Two conflicting accounts have emerged over former quarterback Patrick Witt’s ’12 candidacy for a Rhodes Scholarship last fall.
On Thursday, an article in the New York Times claimed Witt lost his chance at a Rhodes Scholarship because of a sexual assault complaint filed against him. But in interviews with the News on Friday, Witt’s spokesman Mark Magazu flatly denied the charges put forth in the Times, saying there was no connection between Witt’s decision to withdraw his Rhodes candidacy and an informal complaint of sexual assault brought against him by a female student.
“The New York Times story incorrectly connects Patrick’s decision to forgo the Rhodes Scholarship with an informal complaint process that had concluded on campus weeks prior to his withdrawal — a process that yielded no disciplinary measures, formal reports or referrals to higher authorities,” according to a statement Magazu released Friday on behalf of Witt.
The Times reported that the Rhodes Trust had learned of the accusation several days before Witt announced he would play in the Game and notified Yale that he would be ineligible for the scholarship unless University administrators re-endorsed his candidacy. According to Magazu, the Trust requested an additional letter of reference from Yale for Witt, though the scholarship was never “suspended.” But when asked to specify when Witt first learned that the Trust had been informed of the complaint, Magazu, who began representing Witt on Jan. 1, said he did not know. Magazu added that Witt did not ask University administrators for an additional letter of reference because he had already decided to withdraw his candidacy.
The Times reported that the female student approached the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center in September before filing a complaint with the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct alleging that she had been sexually assaulted by Witt in her dorm room.
Witt received an email on Oct. 31 from Michael Della Rocca, chair of the UWC, requesting that Witt meet with Della Rocca and Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry to discuss the complaint. As is consistent with the University’s process for informal complaints, the meeting did not represent a “disciplinary proceeding” but instead indicated that a “non-disciplinary resolution [was] being sought,” according to a copy of the email that Magazu provided to the News.
Witt met with Della Rocca the next day, Magazu said, adding that he did not know if any other administrators were present. At the meeting, Witt was told of the nature of the accusation, which ended with the understanding that the two parties would remain amicable, according to Magazu. He added that Witt was not asked again to meet with administrators.
“That was the last of the issue,” Magazu said. “There was no further University action or personal action on this issue.”
Reached Friday night, Della Rocca declined to comment on both the complaint against Witt and the procedures of the UWC in general. Witt could not be reached for comment Friday, and Gentry did not return requests for comment.
The same day he received Della Rocca’s email, Witt learned he had been named a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship. Magazu said Witt had been communicating with the Rhodes Trust before he was officially notified of his finalist status to see whether he could interview for the scholarship on a day other than Nov. 19, the day of the Yale-Harvard football game, but on Nov. 8 the Trust contacted Witt to say his interview could not be moved because it would not be fair to the other applicants.
Witt then notified his parents that night that he would play in the Game, and told Yale about his decision the next day, Magazu said. University officials decided to wait until Nov. 13 to make a public announcement to avoid interfering with the Nov. 12 football game against Princeton, Magazu added.
Elliot Gerson, the American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, declined to comment Thursday night, citing “confidential matters.”
In addition, 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.
Witt is currently in California training for the National Football League Scouting Combine, a professional recruiting event that will be held in Indianapolis, Ind. at the end of February, Magazu said.
Witt has not been on campus this semester, and University Spokesman Tom Conroy said Thursday that he has not yet graduated. Though he walked with the class of 2011 at Commencement last spring, Witt still needs to complete his History senior thesis this semester before receiving his diploma, Magazu said.
Magazu said that the “complaint had no impact on any regard to his schedule or status at school.” He added that leaving campus to attend the Combine is common for football players considering a professional career.
Before transferring to Yale in 2009, Witt was a student at the University of Nebraska.