A Reader's Guide to the Patrick Witt Rhodes Scholarship Scandal


On Thursday, the New York Times published a story about Patrick Witt, claiming that the Yale quarterback had been accused of sexual assault by a student and that his decision to withdraw from the Rhodes Scholarship was not made in order to play in the Yale Harvard game. Instead, he reportedly withdrew his Rhodes candidacy for more suspect reasons (details are sketchy, but possibly because Yale was about to refuse to re-endorse his candidacy after the Rhodes committee heard about his misconduct). But, he worded his press release in such a way as to make people think that he decided to play with his teammates rather than attend a mandatory interview for the Rhodes scholarship.

Since it seems that no one has a set of authoritative facts in this breaking story, I want to list some of the relevant sources, as well mention a few of the twists and turns.

The Reporting So Far. As I mentioned, the New York Times wrote a story on Thursday outlining a series of damaging allegations. Many have accused this story of being sloppily written and an example of improper journalism. The part of the article that is cited to make that point is this paragraph, “This account of the accusation against Witt and how it affected his Rhodes candidacy is based on interviews with a half-dozen people with knowledge of all or part of the story; they all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing matters that the institutions treat as confidential.” 

The following day, on Friday, the Yale Daily News wrote an article discussing the story further, quoting Yale's spokesperson Tom Conroy, “My understanding is that all the facts in [the Times] story are based on anonymous sources,” Conroy said. “All the alleged facts are from anonymous sources.” Also on Friday, the New Haven register published a statement from Witt contesting many of the claims in the New York Times article. The statement reads in part, “To be clear, Patrick’s Rhodes candidacy was never “suspended," as the article suggests, and his official record at Yale contains no disciplinary issues. Patrick formally withdrew his candidacy for the Rhodes Scholarship on Sunday, November 13, in an email to both the Regional Secretary and the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust. He withdrew after being informed in an email from the Regional Secretary on November 8 that the Rhodes Committee would not reschedule Patrick’s final interview, which would overlap Yale’s football game versus Harvard on November 19. Though disappointed, Patrick understood the fairness of this decision and accepted it as conclusive.”

Things To Know. The facts that are most relevant to answering the question of whether Patrick Witt perpetrated sexual assault against a female student are in dispute. Likewise, there is no clear answer to the question of why Patrick Witt decided to play in the Yale-Harvard game on November 19 of last year. The following wrinkles are, however, known.

The accusation against Witt was made informally. The significance of this fact is that no additional inquiry or documented record was created about the complaint. This is one thing that has made the reporting of the situation difficult. The New York Times writes, “Like many colleges and universities, Yale offers accusers a choice between making a formal complaint and an informal one. This student chose the informal process. In that process, an individual or a few members of the committee are charged with resolving the issue, without a full investigation or a finding of guilt or innocence. The most significant outcome might be an agreement to move the accused to a different dorm. (With a formal complaint, there is a five-member hearing panel that hires an outsider to conduct an investigation and produce a written report recommending punishment up to expulsion.)” 

There is a side-story developing about whether the Yale Daily News decided not to publish the story about Witt even though it had the resources to write such a story during the widespread acclaim for Witt's decision. See the coverage from a Yalie at the time. Interestingly, the now ex-editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News, Vivian Yee, contributed to the reporting for the New York Times story. More facts will likely come to light. 

Patrick Witt was a member of the fraternity DKE, the same fraternity that was recently suspended from on campus activities for five years after some of its members chanted “yes means no, and no means anal.” He lived in the fraternity's off campus house. Furthermore, Witt had two previous run ins with the law. In New Haven, Witt was involved in an altercation after being denied entrance to Toad's Place, a popular party spot for Yale students. He was charged with third-degree criminal trespassing and later paid a $90 fine. Before transferring to Yale, while a student at Nebraska, he was charged with using a false name to enter a residence hall while intoxicated, threatening a student who tried to stop him, and then running from the police. The charges were dropped when he agreed to complete a diversionary program. 

If it turns out to be true that Witt is guilty of sexual assault, then all of those who defended the actions of DKE's members as harmless fun will be confronted by strong evidence that where there is smoke, there is fire. In other words, this incident would be evidence that chanting “no means yes” goes hand in hand with a culture of moral permissiveness.

Photo Credit: Joe Schlabotnik