“In making this transfer, the University had no intention to confer a new honor on Dr. Simons,” the university spokeswoman Karen Peart said in a statement to the Yale Daily News.
But in a June 22 letter congratulating Simons on his new appointment, Salovey, Yale’s president, struck a different tone. “Endowed chairs are awarded to those whose scholarship has brought distinction to the university,” he wrote to Simons, whom he addressed as “Mike.” “I am delighted to convey our pleasure in your accomplishments.”
Critics have long argued that Yale’s administration went too easy on Simons in 2013. Alpern, the medical-school dean, did little to alleviate those concerns during a tense meeting in September 2018 with Yale’s committee on women in medicine. As he sought to justify the university’s decision to give Simons a new endowed title, two professors who attended the meeting say Alpern described the superstar cardiologist as “defenseless.”
“This medical school is his house,” says Lynn Fiellin, an associate professor at the medical school, of Alpern. “He is the one who should be able to step up and set the tone and do the right things. Not just say things, not just create committees or town halls or what have you. Actually take the action that is necessary.”
At the beginning of the fall-2018 semester, Alpern, who started as dean in 2004, planned to seek a fourth five-year term as the medical school’s top administrator. But before the holidays, he instead announced that he would leave the position, saying he plans to stay on the faculty and pursue academic interests.
In an email, Alpern declined to comment on his meeting with the women in medicine committee, and on anything to do with Simons, who sued Yale over its decision to strip him of his new professorship. (Simons eventually withdrew the lawsuit, and neither he nor his lawyer, Norm Pattis, responded to requests for comment.) But Alpern defended his leadership of the medical school, emphasizing that he made salary equity a priority of his tenure and that the percentage of female faculty members has increased from 29.5 percent in 2004 to 39.4 percent in 2019. “The Yale School of Medicine does not tolerate sexual misconduct,” he wrote. “We would never allow anyone who has been accused of misconduct to receive special treatment because of their academic accomplishments.”
A Yale spokesman said Salovey, the university president, was not available for an interview. But in a short statement, Salovey said the medical school “has more work to do” in promoting gender equity. “In recruiting a new dean” of the Yale School of Medicine, he wrote, “I will seek an individual for whom advancing gender equity and eliminating sex-based and other forms of discrimination and harassment are the highest priorities.”
Not every faculty member believes the school faces a crisis. Linda Mayes, who runs the medical school’s Child Study Center, calls the Simons controversy a “distraction” from the medical school’s recent efforts to promote gender equity, such as the appointment of a deputy dean focused on diversity and the rollout of a more generous parental-leave policy, among other initiatives. “I understand the feelings,” Mayes says, “but there’s a lot going on that’s very positive.”