Perhaps the highest-profile victim of the war on campus due process, former Yale quarterback Patrick Witt, has spoken out publicly for the first time. In an op-ed for the Boston Globe, Witt, now a student at Harvard Law School and prompted by the law school faculty’s speaking out against Harvard’s new policies, wrote that Yale’s “policy nearly ruined my life.”
Minding the Campus extensively covered Witt’s case. He was doubly victimized. First, the school’s “informal complaint” process allowed his accuser to accuse him of rape but give him no realistic opportunity to respond. The process, according to then-Yale guidelines, had a “goal . . . to achieve a resolution that is desired by the [accuser],” so that accusers can “regain their sense of wellbeing,” while refraining from giving the accused student a right to present evidence of his innocence. The only right that Witt received was a right of secrecy—that is, the all-but-inevitable finding must not be made public.
But in Witt’s case, the result was made public, and in an extraordinarily high-profile fashion, to Richard Richard Pérez-Peñaof the New York Times. (Reports from Yale’s deputy provost give no indication that Yale ever brought the leaker up on disciplinary charges or, indeed, even investigated the leak.) Pérez-Peña, as is his wont, framed his article in the most guilt-presuming way possible. Even though the Times couldn’t even identify the accuser, much less determine her veracity, the Times ran the story. And even though the Times had no hard evidence that the allegations had anything to do with Witt withdrawing his Rhodes candidacy, Pérez-Peñamade the inference. Witt’s attorney then released e-mails casting strong doubt on the Times’ version of events. Pérez-Peñaeven strongly (and falsely) implied—without ever saying so outright—that Witt had withdrawn from Yale. At the same time, Pérez-Peñadidn’t describe Yale’s “informal complaint” procedure, or mention that Yale defined sexual assault much more broadly than the criminal justice system.
Here’s how editor and author Richard Bradley summarized the Times reporter’s behavior at the time: “Perez-Pena smeared Witt’s character, realized that he couldn’t prove a thing that he was saying and was very likely wrong, and then weaseled out of the dilemma by saying that there were ‘diverging’ stories.”
Witt’s op-ed describes the Orwellian process that occurs to a student accused under Yale’s “informal complaint” process—which, Witt contends, bears an eerie similarity to Harvard’s new policy. He noted that his “painful and humiliating experience” can function 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.”
As with all students subjected to an “informal complaint” at Yale, Witt didn’t have an opportunity to have an attorney represent him in the process. He couldn’t cross-examine his accuser. He couldn’t produce evidence of his innocence—indeed, he says, he was never informed of the specific version of events that the accuser presented. Again, the goal of the process to which Witt was subjected was not to determine the truth but rather to “achieve a resolution that is desired by the [accuser],” so that accusers could “regain their sense of wellbeing.” Or, as Witt put it, “The informal ‘process’ begins and ends at the point of accusation; the truth of the claim is immaterial.”
Recognizing the unfair nature of the process he faced, Witt says that he demanded Yale conduct a fact-finding so he could prove his innocence—only to be told that this wasn’t an option under the “informal complaint” scheme. So Witt asked that a formal complaint be filed against him—only to be told that the accused student could make no such request. He remained protected, in theory, by the promise of confidentiality, only to see that violated. He writes that he lost a summer job and any chance of a tryout in the NFL, in addition to seeing any chance he had of a Rhodes vanish. He continues to live with the “malignant effects” of the complaint and Yale’s handling of it.
In perhaps the op-ed’s most poignant line, Witt describes the experience as “a specter whose lingering presence is rooted in its inexplicability.” Off campus, all anyone heard about this case is that Witt was accused of rape. They’d have no idea about Yale’s decision to abandon any pretense of due process, to the extent of denying him an opportunity to present evidence that would prove his innocence.
Witt concludes with an obvious, if sad, point: if the procedures “are allowed to stand at Harvard or any other university, it is only a matter of time before another student finds himself or herself reliving my experience.”