A former member of the Yale College class of 2020 filed a lawsuit against Yale on Jan. 30, alleging that the University unfairly forced him to withdraw just a semester before his anticipated graduation date.
Jakub Madej ’20 — a former photo staffer and guest columnist at the News — received a withdrawal notice on Jan. 3, while he was on winter recess in San Diego. The notice came after Madej was placed on academic warning in the spring of his junior year and subsequently failed a course in the fall of his senior year. The University automatically dismisses any student who receives a failing grade in a course while on an academic warning.
As an international student from Poland on an F-1 visa, the withdrawal left Madej with 15 days to leave the United States. Madej has since traveled to Canada and re-entered the country on a visitor B-2 visa, which will allow him to stay long enough to pursue his lawsuit.
“Yale isn’t the land of milk and honey,” Madej wrote in a Feb. 5 Facebook post. “The line at Durfees could be shorter. The journalism seminar I loved could be uncapped. I wish our dining halls were open throughout the day, just like those at Columbia. I wish I didn’t have to sue Yale College for unfairly withdrawing me, giving [me] 36 hours to leave the country, and pretending all along nothing has ever happened.”
The economics major in Benjamin Franklin College filed the suit against Yale, University President Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker and Dean of Benjamin Franklin College Jessie Royce Hill. Madej alleged in his complaint that Yale did not notify him of the warning — which he incurred last spring for taking a two-course schedule — until mid-October 2019. He also alleged that Yale neglected to provide pre-approved accommodations — such as extended time on assessments or permission to type exams — after a wrist injury last fall.
University spokesperson Karen Peart declined to comment and explained that Yale does not comment on pending litigation.
The demands in Madej’s civil complaint include a reassessment of academic withdrawal policies and increased transparency, the reinstatement of Madej as a student in good academic standing, and an award to Madej of an amount exceeding $314,159 for breach of contract and $121,232 for emotional distress.
Madej said that he reduced his course load to two credits in the spring of 2019 to devote time to a Polish higher-education consulting business he helped launch in February. According to his LinkedIn profile, he currently serves as the firm’s “Chief Anti-Procrastination Officer.”
Most students typically take four or five credits in a semester, or, with their dean’s permission, three credits. In his complaint, Madej stated that he never received notice from the Yale administration that he would incur an academic warning by reducing his course load. While his residential college dean’s assistant claimed that he had informed the student, Madej said that no proof of this notification exists.
According to Madej, Hill initially claimed that she notified him of the warning last May, but upon further questioning, admitted that she had filed the appropriate paperwork but never emailed a copy to him. Schenker later claimed that Hill notified Madej in August, which he refuted in the complaint.
According to Yale’s online academic regulations, a college dean is not required to inform a student if they have been placed on academic warning. Students who have not completed more than two course credits in a term or have received two failing grades in a consecutive or single term should “regard themselves as being on warning even in the absence of written notification.”
The complaint stated that Madej was on track to graduate on time with the class of 2020. However, the complaint also stated that by the end of his seventh semester, he had only earned 29 of the 36 credits required for graduation — meaning he would have had to take seven credits in his final semester in order to graduate in the spring of 2020.
According to his complaint, Madej submitted his final report for an advanced economics seminar to professor Michael Schmertzler in December 2019 before leaving on a personal trip to China. Schmertzler was unable to open the assignment file and notified Madej to that effect over email. However, Madej was unable to access his Yale email account because all Google services are blocked in China. Consequently, Schmertzler submitted a failing grade for Madej, triggering Madej’s withdrawal.
Schmertzler told the News he was unaware of the suit, and declined to comment.
At Yale, Madej studied economics and conducted research with Sterling Professor of Economics Robert Shiller and former School of Management Dean Edward Snyder. He also served as the editor-in-chief of Rumpus, a campus tabloid that drew criticism in September 2018 for publishing jokes making light of sexual assault.
Snyder declined to comment for the story.
In the complaint, Madej highlighted a lack of support from the Yale administration and Office of Disabilities in making accommodations for his mental and physical health.
After receiving the withdrawal notice from Yale on Jan. 3, Madej called Hill, his college dean, who advised Madej to petition the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing for reinstatement. According to Madej, he received no guidance on relevant information to include in this petition and could not find details on these procedures online or elsewhere. Madej therefore wrote a 6,200-word document outlining nine separate arguments against his withdrawal and submitted it to Hill, who forwarded it to the committee.
Madej said he was given just 40 minutes to retrieve his belongings from Benjamin Franklin College on Jan. 13 and leave campus; that evening, the chairman of the committee — Schenker — informed him that his petition was denied “without dissent.” In an interview with the News, Madej said that due to contradictory information from Schenker, he believes the committee never read his petition.
Finding little other opportunities for recourse, Madej decided to file a lawsuit under his own name and is representing himself in the proceedings.
“It’s easier for me to learn the law than a lawyer to learn my case,” Madej said, citing the “unusual” circumstances of his withdrawal.
In an interview with the News, Madej highlighted the opaqueness of withdrawals proceedings at Yale. Madej said that since his withdrawal, the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing has been a “black box committee” –– one that did not justify reasons for denying his petition or give any information on channels for appeal. He said that, by contrast, the process of appealing withdrawal decisions made by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct is much more transparent.
Madej said he was unable to find any statistics or materials on other students who had been academically withdrawn from Yale.
“Yale breached its contract with Jakub by improperly investigating withdrawals at Yale College, providing scant resources to the dismissed student in his most vulnerable moment, and no avenue for a meaningful review of unexplained and unclear decision,” Madej’s civil complaint stated. “Yale’s decision to withdraw Jakub from the University is capricious and arbitrary.”
Madej stressed that he does not intend to villainize Yale as a whole in his lawsuit. Rather, he is trying to address flaws in a community to which he still feels deeply connected and emphasized the support he has received from his friends and close faculty members.
“It’s not me against the University,” Madej said. “I don’t feel like I am out of the Yale family because I got a letter like this. I feel part of the Yale family more now than ever before.”
Benjamin Franklin College is located at 90 Prospect St.
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This article has been updated to reflect the version run in print on Feb. 10.