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NYT article puts sexual misconduct back on front burner

Yale’s handling of sexual-misconduct allegations is once again drawing fire, this time among medical faculty and on the front page of the New York Times.

Under the headline “Harassment Case Stirs Doubts on Women’s Treatment at Yale,” a November 2 article reports that Michael Simons ’84MD, former section chief of cardiology at the School of Medicine and Yale–New Haven Hospital, was suspended from that position for 18 months amid charges that he sexually harassed a female employee and retaliated against her boyfriend-turned-husband, who is also a Yale cardiologist.

The article further reports that the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, which investigated the complaints, recommended a stiffer penalty: removing Simons as section chief altogether and imposing a five-year ban on other leadership positions.

Provost Ben Polak, who has final jurisdiction over UWC recommendations for penalties against faculty members, reduced the punishment, the Times reports. According to the newspaper, some medical school faculty have raised concerns about the lack of transparency and about a possible conflict of interest: Simons’s wife, Katerina Simons ’86PhD, is Polak’s colleague in the economics department, which he chaired before becoming provost last year.

Simons has “decided not to return” to his post as section chief, a university spokesman says. He remains the Robert W. Berliner Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) and Professor of Cell Biology, the director of the Yale Cardiovascular Research Center, and leader of a research collaboration with University College London.

Reached by e-mail, Simons calls the article “not factual” and “highly slanted.” Citing the UWC’s confidentiality rules, he declines to identify specific inaccuracies, but defends his record of hiring and mentoring women on the faculty.

President Peter Salovey ’86PhD addressed the “troubling” article and its aftermath in a message to the Yale community. While emphasizing his “commitment to fostering an environment of respectful, fair, and equitable treatment for all faculty, staff, and students—not just at the medical school, but throughout the entire university”—Salovey defends the “thorough, fair, and unbiased” work of the UWC.

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

Polak also says that he has sometimes accepted the UWC’s recommended penalties, sometimes increased them, and sometimes reduced them.

Apart from the specifics of the Simons case, some of which are in dispute, the Times article reflects concerns on campus about the lack of transparency in Yale’s sexual-misconduct proceedings. Formal complaints, such as those apparently filed against Simons, and informal complaints are supposed to be strictly confidential, to protect both the complainant and the respondent. Simons, Salovey, and Polak all cite those rules in saying they can’t address specific allegations.

Problems arise when there is dissatisfaction with an outcome—because there’s no explanation of how decisions were reached—and when someone leaks confidential information.

In this case, the Times says it “obtained extensive documents related to the case” but does not identify those documents, except for the UWC’s findings and recommendations. The article makes factual assertions about what happened between Simons and the complainants without attributing them to any document or interview. Simons characterizes the leaks as “one-sided” and “a gross violation of Yale and UWC confidentiality rules.”

The complaints, reportedly filed with the UWC by Annarita Di Lorenzo and Frank Giordano, arise from allegations that Simons expressed sexual interest in Di Lorenzo, then a junior researcher at the School of Medicine, in 2010.

Di Lorenzo told Simons that his interest “was unwelcome and insulting to her, her new boyfriend and Dr. Simons’s wife,” the Times reports. But “Dr. Simons told her that she was choosing the wrong man since he was in a position to ‘open the world of science’ to her,” the newspaper continues, without attributing the allegations.

After Di Lorenzo moved to Weill Cornell Medical College in 2011, Giordano “remained at Yale, and asserts that his career stalled after Dr. Simons disparaged him and froze him out professionally,” the article says.

The UWC, formed in 2011 amid a federal investigation of Yale’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints, “ruled last year that Dr. Simons had sexually harassed and created a hostile work environment for Dr. Di Lorenzo,” the Times reports.

“The committee found that Dr. Simons had publicly derided Dr. Giordano,” the article continues, “but it stopped short of saying negative actions like removing him from a grant had been retaliatory. . . . It did find that Dr. Simons had exercised improper leadership and compromised decision-making regarding Dr. Giordano.”

Giordano’s relationship with Simons “became so difficult” that another administrator “took over his direct supervision to protect him from Dr. Simons,” the Times says, citing the UWC report.

In his e-mail to the Yale Alumni Magazine, Simons responds:

Several years ago I briefly pursued by e-mail a colleague who was in a junior but not subordinate position. For this error in judgment I have apologized, and I genuinely regret my action. However, in no way did I use abuse my position at Yale to punish, or retaliate against any faculty member—a fact the Yale’s University-Wide Committee confirmed. My professional decisions have always been based only on talent, merit and that which is in the best interest of Yale, its staff and students. Any other inference is simply not true.

As head of the cardiovascular research center, he continues, “I hired 11 faculty—five of them were women. I hired many more in clinical cardiology.” The Times reporter, he asserts, was “manipulated by a small and vocal group of people with an axe to grind.”

Indeed, Simons has defenders among female faculty and staff. A Yale Daily News article—whose headline describes a “mood of fear” in the cardiology department—quotes professor Anne Eichmann as saying Simons has “created an outstanding working environment at the [Yale Cardiovascular Research Center] and has been very supportive of women scientists there.” Associate professor Kathleen Martin “described Simons as a continually supportive mentor to women” and said she has never seen harassment in her workplace.

Nonetheless, the case has caused an uproar at the medical school, the Times says, adding that its reporter “interviewed 18 faculty members who expressed anger at how it had been handled, with no public acknowledgment of wrongdoing.”

Despite the federal investigation and Yale’s overhaul of sexual-misconduct procedures, “Many faculty members say little has changed” at the medical school, the Times reports. One prominent researcher, Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Joan Steitz, told the paper she is “very disappointed” at the lack of progress.

That view, though not unanimous, is widespread, the Times reports:

Last month, a majority of senior faculty from the department of medicine—by far the school’s largest division—attended a town-hall-style meeting with the dean, requested by the professors, to discuss the medical school’s expectations of professional behavior, the climate for women and recent complaints of sexual harassment. In the last two weeks, the same issues were raised at smaller meetings.

Specifically on the Simons case, a group of senior women on the med school faculty wrote to President Peter Salovey ’86PhD to express “concern about the lack of transparency or honesty in the communication announcing Dr. Simons’s leave, and particularly the absence of any suggestion that there had been wrongdoing,” the Times says, quoting the letter.

“The communication could easily have been interpreted as Dr. Simons being awarded a special academic leave relative to some important work.”

A Yale–New Haven newsletter in January 2014 simply said Simons would “step down” for 18 months.

Yesterday, the medical school convened a new Task Force on Gender Equity, with Salovey and Polak attending the first meeting.

“I expressed in the strongest terms that the work of this group of faculty is a priority for the university as well as the school,” Salovey writes in his message to the Yale community. Saying he has asked the group to report directly to him as well as the dean and provost, Salovey adds: “I have high expectations for the work of the Task Force.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.


  • Josh Bachman
    Josh Bachman, 10:15am November 06 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Who is surprised at this? This horrible stuff has been going on at Yale for years. Anyone remember Schlessinger? OMG while Lorimer and Robinson were helping Yale violate Title IX, participating in retaliation against employees trying to uphold federal law and misrepresenting crime stats Yale Corp decided to give them more money and retirement payments. What does this place stand for anymore??

  • Michael L. Lazare, '53
    Michael L. Lazare, '53, 6:12pm November 08 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Why was the provost not fired immediately?

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