Orwellian Justice In New Haven -- This Time Against A Professor

January 2012

Believe it or not, there is at least one person on the Yale campus who has received less due process than Patrick Witt, the former college quarterback and Rhodes scholarship applicant whose reputation has been effectively destroyed by Yale and the New York Times.

That information came last Tuesday in ane-mail from Yale president Richard Levincelebratingthe "comprehensive, semi-annual report of complaints of sexual misconduct and related remedial actions" produced by Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler. As already noted, the Spangler Report explained the Orwellian procedures under which Patrick Witt wasinvestigated or, rather, not investigated. Most of the report described the undergraduate students who, like Witt, had been subjected to the "informal complaint" procedure, in which limited or no investigation occurs and in which the accuser retains all but total control of the process.

One of the Spangler cases, however, involved a complaint by a female professor against a male colleague. Here is the report's description of the procedure that Yale employed: "A faculty member sought resolution of an informal complaint alleging that a male faculty member had sexually harassed her.

The complainant requested confidentiality. The Chair of the UWC [University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct] met with the complainant and her department chair and they identified measures to support and protect the complainant and monitor the respondent."

According to Spangler, then, after a complaint was lodged against a Yale professor, a meeting to discuss the matter occurred between university administrators, the accusing professor, and both professors' department chair. But the accused professor was never informed of the existence of the complaint, much less given a chance to defend himself. As a result, somewhere on the Yale campus today, a department chair and members of the administration have set up "measures" to "monitor" an unknowing member of the Yale faculty. Big Brother comes to New Haven.

In his Wall Street Journal article, Peter Berkowitz commented on a central irony of cases like Witt's–that academics, who by tradition have strongly defended due process, too often have remained silent to the erosion of civil liberties on today's campuses. As Berkowitz observed, "It is outrageous but not surprising that little protest has been heard from faculty around the country. Some have succumbed to the poorly documented contention that campuses are home to a plague of sexual assault. Some are spellbound by the extravagant claim championed more than two decades ago by University of Michigan law professor Catharine MacKinnon that America is a 'male supremacist society' in which women are rarely capable of giving meaningful consent to sex."

There's little indication that Yale faculty members are troubled at what happened to Witt–who, after all, lacks a profile that would be appealing to most in today's race/class/gender-dominated professoriate. But as the Spangler Report makes clear, the university's unusual conception of due process can just as easily be targeted against the professors themselves. Indeed, President Levin has all but promised as much: "The new procedures and services we have put in place are necessary, but they are not sufficient."

Perhaps a recognition that they could be the next Patrick Witt will cause some Yale professors to start worrying about the erosion of due process rights on the New Haven campus.