Times reports sexual assault claim against Witt ’12

Former quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 may not have had the option of pursuing a Rhodes scholarship when he announced on Nov. 13 that he would play in the 2011 Yale-Harvard football game, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Citing interviews with six anonymous sources “with knowledge of all or part of the story,” the article stated that a female Yale student approached the University’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education Center in September before filing an informal complaint — alleging that Witt had sexually assaulted her in her dorm room — with the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct. The Times reported that the Rhodes Trust had learned of the accusation several days before Witt announced he would play in The Game. According to the article, the Rhodes Trust notified Yale that Witt would be ineligible for the scholarship unless University administrators re-endorsed his candidacy.

Witt could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Witt walked with the class of 2011 at Commencement in May and returned this fall to complete his studies as a second-semester senior. Though Witt told the News Jan. 8 that he had “already graduated,” University spokesman Tom Conroy said Thursday night that Witt has not graduated.

On Oct. 31, Witt was notified that he had been selected as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship and would need to attend a mandatory interview in his home state of Georgia on Nov. 19, the same day as the Yale-Harvard game.

The University and Witt announced that he would play in the Yale-Harvard game in a Nov. 13 press release from Yale Athletics. Though the release did not explicitly link Witt’s choice to play in the game with his decision to withdraw his Rhodes Scholarship application, the News and other media outlets reported that Witt gave up his interview to stay in New Haven for the Game.

“Senior quarterback Patrick Witt, who has completed more passes for more yards than anyone ever at Yale, has withdrawn his application for the Rhodes Scholarship and will be in New Haven all day on Nov. 19 to make his third start against Harvard,” the release stated.

That same day, the Sunday before The Game, Witt told the News that he was declining all interview requests that week.

University administrators reached Thursday night — including University President Richard Levin, Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Provost Peter Salovey — declined to comment on the allegations against Witt.

Conroy said student disciplinary matters are confidential and that it would be illegal for the University to discuss an allegation against a student.

“My understanding is that all the facts in [the Times] story are based on anonymous sources,” Conroy said. “All the alleged facts are from anonymous sources.”

Students at Yale can file two kinds of complaints with the UWC — formal and informal — and the University maintains confidentiality in both cases. Miller said in a Thursday email that she is only notified of formal complaints.

An informal complaint, which the Times reported was filed against Witt, leads to either limited or no investigation and can be resolved within a few days. The status of the alleged complaint against Witt is unknown.

The University also maintains confidentiality for scholarship and fellowship applications such as the Rhodes, Conroy said. He added that “no one at Yale discussed with the New York Times any aspects of the Rhodes scholarship other than process.”

Though the Times reported that the dean of Yale College is required to submit a report for all Rhodes nominations, Miller said residential college deans are responsible for signing Rhodes applications, not the Yale College dean.

In order for Witt to complete his Rhodes application, he would have needed the signature of then-Jonathan Edwards College Dean Kyle Farley, who announced Nov. 3 that he would leave at the end of the semester. Farley, who took an administrative position in Australia, could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

It remains unclear whether University administrators re-endorsed his candidacy following the player’s suspension, as the Times reported.

American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust Elliot Gerson declined to comment for this story in a Thursday night email, citing the “confidential matters” involved.

Director of Athletics Tom Beckett could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Witt transferred to Yale from the University of Nebraska in 2009.

Maria Guardado, Jimin He, Tapley Stephenson and Antonia Woodford contributed reporting.

Comments

  • eli1

    Sounds like Duke lacrosse part II. Let the witch hunt and public media lynching begin!! Who needs facts anyway. There certainly weren’t any in this story.

  • MC09

    This should have been a YDN story, not a NYT story, just like the Tom Williams story…

  • SY10

    eli1,
    While obviously the veracity of the sexual assault claim isn’t something that is going to be very easy for the media to assess, it seems very likely that the basic story (he was accused, the Rhodes committee found out and decided that he would become ineligible for the scholarship, and he then lied about the circumstances of the withdrawal of his candidacy) is accurate. There are plenty of people who would know about those circumstances, and Witt would presumably deny them if they were untrue (which he hasn’t done).

    As for the alleged crime, we obviously don’t know if he did it, but most claims of sexual assault are true, and, in any case, the way Yale seems to have dealt with it is very clearly a problem (since Yale’s behavior would have been the same regardless of whether the crime happened or not).

    • sonofmory

      “most cases of sexual assaut are true”

      where in hell are you getting that “fact?”

      • SY10

        http://www2.state.id.us/crimevictim/conference/handouts/False-Allegations.pdf

        Other research (much of it discussed in the above article) has had similar findings – rates of false accusation are between 2 and 10%. Obviously that doesn’t change the presumption of innocence in a criminal case (and it’s worth remembering that, unlike the Duke case, there are no criminal charges here, so if Pat is innocent he’s actually suffering far less/in far less danger than the Duke lacrosse players were), but it does mean that it’s extremely problematic that many commenters here are assuming the accusation was a lie just because they like Pat or are fans of Yale football.

        • y07hls10

          Thanks for refuting that so ably.

        • River_Tam

          False reporting doesn’t mean what you think it means. Read the actual paper you link to.

          False reporting means that the police classified it as a false report or that it was otherwise discredited before charges could be filed. It says nothing about the actual innocence or guilt of the accused.

    • DavidLott

      Even if correct, it matters not a whit that “most” sexual assault claims are true. The issue is whether this one is true. If someone accuses you of shoplifting, SY, and most shoplifting claims are accurate, should we presume that you are a shoplifter in determining your future? How about robbery? Murder? What the hell are they teaching you people at Yale?

  • An_Observer

    Right now, with the story fresh off the press, everybody in the blogosphere is focusing on the emotional elements which jump out of the story: Was a female student assaulted? Is she fabricating her story? Why didn’t she file a formal complaint? Is Witt getting the protection of due process? Is he a felon or a cad or merely the victim of a false accusation? Because he’s an athlete, is he getting a free pass or is he getting railroaded?

    But, eventually, after the story has percolated for a while, people will realize that there is another big issue going on. Yale University knowingly assisted Witt in writing and issuing a press release which was a complete lie.

    Let’s say it again: A press release was written and issued by the athletic department that university administrators knew was fraudulent.

    The press release made Witt look like a hero for turning down his Rhodes interview when his candidacy was already dead. The fabricated story made Witt and, by extension, Yale look noble when the reality was just the opposite. This was a cover-up.

    Right now, everybody is talking about the “he said, she said” element of what happened between Witt and his complainant.

    But the bigger issue is why did Yale tell the media a lie about Witt’s suspended candidacy? Who approved that press release? Beckett? Levin? Should that person keep his job?

  • YC008

    I agree with MC09 above. How embarrassing to watch the YDN play catch up to the NYTimes yet again on what should have been their own story (first Williams and now Witt). Isn’t the YDN supposed to be the pinnacle of college journalism? And yet, twice now, they have been reduced to paraphrasing NYTimes articles about issues on our own campus they should have uncovered, or known about, no question. I also fail to understand (referencing the four person byline of this article) how it took four YDN reporters to basically write a summary or CliffNotes version of yesterday’s NYTimes article. I am a huge fan of the YDN and always have been, which is why I hold them to a higher standard than this.

    • cyborg

      Well, actually it is good that the YDN is playing “catchup” here as the NYT story is largely based on rumor and innuendo. It is disturbingly short on facts, sort of like their WMD reporting.

  • River_Tam

    Say it ain’t so, Pat.

    • Branford73

      He’s probably bound the confidentiality of the informal complaint process, at least until he’s finished his thesis and is awarded his degree.

      Are the “half dozen” leakers members of the university community (students, administrators?) bound not to breach confidentiality of the process, the process chosen by the victim/accuser?

  • EliFBfan

    I certainly understand why the YDN had to follow up on the NYT’s article. The entire NYT’s article is despicable in the extreme even for the “rag of record.” Nothing but a hatchet job aimed at character assassination, I presume to sell newspapers.

    There is so little credibility to the article the NYT had to say, “This account of the accusation against Witt and how it affected his Rhodes candidacy is based on interviews with a half-dozen people with knowledge of all or part of the story; they all spoke on the condition of anonymity.” Just incredible, not one established fact, not one verified source. How’s that a printable story, anywhere? Where’s the accountability? Where’s the ethics?

    This is Duke Lacrosse and Tawana Brawley revisited.

    “And the Rhodes committee learned about the incident through unofficial sources.” Now who do you suppose made that phone call?

    Pat Witt is an Academic All American from Yale trying to finish his senior thesis so he can graduate and prepare for the NFL draft. I like many, many others, wish him nothing but good luck.

    • es1212

      He doesn’t have a chance in hell in the draft.

      • observer

        Correct. Witt was no better than the 4th or 5th best quarterback in the Ivy League this year. Not on either the 1st or 2nd league all-star team. This flirtation with a pro career may be evidence of his daddy’s ambitions more than anything.

    • gzuckier

      Do you not read the Times? “How’s that a printable story, anywhere?”
      The Times daily runs stories based on a single anonymous source; that’s kind of a standard MO for the White House, for instance, to publicize things. Doesn’t always pan out, of course; “WMD in Iraq” for instance. But six anonymous sources represents an unusual level of confirmation, signs that the Times really evinced some skepticism.

  • Skeptic

    Re: An_Observer et al.,
    It is a bit naive to think a press release is anything more than a self-serving (yet, one hopes, not factually false) account of something.

    But, eventually, after the story has percolated for a while, people will realize that there is another big issue going on. Yale University knowingly assisted Witt in writing and issuing a press release which was a complete lie.

    “Let’s say it again: A press release was written and issued by the athletic department that university administrators knew was fraudulent.

    “The press release made Witt look like a hero for turning down his Rhodes interview when his candidacy was already dead. The fabricated story made Witt and, by extension, Yale look noble when the reality was just the opposite. This was a cover-up.”

    Press releases are “spin” and usually present the good and omit the bad.. to believe otherwise is simply to be gullible. They should be read, as should all advertising, with healthy skepticism. A press release is not investigative journalism, but advocacy. With only the information presented in this YDN article, it seems to me that the Yale Press release was likely factually correct, but not telling the full story.. Duh?

    • ernie

      Yes, it seems likely that the University made sure not to directly lie. But it certainly benefited from the public glow of Witt’s story and provided Witt himself with a platform to do the same by encouraging the the media to report a false account of events. One hopes that the sexual assault report has been treated as more than a PR inconvenience by Levin et al.

  • AlexH

    I realize that some people here want to defend Witt, but it is unfair to say that it is the “Duke Lacrosse scandal part II.” It is wholly unfair to besmirch her character when she did exactly what people who have been victims of sexual assault are encouraged to do, which is report it. She exercised her rights under Yale’s UWC and it is unfair to say that she is lying simply because the NYT used other anonymous sources to create their story. In fact, she may not have revealed her identity because of a tendency of the public to believe that accusers are lying when it comes to publicly known athletes. While Witt is innocent until proven guilt in our judicial system, that does not therefore mean that she is lying until proven truthful. We should try to keep the core issue of an allegation of sexual assault and what the means in our general campus culture separate from the media construction that goes up around it.

  • highandelm

    Half of the comments on this article are thoroughly idiotic. The New York Times article had no facts — literally none — and had only anonymous sources. Was this large enough a story to merit the use of anonymous sources to ruin a person’s character? No, it wasn’t.

    It’s almost like YDN is doing damage control here, rather than simply summarize an article. And everyone here keeps saying that YDN should have been on this first — but on what? What’s the story? Tell me concretely what happened with Witt outside wild speculation, and then tell me that YDN should’ve written this first.

    • ashe12

      spot on, on every point you make.

    • uncommons

      agreed.

  • The Anti-Yale

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2012/01/22/penn-state-editor-resigns.html

    After the resignation of the editor of Penn State’s Daily Beast for prematurely reporting the death of Joe Paterno by 24-hours in order to beat the journalistic competition, the YDN is PRUDENT to verify the facts —–if there are any in the NYT article.

    PK

  • YaleCollegeDad

    Please read http://www.mindingthecampus.com/forum/2012/01/the_times_vilifies_another_ath.html
    January 27, 2012
    The Times Vilifies Another Athlete, Presenting No Evidence Posted by KC Johnson

    • SY10

      That article, of course, ignores entirely the extent to which Yale has a record of pushing sexual assault victims into using informal university grievance procedures rather than going to the police or even making more formal university complaints, and the fact that the worst thing that could happen to Witt under the supposedly horrendously unfair system through which he was accused was to be moved to a different dorm. I’m sorry if I think that actually does require a lower level of proof than does a criminal conviction and long prison sentence. Similarly, people receiving the Rhodes are supposed to have “moral force of character” or something like that and given the number of highly accomplished applicants for the fellowship, it seems like a university has no business supporting a candidate whose character is under serious doubt, even if the evidence doesn’t reach the level necessary for a criminal conviction.

  • JohnnyE

    This is not comparable to the Duke Lacrosse case in 2006.

  • Y86

    As a Yale alum and magazine editor, I thought this was a very sloppily written story and potentially highly unfair to Witt…

    http://www.richardbradley.net/shotsinthedark/

  • Y86

    Sorry–not the YDN story, the Times story.

  • penny_lane

    What I’m concerned about is that the YDN editors knew about the real reason for Witt’s withdrawal in November, and yet reported the false story that he DELIBERATELY withdrew to play in the Game. (Alex Klein cites sources confirming this knowledge in the article here: http://tinyurl.com/86emjuh)

    Publishing a story they knew was false is a very serious ethical breach that I find highly disturbing.

    • Yale12

      Klein is full of s***. The YDN has said several times that they only knew about the assault complaint, not about its connection to the Rhodes.

  • sonofmory

    PAtrick has issued a statement opposing the NYT article – when is the YDN going to publish that – tomorrow?

    • eli1

      Agreed. It is the YDN’s responsibility to publish Patrick’s statement before the end of the day so that people can see both sides over the weekend and make up their own mind. In the interim, heres the link to Patrick’s statement http://portal31nhr.blogspot.com/

  • EliFBfan

    I admire Max and the YDN for not originating this “non story.” The NYT article is garbage, not journalism, and it’s amazing the article got past an editor. Despite the remarks of an earlier post this is EXACTLY what happened at Duke in 2006.

  • The Anti-Yale

    http://jimromenesko.com/2012/01/27/yale-daily-news-editor-sat-on-explosive-patrick-witt-story-for-months/

    YALE DAILY NEWS EDITORS SAT ON EXPLOSIVE PATRICK WITT STORY FOR MONTHS
    By ALEX KLEIN

    “ . . . As current Science and Technology editor Eli Markham told me, the News’ editor-in-chief, Max de la Bruyere, decided to sit on the story in mid-November. “It’s more complicated than that,” he told a leader on last year’s editorial board, who asked to remain anonymous. Multiple current and past members of the newspaper’s managing board, all deeply involved in the day-to-day work of the paper, have confirmed that the News has had the story for over two months. In fact, the Times story that broke last night featured reporting from last year’s editor-in-chief, Vivian Yee. She too approached the paper with a tip-off, but its editors chose not to follow the story. The paper even knew that the sexual assault claim had lost Pat an offer to join the Boston Consulting Group after graduation. Even then, they wrote nothing. For reasons personal, social, or political — who can ever tell on a college campus? — the News’ management chose to ignore the bombshell, protecting Pat’s reputation. . .”

  • JackB

    Vivian Yee, the past Editor-In-Chief at the YDN, contributed reporting to the New York Times for this article. I guess her experience at the YDN taught her how to be an ethical reporter.

  • The Anti-Yale

    theantiyale
    Is it just possible that YDN sat on this story NOT “to protect” Mr. Witt’12, but because the YDN editors could not untangle this velcro web of hypotheticals and suppositions woven together by anonymities?
    God save us from the new world of journalistic networking.
    PK

  • The Anti-Yale

    Here is the house-of-cards superstructure of the NYT article (MY EMPHASIS) :

    Several days earlier, ACCORDING TO PEOPLE INVOLVED on both sides of the process . . .

    This account of the accusation against Witt and how it affected his Rhodes candidacy is based on interviews with a half-dozen PEOPLE WITH KNOWLEDGE of all or part of the story; they all spoke on the condition of ANONYMITY . . .

    In September, ACCORDING TO PEOPLE WITH KNOWLEDGE of the situation . . .

    In early November, ACCORDING TO THOSE WITH KNOWLEDGE of the matter, someone told the Rhodes Trust about the sexual assault accusation. The notification was not anonymous; it was not, though, made formally by a Yale official . . .

    Yale had not told Rhodes whether it was re-endorsing Witt when he released a statement through the athletic department the next day.
    [Did Mr. Witt know WHETHER OR NOT Rhodes had been notified of the sexual harassment charge at this point in the chronology of events?]
    “I will be playing in the Yale-Harvard game this Saturday,” it said. “I have withdrawn my application for the Rhodes scholarship.”
    The quarterback did not tie the two sentences, but journalists did, reporting that he had given up on the scholarship so that he could play. Neither Witt nor Yale corrected the misimpression.
    (end of excerpts from NYT article on Mr. Witt)

    Respectfully submitted,
    PK