Content Warning: This article contains references to sexual assault.
In September, during the height of the Kavanaugh hearings, we stood on the Women’s Table, rallying hundreds of our peers in solidarity with survivors of sexual misconduct at Yale. University administrators, including Dean Marvin Chun, listened as we condemned the pernicious environment that encouraged students to assault their peers. Despite continued student efforts, harassment and assault remain prevalent at Yale. Just as Yale turns a blind eye to sexual misconduct among students, it also empowers professors, often male, to intimately harm members of our community, often women of color. Since 2011, 183 cases of faculty sexual misconduct have been filed with the Title IX office.
The Yale administration has failed to adequately punish perpetrators of sexual misconduct. Professors who lack respect for the pedagogical relationship outlined in our Teacher-Student Consensual Relations Policy do not deserve a place at this university. Moreover, administrators that take only defensive action and insist on responding to misconduct with feckless statements are to blame for further instances of assault and harassment on campus. We continue to fight against their deliberate choice to hire, promote and grant tenure to perpetrators of sexual misconduct and write this piece to provide concrete, positive actions moving forward.
Over the past several months, we have met with leaders of Title IX and the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct to better understand how Yale handles complaints. The Title IX office and the UWC are essential for arbitrating cases of sexual misconduct, but they must do better. Because Title IX and the UWC are institutional structures, they are likely to perpetuate the injustices inherent in a university that enables sexual misconduct.
According to present regulations, UWC chairs must be tenured faculty. Although a tenured faculty member does not fear repercussions resulting from decisions they make in UWC cases, their careers are still decidedly linked to the reputation of this university. In its seven-year history, the UWC has had two chairs — both white men. This is no surprise: Within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, over 73% of tenured and tenure-track faculty are white and over 70% are male. Our UWC chairs must come from a larger, more diverse pool of candidates who are not associated with Yale.
Furthermore, at the conclusion of all UWC cases in which the respondent is found responsible for wrongdoing, the UWC recommends penalties, and either Chun (in undergraduate cases) or Provost Ben Polak (in faculty cases) has the final say. Both provosts since the UWC’s founding have been men, and they have prioritized faculty respondents over community safety in prominent decisions. In the case of Michael Simons, the former head of cardiology at the medical school who sexually harassed a female researcher, the UWC recommended that he be permanently removed from his position. Polak reduced the punishment to a mere 18-month suspension. Simons continues to teach and run a lab in his name. It is farcical that the final decision rests with one administrator instead of the committee tasked with the monthslong process of carefully reviewing each case.
Thirteen out of 183 cases with faculty respondents have gone through the UWC process. Punishments for those found at fault include suspensions ranging from one semester to two years, temporary removal from leadership roles, behavior “training” and written reprimands. When faculty members take time off, they can do so under the guise of a “sabbatical” or “research” at no harm to their careers and reputations. It is unclear exactly how the UWC decides the severity of the penalties it hands out.
Yale aids multiple transgressions on the part of its faculty. In the case of Thomas Pogge, a hiring committee under the supervision of then-Provost Andrew Hamilton employed him despite the knowledge that he had been disciplined for sexual misconduct at Columbia. “Everybody slips once,” Seyla Benhabib, a member of the committee, told The New York Times. Pogge slipped again. Yale then silenced a survivor, Fernanda Lopez Aguilar, a young woman of color who accused Pogge of sexual harassment, with a nondisclosure agreement. Lopez Aguilar’s affidavit stated that Pogge had harassed 10 other women as well. Pogge still teaches at Yale despite a letter condemning his actions signed by more than a thousand professors from around the world. Pogge is not popular on campus. This semester, only six students enrolled in each of his two courses. Students who wish to avoid studying under Pogge may find alternate class options through the Title IX office. This is not an adequate solution, as students lose access to courses potentially foundational to their undergraduate education. Pogge, a man accused so frequently of sexual misconduct, should not monopolize classes that students must take for their major. In fact, he should not teach here at all.
Thomas Pogge. Eugene Redmond. Harold Bloom. Roberto González Echevarría. Michael Simons. We know these names. We have whispered them for years. These are the men who have violated the Yale community.
When we rally on the Women’s Table, meet with administrators and write opinion pieces, we are not asking for rash action. We are only asking that trustees and administrators do their jobs. We ask that Yale trustees, President Salovey, Chun, Polak and their colleagues take our concerns seriously by implementing meaningful reform with a sense of urgency. The administration’s inaction and the UWC’s convoluted and secretive decision-making process are inconsistent with the ethos of a university that claims “sexual misconduct is antithetical to [its] standards and ideals … and will not be tolerated.”
Here are concrete actions University leadership should take:
1. The UWC should institute a zero tolerance policy for any form of faculty sexual misconduct. Such negative actions must have meaningful and commensurate negative consequences, and Yale should terminate all faculty who violate our Teacher-Student Consensual Relations Policy.
2. Salovey and Polak must institute and enforce a policy that bans the hiring of faculty with records of sexual misconduct. They must first and foremost prioritize their students, who have the right to live and learn free of harassment.
3. Yale trustees must assign final decision-making power in UWC cases to the UWC itself, not to deans nor the provost.
4. The chair of the UWC should have no previous association with Yale, so that they may lead the committee more objectively with no interest of protecting the reputation of the University. They must also come from a larger and more diverse pool than that of our tenured faculty.
5. Department chairs should affect and accelerate meaningful gender and racial representation in their faculty — hiring, funding and promoting people of color, women and nonbinary folk — and report demonstrable results to the Yale community.
In five simple steps, you — Salovey, Polak, the UWC, department chairs and Yale trustees — can begin rolling back years of injustice, aligning Yale more closely with its stated values and policies. This is not radical. Do your jobs.
Valentina Connell is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Miranda Coombe is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.