PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Williams College told Democratic congressional candidate Don Carlson in 2019 he couldn’t return to teach there in the future after administrators were alerted to an overture he made to a student, a Target 12 investigation has discovered.
Multiple people familiar with the matter told Target 12 the episode happened toward the end of the 2018-19 academic year, when Carlson was finishing a temporary full-time faculty appointment teaching economics at Williams. An alumnus of the college, he had also taught short-duration winter courses there in the past.
Carlson’s interaction with the student, a graduating senior, was eventually reported to Williams officials by a second student, who felt Carlson’s actions were inappropriate for a professor, the people familiar told Target 12.
Target 12 has confirmed that no formal complaint was ever filed against Carlson under Title IX, the federal law governing sex discrimination in higher education. But Williams officials communicated to Carlson that he shouldn’t expect to return to teach at the college, where he had also worked in the 1990s and was a prominent alum, sources said.
Jim Reische, a spokesperson for Williams, declined to answer specific questions about Carlson’s conduct during his time at the college. But he issued a statement addressing the episode in general terms.
“While we can’t comment on specific personnel matters, we want anyone who has experienced sexual harassment or unwanted attention at Williams to know that you can contact our Title IX office and you’ll have our full support,” Reische said.
He added, “We respond to allegations in a way that considers both the individual’s wishes about whether and when to file a formal complaint, and our responsibility to protect our educational environment from harassment or discrimination.”
The Carlson campaign has so far refused to address the substance of what happened at Williams, although the episode has been a subject of discussion in college alumni networks since it occurred.
Target 12 first reached out to Carlson’s campaign for an interview or a statement on Aug. 16. The following morning, attorney Matthew Dawson — who is also an East Providence state representative — said he’d been retained by Carlson to respond to Target 12. But Dawson said he would only discuss the Williams matter off the record.
Soon after, Carlson spokesperson Chelsea DeCesare and Washington-based communications consultant David Hamrick contacted Target 12, but also insisted they would only discuss the Williams matter off the record. The campaign subsequently refused to answer phone calls or messages for multiple days.
DeCesare finally provided a written statement on Tuesday, neither confirming nor denying Target 12’s findings, which had been laid out in detail to the campaign the prior week.
“WPRI has repeatedly refused to provide the campaign with the specifics of each of the allegations it intends to report, and we’re not going to respond to rumors and unnamed third-party sources,” she said.
“WPRI has an ethical duty to Don and the voters to provide us with specific assertions and the basis for those assertions that it intends to air so we can have the opportunity to address them,” she said.
Hours later, another attorney – Shanlon Wu of the Washington law firm Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman – sent a letter asking WPRI 12 not to publish a story about Carlson’s conduct at Williams, citing the absence of “a formal Title IX complaint, a formal investigation, or any formal findings of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Carlson.”
Carlson, a 62-year-old Jamestown resident, is one of 12 Democrats competing in the Sept. 5 primary for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District. A multimillionaire from his years as a venture-capital investor, Carlson had loaned his campaign $600,000 as of June 30, giving him the most money among the candidates at that date. He is also a lawyer who graduated from Harvard Law School.
No public polling has been released in the 1st District primary, but Carlson is one of only five Democrats who has had the resources to go up on TV with campaign ads. The others are Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, former White House official Gabe Amo, and state Sen. Sandra Cano.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.