Updated: Nov. 4
In a Boston Globe column published Monday evening, Patrick Witt ’12 condemned Yale’s sexual misconduct policies.
Witt, a first-year student at Harvard Law School, was formerly a Yale football quarterback and Rhodes Scholar finalist who made national headlines in 2012 when The New York Times reported that he was the subject of a sexual misconduct complaint. In Monday’s column, Witt protested Harvard’s new sexual harassment policy and aligned himself with 28 members of the Harvard faculty who have publicly derided its adoption as well. According to Witt, Harvard’s new policy is very similar to Yale’s guidelines.
“I offer my own story as a real-life example of how this well-intended policy can produce disastrous consequences if it remains detached from the most basic elements of fairness and due process that form the foundation of our legal system,” he wrote in the column. “The destructive power that Yale’s and now Harvard’s new sexual misconduct policies wield is immense and grossly underestimated.”
Yale administrators reached on Monday night, including University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct Chair David Post and University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler, declined to comment at the time. Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd and Michael Della Rocca, the UWC Chair in 2012, could not be reached for comment. Former dean of Yale College Mary Miller declined to comment.
While at Yale, Witt was celebrated in the media when he decided to play in the Harvard-Yale Game instead of participating in an interview for the Rhodes Scholarship. In the column, Witt said that the same day that his selection as a Rhodes finalist was announced, his ex-girlfriend filed an informal complaint against him with the UWC.
Anonymous sources informed the Rhodes Scholarship and his future employer of the informal complaint. As a result, his future employer rescinded its offer and Witt withdrew his Rhodes candidacy. The informal complaint, Witt wrote, cost him his reputation, credibility and career opportunities.
In his column, Witt professed innocence but said he was not afforded the chance to clear his name because his accuser only filed an informal complaint. Under the informal complaint, no effort was made to discover evidence to substantiate the complainant’s claims or explain his side, Witt said.
Witt claimed that even when he requested that the UWC pursue fact-finding, the University told him that the complaint’s informal status meant that it was unnecessary to seek evidence to clear his name. Witt said he could not request a formal complaint that would result in an independent fact-finding report.
According to UWC procedures, an informal complaint may only include limited investigation. Informal complaints are not adjudicated, and documentation is preserved only in confidential records.
Former Community and Consent Educator Evan Walker-Wells ’14 added that the informal complaint process is a non-adversarial process designed to give both complainants and respondents multiple ways of engaging and approaching sexual misconduct — an alternative to the often more lengthy formal complaint process.
An informal complaint does not presume guilt and is not recorded on a student’s permanent record, Walker-Wells said. UWC procedures also state that any resolution of the complaint for the complainant must also be acceptable to the respondent.
Walker-Wells said Witt has mischaracterized the UWC’s informal complaint process.
“I think folks who try and make Yale’s informal complaint process up to be something that denies people or denies respondents any kind of right [is a misunderstanding] of the complaint process,” Walker-Wells said. “It doesn’t affect someone’s academic career. It’s just about finding an avenue with lower stakes and something that will provide meaningful satisfaction.”
However, Mark Magazu, president of Atlas Strategies, a sports and entertainment agency that represented Witt at the time, said that when he handled the case, Yale’s policy did not record Witt’s perspective. Consequently, the informal policy carries an assumption of guilt, Magazu said.
Though Magazu said he believed the policy may be well-intentioned, he said it has the potential to do more harm to involved students and sacrifices respondents — a refrain echoed in Witt’s article.
“All sides need to be heard, records need to be kept, they have to be confidential and you cannot put people in a position where things can get out of control and there’s no process to point to where everyone can be heard,” Magazu said. “Otherwise you get something like this that happens.”
Harvard Law professor Janet Halley, one of the signatories of the letter that protests Harvard’s new sexual harassment measures, said Witt’s case appropriately illustrates the coalition’s concerns. Halley said it is possible that the series of events Witt experienced could occur under the Harvard’s new sexual harassment and conduct guidelines.
Witt’s column was published amid renewed discussion about Yale’s sexual misconduct policies. On Saturday, The New York Times reported that Provost Benjamin Polak modified a UWC recommendation to remove Michael Simons from his post as cardiology chief after Simons was accused of sexual harassment in 2013.
Stephanie Addenbrooke and Victor Wang contributed reporting.