Letters to the Editor

Our readers respond

Yale, the Rhodes, and the quarterback

A recent Yale Alumni Magazine article examining the circumstances surrounding Patrick Witt’s Rhodes candidacy (“Yale, the Rhodes, and the Quarterback,” March/April) suffered from a handful of significant factual omissions. The story was first reported in a highly controversial—and now debunked—article in the New York Times.

First, the Yale Alumni Magazine article did not mention the very important New York Times ombudsman report of February 5 that refuted every critical aspect of the Times’ s own initial reporting of this story. The ombudsman concluded that the story was unproven and unfair and that it should not have been printed.

Second, the ombudsman report outlined how “unfair” the Times reporting was to Patrick, especially and specifically as regards the informal complaint issue.

Third, regarding whether Patrick’s Rhodes candidacy was ever suspended, the ombudsman reported that he had seen “no proof that Mr. Witt was not a contender when he bowed out.” Why? No such proof exists because no suspension ever occurred. Surely an institution like the Rhodes Trust, with all its legal liabilities and intellectual formalities, would formally notify a scholarship candidate in some formal way if he or she had been suspended. This simply did not occur.

The Times ombudsman concluded that Patrick was a contender until he bowed out because his analysis was based only on facts backed by documentation. Savvy readers and journalists must likewise seek proof and not merely rely on statements from any one party. Next time anyone involved in this story says a thing, require them to prove it with documentation before you report, repeat, or believe it. To that end, Patrick has publicly released his communications with Yale and Rhodes from this time period so that you can draw your own opinions.

Fourth, regarding the time line of events, the New Haven Register wrote a story entitled “Timeline Backs up Patrick Witt’s Claim of Withdrawing from Rhodes” on February 4.

I commend journalists who showed professional integrity in their efforts to independently explore the veracity of the New York Times reporting. Many outlets, such as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Slate, Bloomberg, and others, ultimately reached the same conclusion as that of the New York Times ombudsman: this story was poorly sourced and highly suspect.

Patrick Witt has been exonerated, though his exoneration is bittersweet as the entire exercise from beginning to end was, as the New York Times ombudsman determined, unfair, unproven, and unprintable.

Mark Magazu
Swedesboro, NJ

The author is Patrick Witt’s agent. Our article reported erroneously that Witt ’12 retained Magazu after the January New York Times article appeared, “to help him respond to the article.” Magazu says he was hired in December to represent Witt in his football career.

Except for that error, which we regret, we stand by our reporting.

On the Times story: our article noted that the Times was criticized “for publishing a story based on six unnamed sources, and without talking to the [sexual misconduct] complainant.” Magazu is right that we did not specify that the public editor, Arthur Brisbane, was among the critics. But he is incorrect in other aspects. Brisbane did not refute any of the Times’s claims, or call them unproven or unprintable. Brisbane did say that—because the sources were anonymous and information about the misconduct allegation incomplete—the article was unfair and “maybe” should not have been published.

On whether Witt’s Rhodes candidacy was “suspended”: the Rhodes Trust has no formal suspension procedure for applicants. But the head of the Trust’s operations in the United States, Elliot Gerson ’79JD, required Yale to re-endorse Witt if he was to remain eligible. (Yale has never said whether it would have re-endorsed him.) Gerson has said suspension is a “very reasonable characterization of what happened.”

On the time line: two questions were raised in the media. One was whether Witt knew about the re-endorsement requirement when he decided to withdraw from the Rhodes and play in The Game. Witt says he decided on the evening of November 8, and that Yale didn’t tell him about the new requirement until late November 9 or early November 10. Yale says he was told on November 8. No documentation of either account has been made public. The New Haven Register article Magazu cites does not mention this issue.

The other question was whether Witt knew his candidacy was in doubt, but concealed it, during the many media interviews in which he talked about having to choose between a Rhodes interview and The Game. We showed he did not know, at least during most of the interviews: all but three aired or were published before November 8. Further, those that aired afterward could have taken place earlier.

Has Patrick Witt been “exonerated”? Of the accusation that he lied in the interviews, yes. Of the possibility that the re-endorsement requirement could have influenced his choice to play, no—but whether it did or not, surely this is a personal matter, of no concern to any third party and needing no one’s exoneration. Of the allegation of sexual misconduct, there can be no exoneration or even examination, because Witt was accused in a confidential proceeding. When that confidence was anonymously breached and then leaked to the media, he was left exposed to public criticism but unable to answer the charge.—Eds.


Shooting in the garden

“Eden at Yale” (“Hidden in Plain Sight,” March/April) caught my eye and brought back memories of a part of Yale I only experienced a few years ago. I played an evil professor of science in a student film shot entirely in the greenhouses and on the grounds of Marsh Botanical Garden in early 2008. The film studies program at Yale, though primarily academic rather than a film-making discipline, does allow its seniors to produce a film instead of writing a thesis. The short two-character film by Naomi Ladizinsky ’08 (Flora/Fauna, on YouTube) shows off MBG quite well. Worth watching for that if not so much for my performance.

William Otterson ’76MFA
New York, NY


All about Eli

Permit me to offer a minor emendation to your centennial note on the Taft Hotel (“Checking in with the Taft,” March/April).Yale did indeed rate an important and acerbically pointed mention in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s multi-Oscar film All About Eve. In a climactic and highly dramatic confrontation, Addison DeWitt (played by George Sanders) tells Eve Harrington (played by Anne Baxter)—in her suite at the Taft—that he did not journey to New Haven to pull the ivy from the walls of Yale. The remark helped secure George Sanders his Oscar as best supporting actor.

As Mr. Mankiewicz’s attorney, I can attest to his pride in All About Eve—a crown jewel among his many creative achievements.

Seth E. Frank ’58LLB
New York, NY


Assault and control

When I was sexually assaulted at Yale by one of my professors, I assure you I did not “feel victimized” nor was I having “an experience about losing control,” in the words of an assistant dean of student affairs (“The Pros and Cons of ‘Informal Complaints,’” March/April). I was stunned and angry. When I told my father (Yale 1950) about the episode, he told me about the time he was sexually assaulted by a professor. His response was to slug the man. He also didn’t feel victimized or that he’d lost control.

Let’s be clear. The issue is the assault. I accept that it will always be difficult to know the truth about an encounter between two people when others are not present. But I don’t see that much progress has been made in dealing with the fact that professors and students at Yale continue to think it’s okay to sexually assault others. I know this is not an issue unique to Yale, but I’d have thought the combined brainpower of the organization could have achieved a better result than your article indicates. From reading other articles in the same issue, I sense an undercurrent of belief at Yale that the assaulter is innocent until proven guilty, and the assaulted just as likely to be making it all up. The best progress will come from confronting the real issue, rather than focusing on secondary matters like a victim feeling a supposed loss of control.

Susan Clark ’76, ’77MA
Geneva, Switzerland


Atypical Yalies

On the Yale campus, self-segregation is by no means unique to the football team (“To Change Tailgating, Change Football,” January/February). Football players, however, frequently move off campus. They choose to live with others who also set their alarm clocks to 4:45 a.m. so they can attend practice or weight-lifting sessions at 6 o’clock in the morning. It is difficult to get to sleep when the “flute players and Political Union types” your article urges them to live with are congregating at midnight.

It is true that many of the football players would not be at Yale were it not for their football prowess. I celebrate the fact that my acceptance to this great university was in part due to my athletic experience, and I give thanks to Yale for most of my accomplishments since graduation. But in a climate that takes pride in diversity, since when was aptitude in athletics not considered a component of a well-rounded individual? I agree that football players are not “typical Yalies.” They are bigger, stronger, faster, more committed, and better managers of time.

Dave Prybyla ’96
Bolton, MA


Harkness on eBay

I really enjoyed Jon Butler’s article (“Showered with Sound,” January/February). Even though I own several versions of the 1812 Overture, I was not aware of one using the Harkness Tower bells. So, using more-modern techniques, I went to eBay and bought one. I was surprised at how good it sounded for a mid-1950s LP. Dorati made many recordings of the 1812 Overture with the Minneapolis Symphony, but this is the only one which included not only the Harkness Tower bells, but also the wonderful commentary by Deems Taylor.

Harry Ward ’62
Toledo, OH


Friendship over politics

My father, Richard B. Sewall, was an English professor and administrator at Yale for many years and was fortunate to have taught William F. Buckley (“God, Man, and Yale, 60 Years Later,” January/February) during this time. Even though Mr. Buckley wrote well, my father never gave him a grade higher than the 70s [numbers were used in grading back then] because he always wrote a polemic instead of the requested theme. Notwithstanding, the two corresponded for many years after Mr. Buckley’s graduation, despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum. It would be refreshing to see our current politicians behave in a similar fashion.

Richard S. Sewall ’65
Waban, MA


W. Hardy Callcott ’83 wrote in the previous issue (Letters, March/April) that “Buckley’s argument was that atheism, collectivism, and liberalism should not have been tolerated at all, and that professors and students should have been removed for the substance of their views, if those views were insufficiently orthodox.”

His friendships across the political and philosophical spectrum are strong evidence to the contrary. Having read and reread God and Man at Yale, I cannot recall a single passage advocating the course of action Mr. Callcott attributed to Mr. Buckley. The recommendation that Yale leave intact some of the political, religious, and philosophical beliefs of families generously committing their sons and four years of tuition seems rather reasonable, even timid, next to prevailing campus orthodoxies.

Stephen Schmalhofer ’08
New York, NY

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