Courtesy of Yale

In a Friday email sent to all University faculty members, University Provost Ben Polak noted that he recently became aware of several incidents of verbal abuse from faculty members directed at University staff and condemned the “abusive or threatening behavior.”

While it remains unclear which incidents to which Polak was referring to, he explained that they are “being addressed on an individual basis.” Polak stated that recent incidents of verbal abuse demean the University community and undermine what Yale stands for. He noted in the email that he was writing in his role as the chief academic officer of Yale but clarified that he has no intention to influence how the incidents will be handled.

“I hope that such abuse is rare,” Polak said in the email. “But my concerns go beyond this to smaller but more frequent acts of disrespect shown to our staff. There are 9,700 staff members at Yale. They contribute in countless ways to the university. … Yet some faculty treat staff with at best casual disregard, at worst intentional insult, and seem to think it is okay. It is not.”

Later on Friday, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler and Senior Director of Business Operations Cathy Vellucci forwarded Polak’s email to staff members within the FAS.

“The message below was sent by Provost Polak to all university faculty early today,” stated Gendler and Vellucci’s email. “We are proud of the contributions that the FAS makes to the University, and to the world beyond our campus. Thank you for all that you do to make this work possible.”

In an email to the News, Gendler said that the FAS Dean’s Office upholds Polak’s message in its “unwavering commitment to courtesy and respectful discourse.”

Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Janet Lindner referred comments to University Spokesman Tom Conroy. When asked for comment, Conroy, who said he was commenting on behalf of Polak, referred the News to the Yale University Faculty Handbook.

Per the University Faculty Handbook, while faculty members have “the right and obligation to criticize their colleagues, staff members, and the University,” they must “endeavor to do so without personal animus and without seeking to intimidate or coerce.” Deans of respective University entities are responsible for addressing complaints when a faculty member fails to comply with the standards of conduct, according the Handbook. While the dean usually resolves such complaints informally, Polak may submit a complaint to the Faculty Standards Review Committee if the issue cannot be resolved “using the dean’s administrative authority,” the Handbook stated.

According to the Handbook, the Faculty Standards Review Committee makes a recommendation by examining whether the faculty member’s actions were substantially inconsistent with the Faculty Standards of Conduct, whether the actions were taken “recklessly or intentionally” and whether the actions caused “serious harm” to the University or to an individual. The committee’s recommendation can include loss of eligibility for leave for one leave cycle, temporary limitations on work with students or trainees, limitations on eligibility for grant funding, salary reduction, financial restitution and suspension, the Handbook stated.

Serena Cho | serena.cho@yale.edu 

Skakel McCooey | skakel.mccooey@yale.edu

  • dcheretic

    There is no excuse for abusive behavior from anyone. That said, the most egregious episodes of lazy and rude behavior I have witnessed in a workplace were committed by Yale staff. Examples include long (10 minutes+) personal phone calls that kept students waiting, two-to-three hour lunches resulting in unscheduled office closings, and verbal insults directed towards students. I once complained to a professor about an admin assistant in a departmental office. He agreed that she was awful, but said that there was nothing he could do because she was a member of a union.

    Alum 1995

    • ldffly

      I know my experience goes back to the 1970s, so take it for what it’s worth.

      I saw the same thing. I realized shortly after my arrival on the Yale campus that most people in New Haven hate Yale and barely tolerate Yale students. The staff is not an exception to this. You can keep your mouth shut and be polite to the point of being obsequious, but it usually does little good.
      Assume that staff regard you as privileged, spoiled, one who never has had to sweat or get dirty to earn a dollar, and one who never will have to sweat or get dirty to earn a dollar. Then, when you do get good treatment, you’ll appreciate it all the more.

  • yokel

    There are two parallel universes at Yale: faculty (tenured in particular) and staff. If a staff member berates a faculty member, the staff member is written up by HR and potentially fired. What happens to faculty in a reverse incident? A communal slap on the wrist, maybe a lecture on “emotional intelligence” and nothing else. Face it, if you want to work at Yale as m&p, faculty are gods. At least the union protects its own.

  • ShadrachSmith

    “I hope that such abuse is rare,”

    Are you kidding. Christakis Halloween was a Yale unreasonable abuse festival. Abusing political opponents is a favored major. Irrational abuse was a campus cause celeb as recently as Kavanagh. But criticizing students is morally dangerous?

    wtf, sir?