With virtual legal proceedings amid a global pandemic, a former Yale College senior continues to file documents pursuing a lawsuit against the University alleging his own unfair dismissal.
Jakub Madej ’20 received a notice in January informing him of his forced withdrawal from the University –– a consequence of failing a class in the fall semester of his senior year while on academic warning from the spring term of his junior year. Madej’s suit rests primarily on his allegation that the committee responsible for determining his withdrawal –– the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing –– “does not exist.” While this committee is listed in University websites and is chaired by Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker, Madej argued that it did not adequately consider his circumstances before issuing the withdrawal notice. Madej is representing himself in the proceedings and is currently seeking to depose members of the committee and pass a motion for preliminary injunction, allowing him to continue to study at Yale while awaiting trial.
As an international student from Poland on an F-1 visa, the Jan. 3 withdrawal notice left Madej with just 15 days to leave the United States. He claims he was only given 40 minutes to retrieve all his belongings when he returned to his residence in Benjamin Franklin College on Jan 12. after the winter recess.
“I focused on the committee because something didn’t look right from the beginning,” Madej told the News on Tuesday. “When you’re forced out of the country and you have 36 hours to leave, and there is no person that will talk to you … the circumstances made me feel [the committee] never read anything I wrote.”
Madej is currently sitting in on some classes via Zoom software as Yale courses have shifted into an online model following the COVID-19 pandemic. As Madej is representing himself and teaching himself how to litigate through an advanced legal writing course at Yale Law School, he told the News that he finds it ironic that he is accessing Yale resources to learn how to sue the University itself.
After delays in in-person court dates due to concerns over the rapid spread of COVID-19, a hearing has been rescheduled for April 14. Madej is also filing for expedited discovery as part of his investigation into the Committee on Honors and Academic standing –– what he has described as a “sham” committee. Madej is attempting to depose four listed members of the committee, including Schenker and former News City Desk Editor Keshav Raghavan ’21, with the goal of arguing that the committee does not really exist and has “no procedures” or oversight. According to the committee’s website, it meets twice a week during the academic year.
Madej was placed on academic warning in the spring of 2019 after he took two course credits in a single semester in order to focus on cultivating a higher-education Polish consulting business he helped launch last February. Though Yale College students typically take four or five credits in a semester — and students with fewer than three credits usually must seek permission from their residential college dean — Madej said he was unaware that his reduced course load would incur a warning, and asserted that Yale did not apprise him of his status until he received a notice in mid-October 2019. This notice informed him that if he did not pass all of his classes in the fall of 2019, he would be withdrawn from Yale College for academic reasons.
According to Yale College academic regulations, deans are encouraged — but not required — to notify a student if they have been placed on academic warning.
After obtaining this warning, Madej received a failing grade in an advanced economics course for the fall 2019 semester. According to Madej, this grade was the result of technical error, which triggered a withdrawal notice that Madej received in January.
In response, Madej petitioned the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing for immediate reinstatement, as recommended by his college dean. However, Madej stressed that he received no guidance on pertinent information to include in this petition, and could not find guidelines for these procedures online or elsewhere. Madej therefore wrote a 6,200-word document detailing nine separate arguments against his withdrawal. His request was denied on Jan. 13 “without dissent.”
Madej’s next course of action was to conduct a lawsuit against Yale and several University administrators. The demands in Madej’s civil suit include Madej’s immediate reinstatement as a student in good academic standing, a reassessment of academic withdrawal policies and an award to Madej for an amount exceeding $314,159 for breach of contract and $121,232 for emotional distress.
University spokesperson Karen Peart declined to comment and explained that the University does not comment on pending litigation.
“Yale is treating me very aggressively, which I did not expect,” Madej told the News. “This is really harsh treatment against me from my own University. The weirdest thing of all is that all individuals I’ve interacted with, [like] professors, they don’t know about this, and they [try] to support me. It’s just me against the corporation.”
The University’s lawyer, Patrick Noonan ’74, has moved to quash Madej’s attempt to depose committee members. Noonan’s defense strategy has largely targeted Madej’s academic history to show that Yale had significant grounds to impose an academic withdrawal. Noonan also claims there is no legal basis for the University to reveal detailed information about the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing.
Noonan’s motion to oppose Madej’s requests for discovery made numerous references to an affidavit from economics lecturer Michael Schmertzler, who stated that Madej’s performance in the course had warranted multiple warnings over the semester. In November, Schmertzler contacted Madej to tell him he was “at clear risk of failing the course,” as his midterm grade was the lowest in the class. In response, Madej told Schmertzler he was aware of his academic warning and said, “I don’t aspire to get an A or even a B, but I hope not to get an F.”
According to Schmertzler, Madej submitted his final paper hours past the December deadline, despite a warning that late papers would not be accepted. When Schmertzler asked for an explanation, Madej purportedly admitted that he did not have a “good excuse,” according to Schmertzler’s affidavit.
Madej told the News that he was unequivocally not disputing any of his grades in his lawsuit, and said that Noonan’s rehashing of his academic performance was “completely irrelevant.” He said his case rested on the allegation that Yale did not fulfill its contractual obligations to Madej by failing to disclose information on withdrawal procedures and by providing him with contradictory information.
“Plaintiff does not contest any academic judgement… but alleges a yearlong pattern of Defendant’s ill-advised conduct and negligent actions which ultimately prevented Plaintiff from obtaining any reasonable judgement of his academic standing, a process which has immense consequences for the student,” Madej wrote about himself — the plaintiff — in his motion for preliminary injunction.
Madej also argues that Yale has never disclosed how many students are withdrawn from Yale College annually and believes that there are many other students who have found themselves in his position, yet most are too ashamed to speak out against the process.
In a sworn affidavit submitted to Connecticut district court in February, professor of economics and management and former School of Management Dean Edward Snyder — with whom Madej conducted research — testified that he wrote a detailed email in support of Madej’s personal character to Yale College Dean Marvin Chun in January. In the email to Chun, Snyder emphasised that he was not in a position to determine the validity of Madej’s withdrawal, but he desired to “put in a strongly positive word for [Madej]” and wrote, “I am very fond of him and admire his live mind and courageous approach to life.”
Snyder also said that in comparison to the other universities he has worked at — University of Michigan, University of Virginia and University of Chicago — Yale is substantially more bureaucratic and opaque.
“During my time as dean, I often found it difficult to understand the various processes at work,” Snyder said. “Second and related, while all academic institutions make mistakes, my general view is that Yale is more prone to process mistakes than the other three universities where I have worked.”
Madej first filed his civil complaint against the University on Jan. 30.
Meera Shoaib | firstname.lastname@example.org