Backlash at Yale over New Endowed Chair for Harasser

September 11, 2018

Facing mounting criticism over news of a new endowed chair for Michael Simons, a professor of medicine found to have sexually harassed a postdoctoral researcher, Yale University said in a statement that “we agree that in cases where someone has been found, through a formal process, to have violated university standards of conduct, there should be a presumption against awarding new honorifics.” Recent “announcements about a specific circumstance may appear to be at odds with these statements,” however, Yale said, noting that Simons was awarded the Robert W. Berliner Professorship of Medicine in 2008. He continued to hold that chair despite the 2013 harassment finding, and family members of Berliner, the late dean of the Yale School of Medicine, “expressed concerns” about that in recent months, according to Yale.

In response, Yale instead awarded the Berliner Professorship to Eric Velazquez, the medical school’s new chief of cardiovascular medicine. Simons, meanwhile, “accepted a transfer to the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professorship.” In making the transfer, the university “had no intention to confer a new honor,” it said. “We share the community’s strong and unflagging commitment to uphold standards of conduct essential to the maintenance of a safe, respectful, and inclusive campus. And we rely on the community’s ongoing engagement, including its questions and criticism as well as its creativity and contributions, in our efforts to realize that commitment.”

Simons did not respond to a request for comment. Five years ago, a universitywide panel recommended that Simons be removed as chief of cardiology for harassing a co-worker. But he was only suspended for 18 months. He later stepped down as chief anyway and publicly said he took responsibility for “pursuing” a junior colleague.

Hundreds of Yale faculty members, students and alumni have signed an open letter to the university, protesting what they see as a new honor for someone found to have committed misconduct. Those complaints came just as the Yale Women Faculty Forum published issued a report saying that the university has failed to substantially punish many faculty members found to have committed misconduct, the New Haven Register reported. Out of 128 complaints against faculty members since 2011 for which details were available, 22 cases resulted in sanctions. But just six penalties had a “negative material consequence,” such as loss of pay, according to the report. The document also says that graduate and professional students were frequent targets of abuse and that they need better protection. A Yale spokesperson reportedly said the university is working with the Women Faculty Forum “to further explore all of their recommendations, which pertain to departmental culture as well as institutional programs.”

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