Feminist Prof Cleared of Sexual Misconduct for Writing an Essay

Illustration for article titled Feminist Prof Cleared of Sexual Misconduct for Writing an Essay

Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, has been cleared of violating the college’s Title IX provision, a rule intended to protect students from sexual misconduct and discrimination. Two Northwestern graduate students filed Title IX complaints against Kipnis for an essay and tweet she authored. A law firm hired by the University to investigate the claims against Kipnis alerted the professor late last week that she had been cleared of wrongdoing.

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Both complaints stem from an essay about sexual relationships between professors and students Kipnis published in February for the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the essay Kipnis made a passing reference to a philosophy professor at Northwestern who has been accused of two instances of sexual misconduct by two different students. The professor, Peter Ludow, has filed a lawsuit against the student and university for defamation. One of Ludlow’s accusers, filed a Title IX complaint against Kipnis claiming that the piece has misrepresented her. The second complaint was filed by a grad student who had nothing to do with the case against Ludlow but felt Kipnis’ essay created a “chilling effect” on student’s willingness to come forward with sexual misconduct claims of their own.

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In a follow up essay for the Chronicle, Kipnis argued that the Title IX complaints threatened her academic freedom. Kipnis writes:

Much of this remains puzzling to me, including how someone can bring charges in someone else’s name, who is allowing intellectual disagreement to be redefined as retaliation, and why a professor can’t write about a legal case that’s been nationally reported, precisely because she’s employed by the university where the events took place. Wouldn’t this mean that academic freedom doesn’t extend to academics discussing matters involving their own workplaces?

There is a pending Title IX complaint Stephen Eisenman, a fellow faculty member Kipnis brought as her “support person” to meeting with the Title IX investigators. Eisenman is the President of the Faculty Senate and openly criticized the secretive and labyrinthine Title IX process. Students are now asking for Eisenman to step down for speaking publicly about the hearings.

Image: Olivia Exstrum/Daily Northwestern

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Contact the author at natasha.vargas-cooper@jezebel.com.

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DISCUSSION

I think the title of this post is misleading. Long story short: a female undergrad accused Ludlow of sexual assault and a grad student independently accused him of rape. Kipnis’s article basically accused the graduate student of lying, of being melodramatic, and of harming Ludlow. Title IX prohibits retaliation against alleged victims.

There’s a helpful discussion by those who know more of the details of this case here:

http://dailynous.com/2015/05/30/nor…

Here’s an excerpt:

Now put yourself in the shoes of the graduate student, for a moment. She has made a Title IX complaint against a well-known and highly established professor in her program that involves a serious accusation of rape. She is sued for defamation by the professor. The lawsuit is dismissed. But then another professor at her university, Kipnis, writes an essay in her profession’s main news outlet that echoes Ludlow’s account that they were consensually dating, implies she is lying, and suggests that her complaint of rape is an exaggeration and “melodrama.” Kipnis urges readers to see her as harming Ludlow, rather than the other way around, and implies that Ludlow is not a real harasser. Further, when Kipnis is informed about the facts, she refuses to alter the relevant language to remove the implications. What is the lesson to the student, and to others who might come forward?

After that refusal, a Title IX complaint of retaliation and the creation of a hostile environment was lodged against Kipnis. The idea behind these elements of Title IX is to ensure that alleged victims are not threatened, coerced, or otherwise intimidated from participating in the enforcement of their own rights not to be discriminated against. Did Kipnis’s article constitute retaliation or create a hostile environment? If you have a moment, consult the “Retaliation” section in the Justice Department’s Title IX legal manual. To make a long story short, there is no way the answer to that question is “obviously not!”