From the Editor

Full disclosure

Improving the Rhodes Scholar selection process.

Editors as well as writers should tell their readers when they have a personal connection to the articles they publish. So I ask your tolerance for this editor's note, which is more personal than most I've written.

This issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine includes three short articles about the controversy around Patrick Witt '12, former Yale quarterback and former Rhodes Scholarship finalist. Witt made national headlines because his Rhodes interview and the Harvard game were scheduled for the same day; he chose the Harvard game. Two months later, the New York Times reported that Witt's Rhodes candidacy had been suspended by the time he announced his choice. Another undergraduate had accused him of sexual assault, someone had told the Rhodes Trust, and the Trust had taken the (extremely unusual) step of asking Yale to reconfirm its endorsement of Witt before he could be interviewed.

My personal connection: I'm a Rhodes Scholar, and at 15, I was sexually harassed. That background doesn't affect my view of Patrick Witt; he is innocent unless proven guilty. But it shapes my perspective on two larger issues that cropped up in the controversy.

One is the "informal complaint." As Neena Satija '11 explains on pages 44–45, Yale allows a victim of sexual misconduct to bring a complaint confidentially and ask university officials to deal with the perpetrator in a private, limited way. The accused won't be punished, and nothing will go on his or her disciplinary record. Critics say this policy lets an abuser keep abusing, and yes, potentially it can. It also serves the instinct, not necessarily healthy, of almost any large institution to hide problems in order to protect its image. But the informal option also undeniably helps victims, who may be silenced by shame and disgust. It took me three years to admit a few pared-down facts to my harasser's supervisor so that I could ask him to try to protect other girls. An informal complaint option—a quiet back way around that ordeal—would have been a godsend.

The other issue is the nature of the Rhodes. It's a scholarship with an extraordinary emphasis on character. Among the criteria for selection: "truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship" and "moral force of character." Yale seeks to apply all the Rhodes criteria, including that eloquent list of virtues, in the application process students go through to earn Yale's nomination for the scholarship.

Patrick Witt's case revealed gaps in Yale's application process. He had been arrested twice for disorderly conduct, and the arrests wouldn't have shown up on his application, because the only relevant question is "Do you have a Yale disciplinary history?" (Another disclosure: I've served for years on the Yale panels that decide on endorsements and never noticed how much is missing from that question.) There's no reason to assume he would have been disqualified by the arrests; character involves learning from mistakes. But the purpose of the panel interviews is to probe exactly that sort of question. Yale should make every reasonable effort to put information about character in the hands of the panels—not violating the confidentiality of the informal complaint, and never stooping to unsubstantiated allegations, but, at the least, asking for the public record.

President Rick Levin '74PhD told David Adesnik '99, our commentator on page 46, that Yale is reviewing the application process. Bravo. There's no perfect answer to a conundrum like this, but there can be improvement.  


The comment period has expired.