Yogesh Patil and the Offense of Defense (Update)

He was days away from receiving his Ph.D. in physics, his thesis having been successfully defended. His family was traveling from his native India to beautiful Ithaca, New York, to be there for the ceremony. And why shouldn’t they, as this was a huge achievement and a glorious day for Yogesh Patil and his family? Except there was a more important value at stake for Cornell University than Patil’s degree.

The complaint was lodged by a former physics Ph.D. student who previously accused Patil’s advisor Prof. Mukund Vengalattore, physics, of sexual assault.

Was Patil accused of some sexual misconduct as well? Hardly.

LA* is not accusing Patil of sexual misconduct himself; instead, she is alleging that he retaliated against her for making a “good faith” sexual misconduct report – presumably against Vengalattore – according to Title IX documents reviewed by The Sun.

Among the words so malleable as to be rendered meaningless, retaliation is added to the list.

LA said in her Title IX complaint against Patil that his retaliation consisted in publishing content related to her complaint on a Google site. Patil denies owning or operating the website, and he denies her specific allegation. When asked why she feels the web content constitutes retaliation, LA did not reply.

Did Patil, on behalf of an accused physics prof, go after LA, attack her, discredit her, in the manner of, say, Judith Butler? Nope, not even that, which might be considered an exercise of free speech (and, for the unwashed, Cornell is partially a state land-grant university).

The website, which mentions LA by name at least once, claims “Cornell has acted in bad-faith and against Prof. Vengalattore and his research group” during a complicated tenure review process in which the professor was (in chronological order) approved for tenure by his department, denied tenure by administration, deemed entitled to a fresh tenure review by a judge, denied tenure by his department in that fresh review and, most recently, deemed not entitled to a new tenure review by a New York State appeals court. The tenure review is relevant here because Vengalattore believes that unsubstantiated, untrue and bad faith allegations by LA unfairly soiled his chances at tenure.

Yogesh Patil’s offense was defending a professor who was fighting for his career, his tenure, which was being denied him because of the allegations (and the generic atmosphere on campus). The allegations were dismissed as untimely, and determined to be unfounded.** The allegations nonetheless were being used to deny Vengalattore tenure. And Patil was fighting for this prof he supported.

To the extent LA was involved at all, it was tangential. It was her false claims that gave rise to the denial of tenure to a prof who otherwise would have been welcomed with open arms. But in LA’s mind, this was twisted into retaliation, something all about her even though it was all about her victim, Vengalattore. And that gave rise to her new victim, Yogesh Patil.

“This student has made about 17 allegations against me ranging from allegations of plagiarism, to abuse, to assault, to ‘sexual harassment’ by omitting her middle initial in the author list [of a paper],” Vengalattore wrote in an email, seen by The Sun, to a colleague.

“[T]hese complaints have been weaponized to deny my tenure, to harass my students, and most recently, to withhold Yogesh’s degree,” Vengalattore continued. “So far, we have provided hundreds of pages of documented evidence that each of these complaints are frivolous and false.”

Patil’s “offense” was defending his professor, and he, apparently, is merely collateral damage in LA’s war against Vengalattore. But to Patil and his family, Cornell’s refusal to confer his earned degree is a stand-alone problem of some great significance.

“Degrees will not be awarded to the respondent while a Formal Complaint under these procedures is pending,” University Policy 6.4, “Prohibited Bias, Discrimination, Harassment, and Sexual and Related Misconduct,” states.

A temporary notation will be made to a student’s transcript once the Formal Complaint has been made, and “these temporary notations may not be appealed and will be removed upon resolution of the underlying matter,” the policy states.

In the interim, Patil has some additional burdens beyond awaiting the outcome of LA’s complaint. As an Indian citizen here on a student visa, he doesn’t get to hang around until the University gets around to deciding his case. And as a student, he lacks the wherewithal to fight the case, to retain counsel to challenge the denial of his degree and his being used by LA as a pawn in her war against Vengalattore.

Does LA care? Don’t be silly. Does Cornell care? Only about not putting itself in the line of #MeToo fire. Fortunately, physics scholars aren’t as inclined to hand-wringing as gender studies scholars.

Patil is soliciting outside support from former Cornell physics professor Keith Schwab, now at the California Institute of Technology, asking him to mobilize the physics community both to help fund his lawsuit and to appeal to Cornell President Martha E. Pollack.

Schwab has emailed over 20 physics professors at leading universities seeking support for Patil. Asked how this email was received, Schwab told The Sun that Patil’s cause “has support and emails are circulating.”

Bear in mind that Patil isn’t accused of conduct remotely sexual, but merely defending his professor from denial of tenure for false allegations. Is that retaliation under Title IX? Apparently all it takes is for LA to say it is, and that’s good enough for Cornell University to deny Yogesh Patil his earned physics degree.

Update: A letter to the editor from a sociology Ph.D. candidate taking the Cornell Daily Sun to task for getting its facts straight, and thus creating a biased tone.

Precise language and attention to tone accurately communicate written information. This article contains accolades and opinions about the accused student’s academic status (“Patil appears to be a talented student”). The heavy-handed language and disproportionate attention given to the problems he and his family are facing seem to indirectly blame the student who filed the complaint (LA) while portraying Patil as the singular victim. I recognize that LA declined to comment on this story leaving The Sun with little information to include from her perspective, however, this tone amplifies Patil’s obstacles over any potential retaliation faced by LA.

Perhaps a physics Ph.D. is a more rigorous course of study than sociology?

*The Cornell Daily Sun includes a parenthetical to explain the use of “LA”:

(The Sun has previously withheld and continues to withhold the student’s name because of the nature of that case, and instead is using the same pseudonym, LA, employed by Judge Richard Rich in public New York State court documents.)

This would be uncontroversial but for the fact that Prof. Vengalattore was found not to have engaged in misconduct. His name having been tainted without cause can’t be undone. Her name, nonetheless, remains concealed.

Edit Update: I’ve since learned her name is Lauren Aycock. Notwithstanding the Sun’s decision not to use her name, I can see no reason why her name, as opposed to Vengalattore’s and Patil’s, should be concealed.

**The Cornell Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations found that the consensual relationship between Vengalattore and LA was “probably” inappropriate under their “consensual relationships” policy. While Vengalattore denies any romantic or sexual relationship, it’s notable that they have a “consensual relationships” policy at all.

15 thoughts on “Yogesh Patil and the Offense of Defense (Update)

  1. Skink

    “As an Indian citizen here on a student visa, he doesn’t get to hang around until the University gets around to deciding his case. And as a student, he lacks the wherewithal to fight the case, to retain counsel to challenge the denial of his degree and his being used by LA as a pawn in her war against Vengalattore.”

    Aside from the shittyness of these actions, a remembrance of why this is fundamentally wrong to our constitutional system–from the Declaration:
    “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
    * * *
    For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences. . . .”

    The King thought it cool to send defendants of all kind to Nova Scotia, or worse, England, for trial. That meant no lawyer knowing anything about the Colonies, no witnesses and no chance. It was a primary mover toward rebellion. Early in the days of the Web, Cornell made its Legal Information Institute available. It was the online source for historical documents, including the Declaration.

    Maybe someone from the LII can hustle a copy over to the “University’s Office of the Judicial Administrator,” whatever that is.

      1. Skink

        Three things. First, for a publisher, that guy don’t write so good. Second, fuck ’em. Third, fuck ’em again.

  2. Patrick Maupin

    Very minor quibble: this deliberately evil and vile action — insuring that any dissent about the preferred Title IX interpretation will result in serious long-term pain for the heretic — certainly appears to be a strategic salted-earth decision, and “collateral damage” usually implies something unintentional…

  3. WFG

    I am astounded.

    First the professor. Then the courts and the Cornell Sun.

    And now SHG?

    Will no one refer to LXA with her goddamn middle initial?

    Is it shitlords all the way down?

    1. SHG Post author

      If I had her real name, I would have used it.

      Edit: I’ve just learned her name is Lauren Aycock.

  4. B. McLeod

    So, any female in a Cornell University related setting is privileged to anonymously smear any male professor, and if you don’t like it, you’re a dirty, rotten retaliator. So-called “education” in this country has gone batshit crazy.

    1. SHG Post author

      You’ve understated the issue: not the prof, but a student defending the prof on a collateral issue.

  5. Pingback: Cornell denies student his Ph.D. - and may expel him - for allegedly defending professor against rape claim - The College Fix

  6. Pingback: Law professors denounce Cornell for withholding student's Ph.D. on bogus Title IX claim - The College Fix

  7. Jay Vyas

    I shared this on Facebook. A lawyer posted the following comments. You might find them amusing:

    Cornell denied Patil his degree because he posted private details of a sexual assault complaint on a public forum. Even if *alleged* everyone knows that is against most policies. Further, the university found the professor not guilty of misconduct- a far, far cry from a court of law finding the same.

    Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.

    What is a “real” rape victim? Can you specify how *you* personally, with first hand knowledge, *know* that she is not a “real” rape victim?

    [Addressing Lauren Aycock’s failure to state why she feels the web content constitutes retaliation:] The fact that she didn’t comment is not evidence of lying. Almost all universities require victims to sign a non disclosure when they bring forth allegations. She has most definitely been required by the university to refrain from speaking about this publicly or else her degree would also be in jeopardy. If Patil testified in the Title IX process for the professor, he was surely asked to sign one as well. Which he then violated when posting public details.

    If you think that even a fraction of a fraction of those guilty of sexual misconduct are prosecuted (and even a fraction of a fraction of those are found guilty), you are woefully misinformed about the Title IX and criminal justice processes in this country. ESPECIALLY in graduate programs.

    Good to know we’re now defining innocent as those who have not been found guilty in a court of law. Those of us in the real world know that’s not how it works.

    This discussion is exactly why women don’t report. Perhaps why this victim didn’t bring criminal charges.

    1. SHG Post author

      The scope of this “lawyer’s” comment ranges from irrational to outright falsehoods. I suspect that’s why whoever wrote this posted it to non-lawyers on Facebook, knowing that such gibberish would be ripped to shreds by actual lawyers and they could only get away with posting such crap to people who were so lacking in knowledge, the capacity to grasp logical fallacies and impressed by the “lawyer” credential that they would mindlessly accept it.

      There’s a reason 19 Cornell Law professors wrote a letter asking that the matter be dismissed. It’s unsurprising that young people lack the capacity to distinguish illogical nonsense from reason, assumptions and fabrication from facts. It’s nonetheless sad and pathetic.

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