Yale Forms Gender Task Force Amid Scrutiny at Medical School

Yale University’s medical school has formed a task force on gender equity amid scrutiny of the handling of a researcher’s accusation of sexual harassment.

Yale suspended Michael Simons for 18 months as the medical school’s cardiology chief last year and mandated he take sexual harassment training after complaints from a postdoctoral associate and her boyfriend, according to the New York Times. The penalty was lighter than recommended by a university committee, drawing criticism from faculty and raising questions about Yale’s handling of such complaints, the newspaper said.

“Clearly there are concerns in the medical school about the work environment,” Yale President Peter Salovey said in a Nov. 2 statement. “We must -- and will -- deal with inappropriate behavior consistently, no matter what position a person holds.”

Yale is among dozens of colleges across the country where students have filed complaints with the U.S. Education Department alleging their schools failed to comply with federal laws to prevent and appropriately respond to campus sexual misconduct. In a resolution reached with the department in 2012, New Haven, Connecticut-based Yale agreed to take a number of steps across the university to improve how it handles and reports allegations of sexual assault.

Harassment Complaint

The latest case involves Annarita Di Lorenzo, a former researcher at the medical school, who received a love letter from Simons, according to the Times. Di Lorenzo lodged a sexual harassment complaint last year, and Frank Giordano, a medical school cardiology professor who was her boyfriend at the time and is now her husband, filed a separate complaint saying Simons retaliated against him professionally, the Times reported.

Yale’s University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct recommended in a report last year that Simons be removed as cardiology chief and be ineligible for any other top administrative role for five years, according to the Times. Instead Provost Benjamin Polak, who is the final decision maker, lowered the penalty to the 18-month suspension and harassment training, the newspaper said.

“Several years ago I briefly pursued by e-mail a colleague who was in a junior but not a subordinate position,” Simons wrote in an e-mail, saying he apologized and regrets his action. “In no way did I abuse my position at Yale to punish or retaliate against any faculty member.”

The committee determined the allegations of retaliation to be unfounded, Simons said.

Task Force

Yale formed the gender equity task force on Oct. 3 and announced on Oct. 27 that Simons wouldn’t be returning as cardiology chief, according to Tom Conroy, a spokesman. Conroy yesterday declined to comment further on the case citing confidentially of the proceedings.

The task force will “consider the advancement of women faculty, opportunities for leadership, and aspects of the work environment,” Yale said in a Nov. 2 statement.

Simons is still the director of Yale’s cardiovascular research center and decided not to return as chief of cardiology, he said yesterday in an e-mail. Di Lorenzo and Giordano didn’t return e-mails seeking comment.

At least 11 faculty members have expressed concern that the provost acted inappropriately in modifying the punishment, the Yale Daily News reported yesterday. Some faculty members are concerned because Polak is the former chair of the economics department where Simons’s wife is a lecturer, according to the Times.

Katerina Simons, in an e-mail, said she and Polak never discussed the matter. She declined to comment further.

The Times also said some medical school faculty have complained about a lack of progress in ensuring equality for women in the department and a lack of openness in decision making.

“I would never allow outside influences to affect my decisions,” Polak said in a statement Nov. 2. “I provide a careful and unbiased review of all cases that come before me and I am confident in the integrity of our policies and procedures.”

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