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Bulldog Bungle: Sexual Harassment at the Yale School of Medicine

Illustration for article titled Bulldog Bungle: Sexual Harassment at the Yale School of Medicine

On the first of November, The New York Times published an article that brought to light the mishandling of a sexual harassment case at the Yale School of Medicine. Escaping public notice for five years, the case involves a former head of the cardiology department, Dr. Michael Simmons. Simmons is a Yale School of Medicine Alum who had received his MD in 1984. Simmons professed his love and adoration for a young Italian researcher 18 years his junior at Yale, and used his professional clout and position to retaliate against her then boyfriend, now husband, a Yale cardiologist.


Simmons began the immoral conduct by slipping the Italian research student a handwritten love letter in Italian. Contents of the letter include Simmons' saying that he wanted to kiss the researchers lips in Liguria, "and every part of your body in every continent and city of the world." The Italian researcher responded to Simmons that the letter was unwelcome, inappropriate, and was offensive to her, her current boyfriend, and Simmons' wife. Simmons in turn said that the Italian researcher was with the wrong man, as only he could "open the world of science" to her.


The Italian researcher moved on to Cornell soon after. However, her boyfriend, (and eventually her husband) remained at Yale. The husband insists that his career was detrimentally impacted by Simmons, who "disparaged him," and "froze him out professionally."

Frustrated at their treatment at the Yale Medical School, the couple filed formal complaints to the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct. The Committee ruled that last year the Italian researcher was sexually harassed, and that Simmons created a hostile work environment for her. The Committee also acknowledged that Simmons publicly ridiculed her husband, but that the decision to remove him from a grant cannot be considered discriminatory because of the nuanced factors that are inherently involved in the grant process. Regardless, the committee did find that Simmons had exercised "improper leadership" and "compromised decision making" in the case of the victim's husband.


The University committee gathered to review the case suggested that Simmons be removed from the University. In lieu of that, the university provost reduced the penalty to an 18 month suspension. No explanation was given for Simmons leave, nor was there any implication of wrongdoing. Furthermore, many professors were under the impression that Yale provost, Ben Polak, had planned to let Simmons reascend to his post as the Director of the Yale Cardiovascular Center and as co-director of the Yale University College London Collaborative. This was of course prior to The Times running the story.

The New York Times has acquired documents of professors expressing anger as to how the case was handled, and how the general public was not informed about Simmon's misconduct. After The Times reached out to Yale in the last week of October, the newspaper was informed that Simmons would not be returning to his post.

University professors also question the purpose or the validity of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct as a whole. This is because the provost can overturn or ignore the findings of the committee without explanation as to why the findings are being rejected.

Faculty members also purposed that a blind eye was turned to Simmons simply because of his skill in acquiring grants for the University. Meanwhile, the husband of the victim never received tenure.

Sexual harassment at colleges and universities in the United States is an unfortunate and pervasive problem. A 2006 study done by the American Association of University Women indicated that 62% of female students reported to being sexually harassed. 51% of male students reported that they sexually harassed a colleague. These numbers are likely even larger, as the majority of sexual harassment goes unreported.

How can colleges and universities in the United State change these sobering facts? First, support the victims. Second, hold the perpetrators culpable. Being a brilliant academic does not give an individual carte blanche to behave inappropriately with the students working under them. Yale should have been transparent as to why Simmons was suspended. Better yet, the Yale provost, Ben Polak, should have followed the recommendations of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and forced Simmons to step down immediately and indefinitely. If Tamar Lewin and The Times did not publish the initial report, Simmons may have been allowed to return to Yale.

I am a child of New Haven myself, and because of this fact, I have a relationship with the city and Yale. My Grandfather, a former New Haven police officer, worked as a security guard at the Yale School of Medicine for years, until he finally retired at age 84. My childhood was full of trips visiting him there. I grew up running manically up and down the hallways of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, bursting with excitement at the prospect of seeing my favorite fossil. New Haven's Irish pubs on Orange Street and Whitney Avenue are where I came of age, as I danced to the echoes of the bodhrán until the wee hours of the morning. Yale is the number one employer in New Haven, and pays the city $15 million annually in taxes, voluntary payments, and fees.

That being said, it will be very hard for me to cheer "Go Bulldogs," in the future, as Yale has a consistent and problematic history of bungling cases of sexual harassment.

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