In 2013, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct found that Yale School of Medicine professor Michael Simons sexually harassed a postdoctoral researcher. But despite having been suspended from all administrative leadership positions, Simons, who was chief of cardiology at the medical school when the UWC proceedings drew to a close, still practices at Yale New Haven Hospital and retains his endowed professorship.
In a 2017 report published in December, the Women’s Faculty Forum called for the University to reconsider allowing faculty members found guilty of sexual misconduct to retain their endowed professorships. According to the co-chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine Nina Stachenfeld, though, Simons has been penalized to the extent allowed by the University’s current laws concerning sexual assault.
“SWIM has been told that Professor Simons’s case is actually out of our hands,” she said.
As a response to Simons’s case, however, Stachenfeld said, SWIM has been lobbying the medical school Dean’s office since February to implement new measures to better support women at the medical school, including increasing women faculty members in leadership positions, releasing a Dean’s office statement on sexual harassment and boosting the number and diversity of Title IX officers assigned to the medical school. Thanks to the group’s advocacy, the Dean’s office is planning to appoint two new Title IX deputy coordinators at the medical school, Stachenfeld said. While it is uncertain when the appointments will be made, Deputy School of Medicine Title IX Coordinator Merle Waxman told the News that there is no reason to believe that it won’t be this academic year, noting that some names of potential coordinators have been put forward.
Currently, there are two Title IX coordinators at the medical school, and students and faculty members can also reach out to any of the Title IX coordinators at the University. According to the interviews conducted by SWIM, however, many women faculty members are not aware that these resources are available to them, Stachenfeld said. She added that most medical school faculty members prefer to consult the Title IX coordinators assigned to the school because they expect them to understand the particularities of the medical school better.
Waxman said that the Title IX office has served everyone who reached out for help in the past. But she agreed that increasing and diversifying the number of coordinators will help support women. She also noted that about half of all faculty members at the University are at the medical school and that, due to its size, the school should have more than two Title IX coordinators.
“Having more variety and diversity among Title IX coordinators is undoubtedly a great idea,” Waxman said. “We are making a statement that the medical school really cares about supporting women and men. We will have more trained officials who can go out and organize programs on how to prevent sexual assault and how to seek help.”
According to Stachenfeld, the Dean’s office has been particularly cooperative in SWIM’s efforts to increase the number of Title IX coordinators at the medical school. Medical school Dean Robert Alpert’s decision to provide salary support to newly appointed coordinators was “a big step forward,” Stachenfeld said. Because faculty members are very busy and working in the Title IX office is a time-consuming duty, the Dean’s salary support encouraged more faculty members to step forward, she explained.
Alpern told the News that he is very enthusiastic about SWIM’s suggestions and has been working with the committee to implement them.
“We are continuously looking for ways to support all faculty, and especially women and minorities,” Alpern wrote in an email to the News. “We are committed to providing as many deputy coordinators as is needed to serve our community.”
In addition to appointing more Title IX coordinators, SWIM has requested that the Dean’s office release a statement about sexual harassment and increase the number of women in leadership positions. While the University has been making efforts to appoint women as departmental chairs, much of the leadership positions at the medical school are occupied by men, Stachenfeld told the News.
“Lots of data show that once women occupy around 30 percent of leadership positions, there is a significant shift in the climate of the organization,” she said. “With more female representation, there is usually a change in the way people behave and in what the institution prioritizes.”
Alpern said he is working with SWIM to release a statement on sexual harassment and to recruit more women. Still, Stachenfeld noted, progress is slow because leadership positions open up infrequently.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org