new committee will help the department fulfill its potential during what he called an “exciting moment” in the fields of Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian studies.
Still, the structural changes announced in Hungerford’s email have garnered a mixed response from graduate students, who remain distrustful of University administrators.
“For such a dire situation, this seems like next to nothing,” said one graduate student in the department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “It does not surprise me since the graduate school has shown no interest in solving the problem and has only made these moves after the department has been embarrassed in public. At the current pace, the department will die out as a degree-awarding graduate program.”
The creation of an oversight committee for the department comes on the heels of student accusations of harassment and abuse of power. In March 2015, an anonymous group of Spanish and Portuguese graduate students distributed a letter specifically condemning the “highly negative atmosphere” of the department, as well as “blatant acts of discrimination and harassment” by department administrators.
The letter also contained allegations of sexual harassment against Roberto González Echevarría GRD ’70, a longtime department administrator. González Echevarría is currently on a leave of absence, but will return to his teaching role in the spring, according to Hungerford.
Matthew Tanico GRD ’17, a student in the department, said that after two years of unrest in the department, the changes announced this month are the “logical next step” as the department rebuilds.
“It’s always good to have fresh eyes come in and take a look at the situation and offer insights from their own departments,” Tanico said.
Tanico also defended the Spanish and Portuguese faculty, saying critics have exaggerated the problems in the department. He expressed enthusiasm about the new committee, which he expects will give more weight to the concerns of graduate students in the department.
“It’s hard for graduate students because we’re only here for a limited time,” he said. “We’re not here really long enough to make giant changes. So it’s good that this committee is coming in to oversee that.”
The Spanish and Portuguese Department office is located at 82–90 Wall Street above Blue State Coffee.