gse dean

The portrait of former GSE Dean Dell Hymes, prior to its removal. (Photo from Kristina Lewis)

The Graduate School of Education removed a portrait of former GSE Dean Dell Hymes from its building on Thursday after students put posters next to the picture detailing Hymes’ history of alleged sexual harassment and discrimination during his tenure as dean of the school from 1975 to 1987.

In an email to all GSE staff, students, and faculty, current Dean Pam Grossman announced on April 5 that the portrait would be removed. According to second-year GSE Ph.D. student Kristina Lewis, who put up the posters, Hymes’ portrait was gone from the wall by 2 p.m. that day and had been replaced by a portrait of Susan Fuhrman, who served as GSE dean from 1995 to 2006. 

“Yesterday, someone put up a poster on the 2nd floor of our building, raising concerns about [Hymes] and wondering why GSE would honor someone with a history of harassment,” Grossman wrote in the email. “We hear and share this concern. Although I didn’t know the dean or his specific history, we will be taking down the portrait as we look into this further and determine next steps.”

Lewis put up the poster referred to in Grossman's email on Wednesday. On Thursday morning she taped a photocopied page from a sociolinguistics textbook that described Hymes’ alleged sexual harassment of several women to the window next to the portrait.

Photo from Kristina Lewis

Lewis said she decided to put up the signs after learning about the bevy of accusations against Hymes during his tenure. This included his female graduate advisees being nicknamed “Hymes’ Harem,” female GSE faculty testifying against Hymes for sexual harassment, and Penn faculty in other schools severing their formal ties with GSE after multiple women filed sexual discrimination lawsuits for being denied tenure.

"Seeing these articles about Hymes in the midst of our work to call for change around sexual harassment policies at Penn really intensified my dismay at continuing to see his portrait displayed prominently at GSE," Lewis said.

The first poster addressing Hymes’ sexual harassment accusations was posted next to the portrait on March 30, as part of a one-day work-in for improved sexual harassment reporting policies organized by Penn’s graduate student union, Graduate Employees Together – University of Pennsylvania. The bright pink sign read “Dell Hymes groped women."

Both Jennifer Phuong and Lewis are in GSE’s Educational Linguistics Department, which was founded by Hymes, and both said they had heard rumors about his alleged behavior even before last week, when they first came upon The Daily Pennsylvanian articles about him from the 1980s. Phuong described the rumors of Hymes’ misconduct as “institutional knowledge” within the department. 

“Those had always been kind of hush-hush conversations because Dell Hymes founded the program,” Phuong said. “We read his work a lot.” 

Photo from Kristina Lewis

Lewis said that at least some faculty seem to consider Hymes’ academic work “fundamental” to the program, which raises questions about how to address his legacy — deciding whether or not to cite Hymes’ work, for example. Lewis said she hopes the removal of the portrait will “stimulate continued conversations” in GSE about Hymes’ academic legacy. 

Karla Venegas, another doctoral student in educational linguistics, said that Hymes’ reputation for sexual harassment came up pretty quickly in her first few weeks at Penn.

“[It] was never a rumor nor a mystery to me,” Venegas said, comparing awareness of Hymes' alleged sexual harassment to common knowledge such as what software programs to use or which classes to take. 

According to a DP article from December 1988, Hymes had reached out-of-court settlements with multiple GSE faculty who had filed sexual discrimination lawsuits against him and had been named in a court case involving the sexual harassment of a female GSE faculty member. After a "going-away bash" hosted at the Penn museum, Hymes left Penn in 1987 for a research post at the University of Virginia. He retired from UVA in 1998 and died in 2009.

GSE Ph.D. candidate and GET-UP member Jennifer Phuong, who wrote the March 30 sign at the work-in, said that while she thought removing the Hymes portrait was “great," she wants the administration to do more to address current issues around sexual harassment on campus.

Grossman's Thursday email also said that the GSE administration will send a summary of the March 29 Open Forum, where GET-UP members raised the question of sexual harassment policies, for students who didn’t attend. She also promised that administration will conduct a climate survey for GSE students, staff, and faculty, and that she will continue hosting office hours so students can share their concerns “directly” with the GSE administration.

Despite this, Phuong noted that Grossman’s email made no mention of the March 30 work-in at GSE, despite the fact that it caused “a lot of conversation in the building” among faculty, staff, and students. Phuong said that several faculty members took printed copies of GET-UP’s policy recommendations at the work-in, and others gave positive feedback about the recommendations.

Nelson Flores, an assistant professor in GSE’s educational linguistics department, made a post on Twitter describing the “courage” and “tireless effort” of GSE students that led to the Hymes portrait being removed. Flores also posted a link to GET-UP’s recommendations to improve sexual harassment policies, “to prevent what Dell Hymes got away with from happening again in the future.” 

“The lack of acknowledgement [from the administration] of some of the work that students have been doing […] is noteworthy,” Phuong said.

The portrait removal is the latest in a string of events involving issues of sexual harassment at GSE, which started after GET-UP published a petition in September 2017 calling for improved sexual harassment policies. Currently, GET-UP is focused on promoting its list of recommendations to improve University sexual harassment policy, which the organization publicized at the University Council Open Forum and at last week’s work-in.

“Taking down a portrait is in some ways an easy fix, but how can concrete changes be made to sexual harassment policies that are currently affecting students?” Phuong asked. “How can we address the behavior of professors who might be abusing their power currently? How do we avoid another Dell Hymes?”

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