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New details in Darnell suspension

When tenured professor John Darnell announced his suspension from the Yale faculty last week for sexual misconduct, he did not name the student-turned-colleague with whom he had an improper relationship. But last October, Darnell’s wife did just that in a publicly available divorce court filing, asserting that Darnell began an affair with Colleen Manassa ’01, ’05PhD, in 2000.

Darnell, a prominent Egyptologist, last week announced his resignation as chair of the department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and his one-year suspension from the faculty. Officials confirmed to the Yale Daily News that the suspension is unpaid and that Darnell will also not serve as director of the Yale Egyptological Institute during that time.

In an January 8 e-mail to colleagues, Darnell acknowledged several violations of Yale policy, starting with “maintaining an intimate relationship with a Yale student, who was under my direct supervision.” In addition, “I violated the provisions of the Faculty Handbook by participating in the review of a faculty member with whom I had an intimate relationship,” he wrote. “Finally, I improperly used my leadership role in Egyptology at Yale in an effort to ensure that these policy violations would not come to light.”

After Darnell’s e-mail became public, anonymous sources named Manassa and contended that the affair began when she was a student and continued while Darnell’s department hired and then promoted her. The divorce filing, which the Yale Alumni Magazine obtained from Connecticut Superior Court, is the first on-the-record identification of Manassa. In 2000, when the affair allegedly began, Manassa was an undergraduate.

Reached by phone, Manassa says: “I really have no comment on the matter.” Neither John Darnell nor his estranged wife, Deborah Darnell, could be reached for comment after several attempts.

John Darnell filed for divorce in August 2012, saying the 23-year marriage had “broken down irretrievably.” Deborah Darnell—also an Egyptologist who collaborated on projects with her husband, but is not a member of the Yale faculty—filed a cross-complaint alleging that “on diverse days since 2000,” her husband “committed adultery with one Colleen Marie Manassa.”

Manassa earned both her bachelors degree and her PhD in Darnell’s department, known as NELC, which hired her as an assistant professor in 2006 and promoted her to associate professor in 2010, according to her faculty page. She is currently the director of undergraduate studies. She is not known to be accused of violating any Yale policies.

During Manassa’s student years, Yale policy prohibited faculty members from having consensual relations with students they taught. That is still the case for relationships between faculty and graduate students. In 2009, the university barred faculty from  “sexual or amorous relationships” with any undergraduates, regardless of whether they were their teachers.*

John Darnell apparently participated in his lover's hiring and/or promotion, a conflict that his e-mail acknowledged as a violation of the Faculty Handbook.

A senior faculty colleague says in an interview that Darnell improperly participated in “more than one” employment decision involving his lover, whom the colleague declines to name. The colleague—Benjamin Foster ’75PhD, an Assyriologist and former department chair—says that while Darnell’s “announcement came out of the blue, the basic situation has been known for a very long time,” because “Yale’s a village.”

Foster declines to explain why the improper relationship was allowed to continue for so long or how it finally came to light.

In recent years, critics have accused Yale of not taking sexual misconduct complaints seriously enough. The university has overhauled its handling of such complaints and now releases semiannual reports documenting their number and nature and how they are resolved.

In his four decades at Yale, Foster says, “I’ve never heard of a faculty member being suspended.”


* Editor's Note: This paragraph was edited after it was posted.

Filed under John Darnell, Colleen Manassa
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