YLS program director resigns after acknowledging broached romantic relationship with student at Williams
Last week, Don Carlson, the former Executive Director of the Tsai Leadership Program at Yale Law School, resigned from his role after suspending his campaign for Rhode Island's first congressional district in late August.
Tim Tai, Senior Photographer
In the summer of 2019, Williams College officials told economics professor Don Carlson that he was no longer welcome to teach there.
But Carlson then served as senior executive director of the Law School’s Tsai Leadership Program starting in June 2022 — a year before evidence of allegedly inappropriate conduct at Williams surfaced.
While working at Yale, Carlson announced his candidacy for Rhode Island’s 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives this past April. He withdrew from the race in late August. His unexpected campaign suspension came just four days after allegations emerged on Aug. 23 that Carlson made a romantic overture to a student while teaching at Williams.
Carlson had been on a leave of absence from the University since June 1 due to his then-active congressional campaign. He voluntarily resigned from his position at Yale last week in a letter to Law School Dean Heather Gerken.
“I made a firm decision to devote the next chapter of my career to service to the most vulnerable populations here in Rhode Island, regardless of whether I won or lost the primary election,” Carlson wrote in a Sept. 12 email to the News. “Right now I am actively pursuing new opportunities in philanthropy that have a more direct impact on the issues at the heart of my campaign … I am very proud of all that my team accomplished to build a strong foundation for the Tsai Leadership Program during my year-long tenure.”
The News reached out to Law School officials on Sept. 5 for comment on Carlson’s campaign suspension and alleged misconduct at Williams and followed up on Sept. 9.
The Law School later confirmed to the News on Tuesday, Sept. 12, that Carlson had formally resigned.
“Don Carlson was removed from the website this week as part of a standard process when someone leaves the school,” Kroszner told the News on Sept. 14.
Carlson’s departure from Williams came after text messages surfaced in which Carlson allegedly alludes to a potential romantic relationship with a graduating senior. At the time, Carlson was concluding a temporary, full-time faculty role teaching economics. A second student reported the text messages to Williams, although no formal Title IX complaint was ever filed against Carlson.
Carlson was one of 12 Democratic candidates vying for Rhode Island’s first congressional district. Shortly after radio station WPRI released its initial Aug. 23 investigation describing Carlson’s alleged romantic overture and departure from Williams, his campaign denied the allegations in a public statement.
But following the television station’s release of a second investigative report that added details to the earlier allegations, Carlson posted a YouTube video message on Aug. 25 acknowledging the inappropriate conduct and expressing his regret.
Although in the video, Carlson indicated that he intended to remain in the congressional race — where he was the only openly LGBTQ+ candidate in this field — he formally suspended his campaign on Aug. 27.
“This was my first time running for elective office. I was prepared for the highest level of scrutiny and nonstop challenges to my positions and character,” Carlson wrote in a statement suspending his campaign. “But this race has brought extraordinary stress on my family and close friends as well. That very high personal cost is more than I’m willing to pay for the honor of public service.”
According to WPRI, the text messages sent by Carlson allegedly suggested a relationship modeled on a website where people can pay to go on a date. In a later text, he also allegedly indicated that he would have liked to provide the student with $5,000 to assist him financially.
In Carlson’s video statement, he said that he offered the money as “seed capital” for a post-graduation geothermal venture on the West Coast, which the student ultimately did not pursue — nor did Carlson give the money. He also mentioned an awkward conversation where he misunderstood the student’s description of a dating website but later apologized. Carlson firmly denied any romantic involvement with this or any other student, past or present, at any institution he’s been part of.
“The allegations are disturbing, and our thoughts go out to everyone affected,” Jim Reische, a spokesperson for Williams, told WPRI.
At Yale, Carlson began his role leading the Law School’s Tsai Leadership Program in June 2022, three years after his suspension from Williams.
In an email to the News, Carlson explained that he took a leave of absence knowing that at the time, there was a “fair chance he would not return” to the University. He explained that his initial one-year contract with the University was completed on June 1, so there was no guarantee of his returning to Yale. He said he submitted his voluntary resignation to Gerken last week after the election was over.
“Don Carlson was hired following a thorough vetting process conducted by a professional firm,” Kroszner wrote in a statement to WPRI two weeks ago when the allegations first surfaced. “We never received any information about these allegations or any other issues of concern.”
Kroszner also confirmed with the News that Carlson had decided not to return to the University following his leave of absence.
Williams College declined to provide further comment on this story.
Carlson received his bachelor’s degree in political economy at Williams College.
Correction, Sept. 19: A previous version of this article indicated that WPRI is a radio station, but it is actually a television station. The article has been updated accordingly.