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On May 23, 1991, Frances K. Conley, the first female, tenured full professor of neurosurgery in the United States and a full professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, sent a letter to David Korn, the Dean of the Medical School, resigning her position effective September 1, 1991, the end of the academic year. She had told Korn she would resign if he appointed Gerald Silverberg, acting head of the department at the time, to the position of chair. He did appoint Silverberg, and Conley felt she had no choice but to follow through on her decision.
It was a tough choice for Conley, because she had long and deep ties to the University. Right after she sent her letter of resignation to Korn, she chaired a medical school faculty senate meeting where students recited instance after instance of insults and inappropriate behavior. The letter and the resignation had been private, but Conley soon decided she should write an essay explaining her decision and not just slip quietly away.
With the help of a friend, she drafted an op-ed piece and sent it to the San Francisco Chronicle and three other papers. After submitting her essay, Conley was called by a reporter from the Chronicle who asked her several questions and published an article on June 1, 1991, entitled, “Stanford Brain Surgeon Quits Over ‘Sex Harassment.’”
The week following the publication of the San Francisco Chronicle article, Conley arrived at her office to find three television station interviewers waiting for an interview. In addition, the dean of the medical school, David Korn, was in the process of writing a press release addressing Conley’s resignation and sexual harassment. Soon thereafter, Conley had appeared on CNN and Good Morning America as well as Bay Area television stations and articles about her had run in the New York Times, People, and numerous other local and national newspapers including the Stanford newspaper, The Campus Report.
Conley, still maintaining her regular research and operating schedule, barely had time to reflect on the events that had transpired and what forces she had apparently unleashed. But as she prepared to take her next actions, Conley wondered how the situation had reached such a frenzied state and whether she had made the best decisions possible that spring. For that matter, Conley wondered if she should have done things differently in the years leading up to 1991.
Most importantly, Conley knew that there was no turning back—the genie was out of the bottle. So the question was: What should she expect and what should she do next?
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Case No: OB48A,B