Sunday, November 2, 2014

Exclusivism Eclipses Veritas at Yale

Michael Simons, head of the cardiology department of the School of Medicine, made unwelcome sexual advances in writing to Annarita Di Lorenzo,  a researcher 18 years younger at the school in 2010. Simons wrote that he wanted to kiss the woman’s lips, and every part of her “body in every continent and city of the world.”[1] Referring to Frank Giordano, the woman’s boyfriend at the time and subsequently husband, Simon wrote that the woman was choosing the wrong man.  Simons would keep Giordano from important meetings and assignments. The relationship between the two men became so difficult that Jack Elias, the chairman of medicine, took over the direct supervision of Giordano to protect the untenured instructor from Simon.

Nevertheless, Yale’s provost, dismissed a university committee’s recommendation that Simons be permanently removed from his position in favor of an 18-month suspension. Faculty members claimed that Simons’ success in snagging $5 million annually from the U.S. Government in grants in 2012 and 2013 had been a factor, as well as the fact that the provost had been chair of the economics department, where Simons’ wife was a faculty member. The monetary element would not be lost on virtually any academic administrator at any university, but the “old boys club” sticky web of connections at the elitist Yale could mean that “outsiders” suffer considerable abuse there; the Provost’s dismissiveness of the university committee’s recommendation is but one indication of how distorted the moral compasses can be among the most powerful in the “club.”

As most Yalies undoubtedly know, incremental exclusivisms exist within Yale; the pleasure for a faculty member in being selected to a higher post and a student in being “tapped” to join one of the secret societies strangely depends in no small measure on being able to see others excluded (i.e., hurt). In other words, rather than finding the sheer opening of a door to be fulfilling, the true pleasure lies in watching the door hit others in the ass the hinges swing back.

For example, as a student at Yale, I spent an “all-nighter” going through the admissions ritual of one of the debating parties in the Yale Political Union. Once I was in, the party’s chairman suggested that I attend a party that the party would be giving on an upcoming Friday night.

“The party owns a secret society,” he explained to me, “so you and all other male members of the party can join the society. This Friday at the party we will be tapping people so you will want to be there.”

Assuming that I would be able to join the society too, I cancelled my pre-existing plans and attended the party, which was in a room half way up the university’s clock tower. In actuality, only three people were tapped. They had all been officers in the party’s elite, so I quickly realized that the chairman had wanted me to attend not because I would be tapped, but, rather, in order to watch his friends being selected. The chairman subsequently lied to party-members—saying that I had misunderstood him. Whereas most party members in such a situation typically resigned with great fanfare during one of the weekly debates, I did not resign; instead, I simply had nothing to do with the party or its little cadre of officers. To this day, I am a member of a party in the Yale Political Union.

My point is that deceit used to protect the club within the club at Yale is not a rare deed. Perhaps you can grasp more fully why De Lorenzo may have felt no avenue left to her but to leave the university,  why her husband’s career was effectively stalled by a jealous faculty administrator, and why the provost dismissed the committee’s recommendation. The pyramidal exclusivism within Yale is so strong that unfairness and even outright aggression may seem justified to some.

1. Tamar Lewin, “Handling of Sexual Harassment Case Poses Larger Questions at Yale,” The New York Times, November 1, 2014.