As Robert Alpern’s third term as dean of the Yale School of Medicine comes to a close next spring, the University must decide if they will grant Alpern, who has presided over the medical school for nearly 15 years, another term as dean. To guide this process, University President Peter Salovey solicited feedback from medical school faculty on Alpern’s leadership during his latest term in an email sent on Aug. 31.
But faculty members said that they were not given an accessible way to provide Salovey with anonymous feedback, which made some uncomfortable with writing negative criticisms of the dean. The School of Medicine Faculty Advisory Council (FAC) argued that because not all faculty felt confident in giving their honest thoughts, the review process may garner an unrepresentative view of Alpern’s leadership.
“Members of the Faculty Advisory Council continue to hear from their faculty constituents that they have opted out of providing feedback on the reappointment of Dean Alpern due to the lack of an anonymous mechanism for communication,” wrote Megan King, School of Medicine professor and FAC chair, in an email to the News. “We are continuing to advocate on behalf of our faculty so that they feel as enfranchised as possible and have confidence in the process and the outcome, whatever it may be.”
In his August email, Salovey encouraged faculty members to provide feedback by either replying directly to his email or by sending him a letter. Faculty could only gain anonymity by sending Salovey a letter via mail, which the FAC argued is less accessible than electronic feedback.
Neither King nor Christopher Pittenger, FAC vice chair, said that they question Salovey’s integrity, or his ability to keep the feedback confidential. But the two understand the concerns of faculty who may not want their names tied to negative criticisms of the dean.
“People are very conscious of how any critical feedback they give can be interpreted, especially in this day and age when emails can float around forever and be brought back in the future,” Pittenger said.
Joy McGrath, Salovey’s chief of staff, said that Alpern’s review used the same methodology as that of other deans’ reviews.
“He has handled the faculty input in complete confidence and the letters and emails are all read and reviewed personally by President Salovey,” she wrote in a statement. “He has also conducted personal meetings and phone conversations with faculty members as part of the process.”
Salovey’s request for feedback on Alpern’s tenure was sent just days after the News broke a story showing that Alpern appointed Michael Simons, a School of Medicine professor found responsible for sexually harassing a junior colleague in 2013, to the endowed Waldemar von Zedtwitz chair. The story sparked an uproar among medical school faculty, alumni and students, who sent Salovey an open letter condemning Alpern’s decision. The letter garnered over 1,000 signatures, though the names of the signatories of the letter were only disclosed to Salovey.
According to Pittenger and King, some faculty felt reluctant to rock the boat by providing Salovey with negative criticism, which they perceived as potentially detrimental to their careers at the medical school.
The University does not guarantee the salaries of most of the School of Medicine’s 5,000-member faculty. The majority must support themselves through seeing patients or through receiving grant money. Junior faculty in particular lack the job security of their tenured colleagues, so falling out of favor with the medical school administration could affect future appointments or promotions — and the salaries associated with them.
“That creates a great sense of insecurity, and so people feel like their long-term survival is dependent on a lot of interacting factors, including the good will of their superiors and administrators,” Pittenger said.
If faculty have negative criticisms of the dean but feel that speaking out may compromise their position at the medical school, these faculty may simply not participate in the process, and in effect, become disenfranchised, according to Pittenger.
And yet the issue is not exclusive to junior faculty. The FAC has even heard from several, established senior faculty who have said that they are not comfortable providing Salovey with criticisms of Alpern under the current feedback system.
Alpern assumed his role as dean of the medical school in June 2004.
Marisa Peryer | firstname.lastname@example.org .