Two years after the University adopted a set of standards for faculty conduct, a committee examining the procedures for resolving complaints of faculty misconduct is seeking feedback about its proposed revised standards and disciplinary procedures.
The University-Wide Ad Hoc Committee on Procedures for Resolving Complaints of Faculty Misconduct, which was created last September, circulated its initial report in early April. After presenting the report to the deans of Yale’s schools and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate, the committee published its work online at the end of August in order to receive faculty feedback. Faculty are able to share their thoughts on a public website through the middle of October, and their comments will determine whether further changes should be made before the standards and procedures are officially published in the Faculty Handbook.
“There have been several excellent comments that will positively inform our committee’s deliberations,” said religious studies professor and committee chair Kathryn Lofton. “I am not surprised: our faculty members are brilliant, and they have contributed substantively to the process.”
A faculty committee developed the original set of standards for faculty conduct during the 2014–15 academic year, which were accepted as policy and published in the faculty handbook. The same committee also proposed draft procedures for responding to alleged conduct violations, according to an Aug. 21 faculty-wide email from University President Peter Salovey and University Provost Benjamin Polak.
During the 2015–16 academic year, the email said, some faculty members raised concerns about the existing standards and proposed procedures. The FAS Senate published a report in March 2016, calling both the standards of faculty conduct and the draft procedures “inadequate and unacceptable” and advocating for substantial revisions.
“Despite the admirable work of the faculty committee that constructed them, the current standards do not yet meet the intellectual or ethical conventions of our community,” the report read. “As a result, they have no legitimacy among the FAS faculty, whose dissatisfaction with them is significant and widespread.”
The report criticized the draft procedures as vague and flawed, arguing that the procedures and faculty standards were not grounded in enough specific accounts or discussions of the kinds of misconduct occurring at Yale that the original standards were designed to prevent.
After a year of work, the new nine-person committee formed to examine these standards and procedures opened its proposals to faculty feedback in early April. The revised proposals became available online to all faculty members at the end of the summer, and readers can respond with attributed or anonymous comments until Oct. 6. Nine faculty members have left public comments so far, ranging from enthusiastic praise to procedural suggestions.
The updated standards of conduct, according to the report, were revised to focus on the “aspirational essential professional responsibilities” of faculty. Among other changes, the revisions also deleted examples of specific infractions and reference to adherence to the standards of professional organizations.
The committee also changed the draft procedures to establish a single University-wide Faculty Conduct Review Committee, composed of and appointed by faculty that will work with the Provost to evaluate complaints about conduct violations.
After the comment period closes, Lofton said the committee will reconvene to assess feedback and discuss potential changes. The committee will then submit the revised documents to Provost Benjamin Polak, who will submit them for comment to the University Cabinet, she added.
“The Cabinet may decide that further discussion by the deans within their schools is necessary,” Lofton said. “Informed by comments from University officers, deans and faculty, the provost and president will then decide whether to approve these proposed standards and procedures.”
Philosophy professor Michael Della Rocca, who was involved in early stages of the committee discussions of standards for faculty conduct, told the News that it is important to have a written set of standards for faculty conduct to serve as guides to help the University community — particularly students — understand what is acceptable faculty behavior.
Della Rocca praised the procedures for handling complaints for providing mechanisms to do so both informally and through a formal investigative process and inquiry. The revised procedures emphasize that a formal process will be initiated only when serious harm to the University or a member of its community has been caused by a faculty member.
“Faculty misconduct is not very common, but it does occur and students are among the most vulnerable,” he said. “It is vital for them and for the whole community that there be well understood ways for this conduct to be addressed and for the students’ academic and living environment at the University to be restored.”
University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler said she is pleased to see growing engagement of faculty, staff and students in creating opportunities to discuss Yale’s policies and resources and to implement effective prevention programs.
“I know that all of the faculty who served on these committees were committed to creating policies and procedures that articulate and uphold University values, promote a culture of respect and provide fair and effective means for complaints to be addressed,” Spangler said.
Della Rocca said he is concerned about a lack of transparency when it comes to the proposed provision that the hearing panel’s recommendations for disciplinary action not be shared with the parties involved. Still, he said the proposed revisions are ultimately an improvement.
“The administration is to be praised for initiating and leading the discussion about these standards and procedures,” he said.
The University Cabinet is comprised of all nine University Officers and the deans of each school.
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