• U.S.

The Law: Bod and Man at Yale

2 minute read

“I don’t know of a single department where at least one faculty member hasn’t occasionally slept with a student,” says Patricia Jette, assistant professor of sociology at Yale, “but this same problem exists at every university I know of.” Among some participants, faculty-student sex is scarcely considered a problem, and some women’s rooms at Yale even have graffiti rating various professors on their prowess. But when a professor uses threats or favoritism, the game can become a federal case.

That, at least, is the purpose of four coeds and a male classics professor who have filed a class action in U.S. District Court, New Haven, charging Yale University with sex discrimination for tolerating sexual coercion of female students by male teachers. (The classics professor claimed that his colleagues’ philandering had created “an atmosphere poisoned by distrust” which had made effective teaching impossible.) The suit names two alleged faculty offenders, but not as defendants. Instead, the court is asked to order Yale to set up a formal grievance procedure for such complaints, complete with disciplinary authority over professors found guilty.

One plaintiff, a 22-year-old Los Angeles woman, alleged that a Yale music instructor “repeatedly made sexual advances, including coerced sexual intercourse, that were not wanted and were protested” from 1973 until her graduation this spring. As a result, she claimed she “found it impossible to continue playing the flute and abandoned her study of the instrument, thus aborting her desired professional career.” Another plaintiff, a 19-year-old junior, alleged she was subjected to repeated “sexual harassment” this spring every time she visited an English professor’s office to discuss term papers. Anne Simon, a Yale Law School alumna who is representing the plaintiffs, estimates that 75 such incidents occur at Yale every semester.

Jose Cabranes, Yale’s attorney, denounced the suit as “reckless and obviously designed to attract maximum publicity for groundless charges.” He said the university already had a system for investigating the harassment of students —but it is a system set up last year only to aid blacks, and has never been used to investigate sexual coercion charges.

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