The Women Faculty Forum recommended in a report released on Thursday that the University impose stricter and more visible sanctions against faculty members found guilty of sexual misconduct.
The report, which examines Title IX cases brought against Yale faculty members since 2011, comes a month after Michael Simons MED ’84 — a Yale School of Medicine professor who in 2013 resigned from his position as cardiology chief after the University found him guilty of sexually harassing a junior colleague — was named the Waldemar von Zedtwitz professor of cardiology. Members of the Yale medical faculty went into uproar this summer in response to a University press release announcing Simons’ new endowed professorship, an honor bestowed on senior faculty members that comes with supplementary funding.
Out of 138 complaints of sexual misconduct involving faculty members recorded since 2011, the WFF report examines 128 cases, for which summaries have been provided in the Title IX office’s semiannual reports. Noting that “the organizational hierarchy of the academy creates particular power asymmetries that leave certain populations vulnerable,” the WFF report proposes 15 specific recommendations to improve the culture surrounding issues of sexual misconduct at the University.
Specifically, the report denounces sanctions against faculty members found guilty of sexual misconduct that “amount to awards (such as suspension from teaching, leaving more time for research), that are indistinguishable from other life transitions such as retirement, or that add to the workload of others in the respondent’s department while failing to address the harassing behavior.”
“Sanctions need to be visible,” the report states. “It is important that the University is both taking action, and is seen to be doing so … We recognize that it can be difficult to make sanctions public while protecting the confidentiality of the complainant, but the culture of secrecy around harassment allows respondents’ behavior to continue.”
Out of the 128 complaints against faculty, 33 of the reporters involved declined to formally bring their case to the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, according to the WFF report. Even in the absence of a formal complaint to the UWC, however, the Title IX office can take certain actions, such as requiring that the respondent attend counseling and training sessions. According to the report, the University took action in 93 out of 128 cases in both formal and informal proceedings.
In more than half of the cases in which the University took action, the respondent or the respondent’s entire department received training or counseling. Twelve cases resulted in continued monitoring of the respondent and 22 concluded with a disciplinary sanction. Of the 22 disciplinary sanctions imposed, the report states, only six involved a penalty that “had a material negative consequence,” such as loss of pay. The remaining 16 were either status penalties like loss of leadership positions and monitoring, according to the report.
“We are not a big fan of mandatory punishment, but we would like to urge the University to consider ways in which sanctions can ultimately be academic rewards and accommodations,” WFF chair Claire Bowern said in an interview with the News. “Depending on the department and the school, relief from teaching duties or leadership positions may leave more time and be indistinguishable from research relief. And often, because of that faculty member being barred from close contact with students, other members of the department have to pick up their slack.”
There are only two cases listed in UWC reports since 2011 in which faculty members who had already resigned from their positions were considered permanently ineligible for employment by the University after Title IX coordinators found sufficient evidence to support allegations of sexual harassment against them. In another listed case, a faculty member’s rehire was said to be contingent on the outcome of outstanding complaints against him.
Still, University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler said that current sanctions considered by the University — such as suspensions without compensation, removal from leadership positions, exclusion from campus activities and ineligibility for honorific appointments — can have serious impacts. In most cases reviewed in the WFF report, Spangler added, complainants did not choose to pursue a formal complaint process or disciplinary outcome.
For her part, however, professor of laboratory medicine and immunology Paula Kavathas, who previously served as chair of the WFF, agreed with Bowern on the need for stricter and more visible sanctions and praised the Thursday report for “aggregating data and providing a powerful way to see where the problem is.”
And Bowern emphasized that even in cases in which the University imposes sanctions, the confidentiality rules surrounding such actions tends to reinforce the stigma around both experiencing and reporting sexual misconduct.
In a 2017 report published last December, the Women’s Faculty Forum recommended that the University implement stricter sanctions and reconsider allowing faculty members found guilty of sexual misconduct to retain their endowed professorships. Bowern said she cannot tell if these recommendations have been implemented because the sanctions considered in each case are not made public. Bowern stressed that by “clarifying on the array of possible actions that are considered and used by the University,” Title IX reports can protect the confidentiality of the complainant and show that “something is happening even if they don’t know who specifically it applies to.”
But Spangler stressed that, while it would be desirable to conduct further research into ways to identify and address “cultural contributors to sexual harassment,” concerns about confidentiality have been frequently identified as a barrier to reporting.
“[The Title IX office] thinks that it is very important to maintain our strong commitment to confidentiality,” Spangler said.
Asked whether stricter and more visible sanctions would improve campus climate around sexual misconduct, chair of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate William Nordhaus ’63 did not offer a direct response.
“The Review of faculty misconduct by the Women’s Faculty Forum provides important and useful information about cases included in reports of sexual misconduct since 2011,” Nordhaus wrote in a statement to the News. “I particularly suggest that faculty and others read the recommendations on reporting, culture, and sanctions on pages 7 and 8 of the report. I hope that the administration will study and respond to these findings.”
The Women Faculty Forum was created in 2001 to “highlight the presence of women at the University and the accomplishments of Yale alumnae,” according to its website.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org