July 20, 2001, - 1:11 am
Fifty years ago, William F. Buckley, Yale Class of ’50, wrote “God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom.'” Buckley described his alma mater’s hypocrisy for moving away from virtue and individualism, and its phony claim to academic freedom and impartiality.
“[T]his attitude, acknowledged in theory by the University, has never been practiced,” Buckley wrote. “Academic freedom is a handy slogan that is constantly used to bludgeon into impotence numberless citizens.”
James Van de Velde knows this well. He’s the citizen whose life has been most bludgeoned by Yale.
Van de Velde is alive, but Yale has unjustly taken his life and dreams away from him. Academic freedom be damned.
A cum laude Yale graduate and rising star in the first Bush administration during his 20s, Van de Velde reached stratospheric heights as both a Naval intelligence officer (lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve) and State Department operative and arms negotiator. In addition to his doctorate in international security studies from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Van de Velde held (and still has) a security clearance five levels above top secret.
Then, he became a rising star at Yale–a lecturer and likely the only Republican in its left-leaning political science department and a dean. A handsome, popular professor, Van de Velde’s courses, like “International Drug Trafficking: National Security Dimensions and Drug Control Strategies,” were cited by Spin Magazine as among the coolest in American collegiate life, and he got rave reviews from students. He’d also begun a promising career as a television commentator on national security issues.
But, suddenly, on Dec. 4, 1998, Yale University–with the help of deliberate bungling by the New Haven Police Department–took it all away from him.
That’s the night Yale Student Suzanne Jovin–one of Van de Velde’s students–was murdered, her body found within a mile of Van de Velde’s home. That, and the fact that Van de Velde was her thesis adviser and professor, were the only connections between the two. There was and remains absolutely no evidence whatsoever linking Van de Velde to the crime nor to any relationship beyond a strictly professional student-teacher interaction. In fact, the facts and scant evidence in the case point away from Van de Velde.
But at Yale, all things good and decent, all of Van de Velde’s wunderkind achievements and accolades made him a target–of colleagues, of Yale, of the NHPD. With a strong tinge of jealousy, they were out to get the ascendant handsome, young, connected, Republican white male. The nerve of this man to invade Yale’s political science department–populated by aging liberal academics–and to actually become a popular professor to boot.
And so began the witch-hunt against James Van de Velde–the NHPD’s lynch-mob campaign against him, with Yale a willing participant in his character assassination.
Not coincidentally, Brian Sullivan and Ed Kendall, the two cops who headed the Jovin murder investigation, illegally concealed evidence in another murder case. For that, Sullivan was indicted by a grand jury and is now being tried criminally, with Kendall escaping prosecution by testifying before the grand jury and resigning from the department, according to Les Gura of the Hartford Courant. It’s hard to believe they, and the rest of the scandal-ridden NHPD, didn’t conduct their campaign against Van de Velde in the same manner.
The day after the murder and thereafter, Van de Velde’s behavior was that of an innocent man. Without an attorney, he submitted to hours of grueling police questioning. He immediately offered blood and hair samples and police searches of his residence and automobile. But, the NHPD–intent that he was their murderer and unwilling to let facts and real evidence get in the way–declined all such offers, except checking his car, which NHPD criminalist John Pleckaitis, formerly in charge of forensics on the Jovin case, stated on the record had absolutely no tie to the crime. Yet, a vehicle had to have been used in the crime.
The NHPD’s thuggery was intense. With absolutely no evidence against him and desperate to finger this white male as a suspect, police leaked to Yale Vice President Linda Lorimer only Van de Velde’s name among a long list of suspects and leaked false stories to the Courant–which the paper irresponsibly published–about his dating relationships with two female television reporters, including paranoid musings of then aspiring local (and currently CNBC) reporter Barbara Pinto, a woman who seemed too interested in getting herself connected to the story and sounded like Anita Hill in her allegations.
Jovin’s diary was found, and there was absolutely no information therein indicating a relationship with Van de Velde. But the police, blindly eager to romantically link their target with his student and no evidence to prove it, attempted to intimidate Van de Velde’s female students into fabricating that evidence.
One former Van de Velde student, Alison Cole, the Courant’s Gura reported, said police twice pressed her to acknowledge a non-existent romantic relationship with him, driving her aimlessly and interminably around New Haven in a squad car. Then, they harassed her roommate. “It was very apparent … they wanted him to be guilty.”
So much for “innocent until proven guilty.” Yale, stricken with bad publicity over another professor’s conviction for child-porn, pulled Van de Velde from teaching his scheduled spring 1999 semester courses and did not renew his contract, issuing a press release naming him publicly for the first time as among suspects in the case and claiming that he would be a distraction to students should he continue teaching.
It was the beginning of the end of Van de Velde’s life and the police’s Keystone Kop investigation. Even though Yale officials told the New York Times they assume he’s innocent, the school has made him a pariah. With Yale insisting upon mentioning the murder in any job reference the school gave him, Van de Velde was unable to find a job subsequently. Mounting legal fees nearly bankrupted him. And, expectedly, it’s hard to have a life when the local newspaper and others around the country are reporting false, salacious stories about your dating habits, not to mention that you are an Ivy League murder suspect.
Van de Velde finally got a job, with the Pentagon’s Defense Declassification Referral Center, where his high security clearance was reviewed and renewed. A real murderer doesn’t get such a top-secret job or the clearance that goes with it–the result of an excruciating FBI background check. And unlike a real murderer he’s never even been charged.
Yet, Van de Velde must still fight to prove his innocence, to clear his name, to get some semblance of his life back. The NHPD, intent on him as their murderer, failed to conduct a proper investigation, and now–almost three years later – real leads are beyond cold, and hard evidence is tainted or gone. With no evidence of a romantic relationship, the police now peg Van de Velde with a ludicrous senior-essay-adviser-murderer motive. Jovin was angry with Van de Velde for alleged one-day (!) tardiness in reviewing her senior thesis draft. Over this, the NHPD surmises, he murdered her.
By that twisted logic, every college professor across America is now an automatic murder suspect, best advised to steer clear of stressed out female students at semester’s end.
There were several parties with information about other possible suspects or leads. Police didn’t want to hear it and failed to interview them. Testimony by several witnesses placed a suspicious tan van at the time and place Jovin’s body was apparently dumped. Police never solicited other information about this important lead–until late March of this year–years after the crime and only following pressure to do so by the private investigator hired by the family of Jovin to investigate the investigation. By then, the van was likely long gone from the chop shop. Her body was found two blocks from East Rock Park, a haven for drug and gang activity–an angle apparently not investigated by police. Police failed to adequately investigate a soda bottle, which had the victim’s fingerprints on it, as well as establish a timeline of her whereabouts, making it impossible for Van de Velde to be the killer.
And then there’s the police file. Van de Velde believes it may prove his innocence and will certainly expose the sloppy, virtually non-existent investigation. His friend, Jeff Mitchell, and the Courant are in a legal fight against the police to get it released, under Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act. Van de Velde took–and passed–multiple lie-detector tests, too. A guilty man wouldn’t do these things and fight to get a complete investigation. He’d go away.
Yale, which wishes he’d do just that, hypocritically retains its motto, “Lux et Veritas”–Latin for “light and truth.” With an endowment of over $10.08 billion (over $914,398 per student), according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers and the U.S. Department of Education, Yale did and spent little to investigate this crime. Perhaps that also would have distracted students. The university finally hired an investigator after pressure from Jovin’s family and Van de Velde, well after the case became cold.
It’s quite apparent James Van de Velde has nothing to do with Suzanne Jovin’s tragic murder. Yale and the NHPD shamelessly persecuted him, and they screwed up. It’s well past time for them to do the right thing and admit it. And it’s time for them to release the police file of their bungled investigation and release him from the suspect list. It’s time for them to clear James Van de Velde’s good name and give him back his life.
A half-century since William F. Buckley wrote about Yale’s veil of political correctness and intolerance for truth, James Van de Velde can attest, some things never change.
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