One of the Kipnis Complainants Speaks Out


The following guest post* is by one of parties who filed a Title IX complaint against Laura Kipnis (Northwestern). The author wishes to remain anonymous.


 Thoughts from One of the Title IX Complainants
a guest post by Anonymous

Laura Kipnis is right. Those involved in the Title IX complaints at Northwestern, responding to her essay “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” find themselves in a Kafkaesque situation – but what, exactly, is Kafkaesque about this situation is largely missing from public discourse.

I know, because I am one of the students who filed a complaint against her.

Much has been made of the fact that Kipnis’ essay was critiquing new campus policies limiting faculty-student relationships, particularly, the ways in which she believes students have been infantilized as a result of them. The basis for our complaints, however, was not her politics. The theoretical issues she raises are ones that I believe are complex, vexed, and important to discuss in the university, with the full protection of academic freedom for differing views. They are important and the various resolutions are not obvious. I, too, have questions about prohibitions on faculty-student relationships – not because I think students are too coddled but because I worry they risk pushing predatory relationships underground rather than preventing them. If students could be dissuaded from seeking help, should they need it, because their relationship was shrouded in secrecy, that strikes me as reason to be concerned.

It is true that I think the argument Kipnis offered in her essay was intellectually silly and concretely harmful to individuals in our community, but it is simply false that the basis of the complaints raised against her had to do with the stance she takes on these vexed issues. We filed complaints because in her desire to weigh in on the theoretical debate, Kipnis took factual liberties with the specific issues facing students at Northwestern. Her erroneous representation of a particular case at Northwestern, involving living, breathing, human beings, caused tangible further harm to two women already found to have been sexually harassed by a Northwestern professor. Her callous refusal to correct those factual errors once they had been brought to her attention was a violation of the norms of academic integrity, which are a necessary precursor to academic freedom.

Kipnis’ mentions, by way of illustration, the mess of lawsuits arising out of complaints against a philosophy professor. Lest we be confused by her framing, these complaints were neither related to allegations of improper consensual relationships, nor were they a result of our new, purportedly infantilizing, policies. Rather, each was a complaint of assault, one involving an allegation of rape, brought by two independent students against the same professor. Both were found by the university to have been sexually harassed. Our new policies were an effect, not the cause. Both students were since sued by the professor they accused. Both of the suits against them were dismissed.

Multiple people who were in a position to know Kipnis was mistaken in some of the facts contacted her, urging her to issue corrections. She refused (though, after being contacted directly, The Chronicle of Higher Education did make some). Kipnis believes these errors were minor. I wonder, though, if she would find them so very minor were she one of those women being sued by the same professor found to have harassed them. If she were one of those who tried to bring a confidential complaint of assault forward, through the same brutal process Kipnis felt harmed her, only to find herself unwillingly in the midst of extremely public controversy. What if Kipnis were one of those who, just when she wanted to put the most traumatizing part of her life behind her and move on with her education, had a professor of her own university take to national media to publicly misrepresent what happened to her? And worse still, given precisely that awful legal morass, felt unable to make use of her voice, except through the protected use of university procedures?

I am not one of those students either. Nor am I, like Kipnis, a tenured professor. I am a graduate student who knowingly involved myself in a legally volatile situation because Kipnis, intentionally or not, wrote false things about two students found by our university to be victims. I thought standing up for a fellow student in need was the right thing to do when the university was failing to respond to a complaint that one of these women filed, even to let her know they had received it, for almost two weeks (owing to a conflict of interest given a separate complaint filed against our Title IX coordinator). Kipnis was unwilling to make basic factual corrections, though our faculty handbook enjoins her to accuracy. It was made clear to her she was doing harm to two women who had been harmed enough. These women, though they are living what is, to some of us, an unimaginable nightmare, have exhibited bravery and resilience in pursuit of both their own rights and their educations. Now, Kipnis would have us think she is the victim of an inquisition because she was subjected to the very same brutal process that is the only means available to students to make their concerns “safely” known to the university. And we’re the ones with the sense of vulnerability more befitting of children? Seriously? Yes, this is Kafkaesque.

Kipnis is right about the problems with Title IX systems – across campuses, really. I think she should have been allowed to have the charges in writing. I think she should have been allowed to record her meetings with the investigators. These problems, though, are precisely the same problems that students, much more vulnerable than her, without tenure, and often without access to attorneys at all, face regularly – including the students on the other side of the complaints against her (perhaps Kipnis would like to know there was a point in the process where I advocated on her behalf, before her support person later violated a written confidentiality agreement, because a concern had been raised about a comment he made online and the investigators were considering whether he should then be removed from his role in the process; I informed them, in no uncertain terms, I believed it would be a violation of her rights when he had not yet violated university policy).

Of course, there is the issue of academic freedom, but would academic freedom protect, say, falsifying research data? Making unwanted sexual advances in print? Academic freedom is absolutely fundamental to the integrity of the university – but let’s not pretend that what, exactly, it consists in isn’t genuinely a complicated question. Let’s not pretend that it obviously protects a refusal to make basic factual corrections. Whether or not such a refusal amounts to signaling retaliation is a separate question, but shouldn’t we have the right to ask our university that very question? And if you were still concerned that we may have attempted to silence her views by bartering our complaints in exchange for an apology or a gag-order, you need not fear – that never happened and I do not know if Kipnis genuinely thinks it did, or if again, she may be taking liberties to suit her narrative.

Set the question of what rises to retaliation under law aside for a moment. When a student comes forward to her university to say she’s been raped, but she’s terrified of what coming forward would mean for her future, and when a university responds to let her know that they will protect her – “retaliation is strictly prohibited!” they say – what should she think that means? What would you think it means? Would you think you could be sued for filing a complaint? Would you think that a professor at your institution could take to the stage of national media to misrepresent what happened to you, blithely indifferent to yours pleas that she, at the very least, be responsible to facts, whatever her broader opinion? Would you think that the president of your university’s Faculty Senate could violate a written confidentiality agreement by discussing a complaint you filed on the floor of the faculty senate while it was still being investigated? Would you want to come forward, risking your well-being, career, and your future, if any and all of these things could happen without repercussion? Of course not, because no reasonable person would.

Some, of course, will still think I’m a witch-hunting, freedom-hating, harbinger of a new McCarthyism and that Kipnis is fighting on the frontlines of liberty (if only Rosa Parks had so many powerful men on her side). That’s their right, though I think they would be mistaken.  Please consider, though, the other woman who filed a complaint against Kipnis. In virtue of her being my colleague and a friend, I know that she has claimed to have been assaulted by a professor. She knows what happened to her, and she will never recant her story, but nonetheless, she regrets coming forward. She regards it as nothing less than a life and career ruining decision. Hold these two facts together in your mind: she believes she was assaulted, and she regrets having ever told another soul. This is the world we live in. It’s not melodramatic; it’s heartbreaking.

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Groundskeeper
6 years ago

+1Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

Is this author willing to state, publicly and for the record, what the falsities were in the Kipnis piece?Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Plouffe, you can check the corrections at the bottom of Kipnis’ original piece for two of them.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

Do those two constitute the full extent of the criticism?Report

Danie Berger
Danie Berger
6 years ago

So let’s assume she made factual errors. How does that create a case for filing a complaint that she engaged “retaliation”? Who was she retaliating against? No one, because no one had accused her of anything? On behalf of whom? No one.Report

Groundskeeper
6 years ago

I took it that the links to the CHE Letter to the Editor and the HuffPo piece were supposed to give a sense of the claims of falsity.Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
6 years ago

If told that “retaliation is strictly prohibited” in response to a University complaint I would not think that this somehow would prevent me from possibly being sued. Not even Northwestern University can prevent civil suits in that way. Why would someone thing it could?
Most would likely agree that it would be better practice for a University to explain to complaining parties the limits of such a “no retaliation” clause.Report

Monica
Monica
6 years ago

@Plouffe: Did you try reading the pieces linked within the article (the one about the factual liberties and the one about issuing corrections)? They seem to address your question directly.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

If these are the only falsities at issue, then using them to show that one’s speech is retaliatory and not protected leaves something to be desired. I was thinking that Anonymous had something else to offer aside from what is already public record. Perhaps not?Report

Jenny Saul
Jenny Saul
6 years ago

Thanks so much for writing this!Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Plouffe, if you do not see how the portrayal of the nature of one’s relationship with the person one claims to have raped you as one that has been established to be consensually romantic, is problematic, then it’s going to be hard to resolve disagreement, here.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

I did not claim it would not be “problematic” (if the claim is indeed false). The issue is whether it would rise to the level of retaliation.Report

Jonathan Ichikawa
6 years ago

I applaud the brave and articulate author of this piece. I am saddened by the (perceived and no doubt genuine) need for anonymity. I wish we lived in a world where people were safe to express such thoughts and actions more openly.Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
6 years ago

The Kipnis article claimed that the grad student and the professor found guilty of sexually harassing her had been engaged in a consensual relationship–that they had dated. The second correction to the CHE article suggests that this was explicitly denied by the author of this post. This post makes clear that the author of this post and others corrected Kipnis on this matter in time for Kipnis to avoid making that accusation. That, regardless of its legal status or upshot, is shockingly poor journalism and just plain revolting.Report

Andy Metz
Andy Metz
6 years ago

It appears that there is a great deal of exaggeration here. The two errors that Kipnis appears to be guilty of is 1) she referred to a several lawsuits by the undergraduate student when there were two; and 2) she reported Ludlow’s characterization of the relationship with the graduate student as an “affair” with consensual sexual activity while the graduate student denies that the had a relationship and that the sex was consensual.

I have a hard time figuring out why the first error is so egregious. In addition, Kipnis included that sentence in a discussion of what a “mess” things had turned out to be with legal suits and countersuits. Plus, let’s be clear. Ludlow was never found by law enforcement to have sexually assaulted the undergraduate. Even the university characterized his behavior as “inappropriate,” but not assault.

In the case of the graduate student, Kipnis not presenting both Ludlow’s characterization of the relationship and the graduate student’s was careless. But, it should also be pointed out that this careless was barely mentioned, and certainly had far less prominence than the discussion of the undergraduate’s case. Again, the university did not find that Ludlow had assaulted the graduate student, but had crossed the lines of what was appropriate between individuals of differing levels of power.

Finally, exactly when did Peter Ludlow give up his rights. He denied then, and continues to deny that he did anything wrong in either case. He felt defamed, and filed suit. The fact that both suits were dismissed did not mean he had no right to file them, just as both the undergraduate and graduate students had every right to complain against Ludlow.

Overall, I found the author’s argument here unconvincing in terms of justifying going after Prof. Kipnis.Report

Monica
Monica
6 years ago

That’s a good point. I can see how the issue you raised might be of interest to, say, other people in a similar position as the graduate students mentioned here: people who are considering whether they should file a retaliation claim/procedure when they are the target of or have to deal with the effects of some publicly available articles such as Kipnis’s. In this case, however, people commenting on this thread will hardly be helpful to these students in this manner. Nor can we contribute much to the actual development of the case since I assume that we, as simple readers, are not part of it. In any case, I take it that this very thoughtful letter is making different and more important points- some of which are not directly relevant to the philosophy of law.Report

Ed Kazarian
Ed Kazarian
6 years ago

Like Johnathan, I want to applaud the author of this. Not only is it courageous, it is extremely well said and well argued, and it makes points that everyone following this discussion should hear and take absolutely seriously.Report

Dept Chair
Dept Chair
6 years ago

Quick thoughts. First, rape isn’t ruled out by the existence of a romantic relationship. Maybe I’m being touchy but it seems like some commentary on this case elide that. Second, what are we arguing about, really? Kipnis behaved badly? Agree! Kipnis is guilty of retaliation in the title IX sense? Disagree! Higher ed is completely f’ing clueless about how to handle these issues well (granting that it’s a really tough problem)? As much endorsement as I have in me.Report

Cathy Kemp
Cathy Kemp
6 years ago

This is how you do it. Would we all had more colleagues like the author of this piece–we should be so lucky.Report

Another Professor
Another Professor
6 years ago

I agree with Andy Metz. Nothing in the articles–and I’ve read them closely, along with the responses here and on Huffpo and the Chronicle–strike me as grounds for a Title IX action.Report

AnonAttorney
AnonAttorney
6 years ago

I’m a bit confused by a technical point. Was the complaint filed by the author on behalf (with the corresponding consent form and so on)) of the students who filed the original complaint against Ludlow? I initially thought it was, but this post made it seem as though the author filed an independent claim. Could anyone clear this up?Report

Willie
Willie
6 years ago

“We filed complaints because in her desire to weigh in on the theoretical debate, Kipnis took factual liberties with the specific issues facing students at Northwestern.” […] “Whether or not such a refusal [to make basic factual corrections] amounts to signaling retaliation is a separate question, but shouldn’t we have the right to ask our university that very question?”
Is anyone else puzzled by this? One files a Title IX complaint asking for the grounds of one’s complaint?
Not to deny the seriousness of the need for collective and individual reflection on many of the points raised above; but if this piece is meant to be an apologia or some sort, I can only read it as tacit admission that the author(s) did not know what they were doing and have only come to realise/publicise this.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

AnonAttorney, according to Kipnis two complaints were filed, one by one of the women involved in the Ludlow affair, and one by someone who apparently had no connection themselves but decided to get involved by filing the complaint against Kipnis. It seems that the piece published here was written specifically to avoid identifying which one of those people is the author.Report

Sensitive Susan
Sensitive Susan
6 years ago

An anonymous comment is not brave. It’s prudent, not cowardly, but not brave either. Neither is an an anonymous essay. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad essay, it’s just that bravery, like the accuracy of the allegations against Ludlow, and the accuracy of the statements in the editorial, is besides the point in a discussion of the legitimacy of a title IX complaint against Kipnis.

There is a weird argumentative move that’s become popular here. When somebody accuses you of being too sensitive, you do not show that you are not too sensitive by saying the person who called you too sensitive is too sensitive for pointing out your sensitivity. that doesn’t show you’re ‘tough’. You just show the person who called you sensitive is a hypocrite, but then, you are still both too sensitive. You have to explain why you are not too sensitive. You don’t do this by saying, “I know you are but what am I?”Report

another Anon Faculty
another Anon Faculty
6 years ago

My understanding of the situation is that the students presented a complaint against Kipnis because they believed that her article constituted retaliation. Even if their complaint is in the end dismissed, this doesn’t mean that the students made a mistake in presenting their complaint to being with. There is a lot of criticism of the students for presenting the complaint. The students’ claims may or may not be found to have merit but this is a different question as to whether they were within their right to present a claim. I think the student writing the article here is right to say that students are less likely to report sexual assault on campus after the Kipnis affair than they were before and this is very heartbreaking indeed.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

“Even if their complaint is in the end dismissed, this doesn’t mean that the students made a mistake in presenting their complaint to being with. There is a lot of criticism of the students for presenting the complaint. The students’ claims may or may not be found to have merit but this is a different question as to whether they were within their right to present a claim.”

No one is questioning whether they had a right (in the broadest legal sense) to lodge the complaint. Nor is anyone claiming that because the complaint was dismissed that this shows ipso facto that the complaint should not have been lodged. The question is whether there was sufficient reason for the complaint to be lodged. Given the available evidence, there was not. And that the complainants did not know how Title IX cases are actually handled does not justify lodging the complaint.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

another Anon Faculty,

“The students’ claims may or may not be found to have merit but this is a different question as to whether they were within their right to present a claim.”

But whether they had a *right* to do so is a different question than the one at issue: whether they *ought* to have–whether it was justified or productive or reasonable to.

“I think the student writing the article here is right to say that students are less likely to report sexual assault on campus after the Kipnis affair than they were before and this is very heartbreaking indeed.”

I’m not sure of this. What if everything had ended with Kipnis’ first article? Would students really have been less likely to report sexual assault on campuses? That’s a lot of political power to give to a single article anywhere, much less an article in The Chronicle for Higher Education.

I suspect that *now* students may be less likely to do so, but that has more to do with the ugly fallout of the Title IX complaint, which could have been avoided if problems with Kipnis article had been raised in a more constructive manner.

A thoughtful, well written reflection instead (much like the one they’ve offered here!) would have not only avoided a lot of ugliness, but probably won over many of the people now siding with Kipnis.Report

Andy Metz
Andy Metz
6 years ago

AnonAttorney — Yes, this complaint was filed to support the graduate student who was allegedly raped by Peter Ludlow. What is interesting is that if this was a legal suit, I am not sure the author would have standing.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
6 years ago

Another Anon Faculty, I don’t think anyone has claimed that the students didn’t have the right to file a complain against Kipnis, but many people – among which I count myself – think that they were wrong to do so. Surely there are many things which one has a right to do, but that one nevertheless shouldn’t do.

That being said, I think Northwestern is even more guilty, for they should have just dismissed the complaints right away on the ground that it was frivolous instead of subjecting Kipnis to the investigation she recently described. But it’s understandable that it didn’t do that, since the threats made by OCR against any university that doesn’t comply with its recommendations on how to implement Title IX.

As it has been explained at length in the comments of another recent post on this blog, the mere fact that one is being subjected to an investigation – even when the way in which it’s conducted is not problematic, which it certainly was on the case of the investigation against Kipnis – is punitive and that’s why a university should not start one when the complaint is frivolous.

Now, even if you’re right that the publication of Kipnis’s article might deter students from reporting sexual assault, which frankly I find hardly obvious, it doesn’t mean that the complaint against her wasn’t frivolous.Report

Andy Metz
Andy Metz
6 years ago

Anon — I agree that if the graduate students had not called attention to Kipnis’ first article, the feared chilling effect on them would be non-existent. The major point of Kipnis’ article had to do with changing mores concerning faculty-student relationships. The Ludlow example was a side issue, and I don’t know that many of the readers would have focused on it. Once the complaints were made, though, it really escalated the controversy. I saw the original article, and left thinking, “Wow, things have changed a lot,” and reflected on how the relationship lines among faculty and students were much blurrier when I a graduate student.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

@[email protected]:

The thing that may be confusing Plouffe (as it is certainly confusing me) is the letter and related post (which I will refer to collectively as “letter”) you linked contain many arguments that have nothing to do with inaccuracies but are rather criticisms of Kipnis’ opinions, beliefs, and philosophies. So when people keep pointing to the letter, I can’t make out whether they mean just the two actual factual errors, or do they also consider the letter’s other allegations as “inaccuracies” (which I don’t really think is defensible)?*

If it really is just the two actual errors, then the implication is that if Kipnis had published the article in its current form, then there would have been no retaliation claims. Now if it is the two actual errors, then it seems hyperbolic to state that their inclusion turns an otherwise protected work into a retaliatory one. I don’t know how having two lawsuits mischaracterized changes the narrative fundamentally, or how whether the two were in a relationship or not has bearing on whether a sexual assault occurred. If anything, the fact that Ludlow admits to a relationship with the student makes me think less of him, but does not change my opinion of the student.*

Now if it isn’t just the two errors, and refers to the accusations that it’s “misleading” or that Kipnis’ opinion piece “fail[s] to conform with the best data on trauma coming out of psychology and cognitive science,” then while those arguments may be a perfectly legitimate response to make against Kipnis’ opinions in the form of a letter to the editor or another editorial, then those accusations are a bizarre thing to request corrections over.

* The letter also contains something that really makes me uncomfortable, namely “one must wonder how a relationship could be found to both sexually harassing and consensual at one and the same time.” Just like sexual assault can occur within an otherwise consensual relationship, sexual harassment can as well.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Anon 28 – you mean like this letter: https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/open-letter-from-an-nu-grad-student/? Or like the ones that multiple students wrote to Kipnis and the Chronicle informing them of errors, the most important of which wasn’t corrected until nearly a month later, and well after the complaints were filed? The letters that have earned their writers hate mail and abuse from multiple corners of the Internet? We know what lies in store for young women who wrote reasoned defenses of themselves on issues like these.Report

johnny_thunder
johnny_thunder
6 years ago

In response to Dept. Chair (@19) and Plouffe (@27),
I don’t think the decision of the students to bring the complaints is the interesting question here. I think Justin in his post on this subject identified one of the interesting questions, about which people do disagree: were the complaints *obviously* unfounded?

The question matters not because of what it means for the students’ decisions to complain, but because of what it means for how the case was handled. If the answer is ‘yes’–if the students obviously had no case–then in addition to the procedural problems that all seem to agree about, there’s also the problem of a frivolous case being pursued rather than dismissed by the university’s investigators. This is the point of Megan McArdle’s article. If the answer is ‘no’–if there’s some ground for reckoning Kipnis’s piece retaliation–then the investigators were right to pursue the case (even if their procedures were problematic). It seems to me that Justin takes the latter view, and this is what leads him to say that the system basically worked, a few flaws notwithstanding. Kipnis, McArdle, and Leiter takes the former view, and this leads them to conclude that the system is fundamentally flawed.

One question I have: what is the relationship between stating a falsehood about someone and retaliating against them? I’m dimly aware of the fact that if you state an unjustified falsehood about someone that causes certain kinds of defined damages, you can be sued for libel or slander in many countries. Was the idea behind the complaint that Kipnis retaliated in something like this way?Report

Anon33
Anon33
6 years ago

We’re still waiting to hear what errors in the original piece could possibly justify a Title XI complaint. “Several”? The fact that someone disputed a fact? This is absurd beyond belief, and Daily Nous is disgracing itself by presenting it as reasonable. Graduate students should not be encouraged to dig ever deeper holes for themselves after having been pressured into digging the first hole. Verbum sap.Report

Yet Another Anon Grad Student
Yet Another Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

I fall into the camp of people who think Title IX is being misused. Nevertheless, I also want to make it clear that the students are not the ones at fault. They can attempt to file whatever claims they like so long as they do not do so in bad faith, and I think it is pretty clear that they were not operating in bad faith. The fault here rests upon (1) the shoulders of the administrators who completely mislead these students as to what they were actually protected from, (2) upon the executive branch for demanding that every claim be subject to an in-depth investigation no matter how frivolous it seems to be, and (3) (once again) upon the university for adopting ridiculous procedural policies. It would have been fine if the case were subjected to a reasonable preliminary investigation such that some sort of summary judgment were possible. Then they could have determined within about a day that Kipnis’ articles did not meet the criteria for harassment and hostile environment claims, even if the factual claims of the complaint were true. Instead, the ridiculously byzantine and opaque process made everything 100 times worse for everyone involved. We can hardly blame the students for this. They have my sympathy.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Thanks to this student for writing this important clarification of the record, and thanks to Justin for posting it. There are a lot of us out here who support you!Report

Ligurio
Ligurio
6 years ago

I am confused. Kipnis’ factual errors seem to be:

1. she wrote “dated” instead of “claims to have dated” with respect to the graduate student
2. she wrote “several” to refer to two lawsuits with respect with the undergraduate student

Is that right?Report

anon female grad student
anon female grad student
6 years ago

@Crimlaw: Perhaps they think “no retaliation” means “no consequences, even if you are being wildly irresponsible”.Report

anon female grad student
anon female grad student
6 years ago

I also want to express support for these students—I think they got more than they bargained for. But can’t we say that what they did was incredibly irresponsible and foolish, and, indeed, they are responsible, while also saying something like, these are members of our profession, who are becoming negative symbols in a media reaction to these events, and we should stand against this, in case their identities become known? I don’t want these two women, particularly the original complainant, to suffer extremely negative consequences for this lapse in judgment. And if they are receiving hate mail, we should do what we can to stand by them and say that this is unacceptable.

But I still do want to say that this is a serious lapse in judgment.Report

Coherentist
Coherentist
6 years ago

anon female grad student — are you saying the student who came forward in this case with an assault allegation was being ‘wildly irresponsible’ in doing so?!

Great letter, by the way. I’m really glad that Justin shared it.Report

Anonattorney
Anonattorney
6 years ago

Andy Metz, i agree that she would not have standing to file a lawsuit. However,I know that one can file a title 9 complaint based on harassment/retaliation against a third party. But, my understanding was that the third party still had to be named in the complaint and had to sign the complaint. I didn’t know if something else was done in this instance.Report

gopher
gopher
6 years ago

I strongly agree with #36.
I would almost agree with Johnny Thunder, but I think the biggest question is not so much whether the charge of retaliation was “obviously unjustified” under the current interpretation of Title IX, but rather whether what Kipnis did *should* be actionable, under a reasonable law. Apparently Brian Leiter thinks it *is not* actionable, and I hope he’s right, but most of us don’t know enough law to have an opinion about that.
In any case, I just wanted to add myself to the list of those who think the problem here isn’t really with what the students did, but with a system that threatens to punish Laura Kipnis for publishing her article.Report

Seriously?
Seriously?
6 years ago

Anonymous Author:

Sorry for your trauma. I don’t mean to traumatize you further. I hope you won’t take my questions that way. But I do have some.

I have to say upfront that I do not find your OP very well reasoned. But perhaps I am missing something. I don’t think you are alone in reasoning the way you do. I think others I have seen weigh in on these matters reason in something like the way you are. I find all instances of it equally problematic.

But let me test whether I’ve got the reasoning right by asking you for further clarification on a few points. Start with the following. You say:

“Kipnis took factual liberties with the specific issues facing students at Northwestern. Her erroneous representation of a particular case at Northwestern, involving living, breathing, human beings, caused tangible further harm to two women already found to have been sexually harassed by a Northwestern professor. Her callous refusal to correct those factual errors once they had been brought to her attention was a violation of the norms of academic integrity, which are a necessary precursor to academic freedom.”

So the basis of your retaliation charge seems to be the thought that in violating what you call “norms of academic integrity” (because of her “callous refusal to correct”) Kipnis somehow engaged in retaliation against the accusing student. Suppose — just for the sake of argument — that what you say — about violating norms of academic integrity, I mean — is true, I’m afraid I still don’t see how that’s supposed to motivate the charge that she retaliated against the student who made the original complaint against Ludlow. Can you explain that please? You don’t really attempt to do so in your OP. What you do seem to imply is that you didn’t actually assertively charge Kipnis with retaliation. What you did, rather, was ask the university whether her behavior amounted to retaliation. You say:

” Whether or not such a refusal amounts to signaling retaliation is a separate question, but shouldn’t we have the right to ask our university that very question?”

But aren’t you mischaracterizing what you did, here? You actually did quite a bit more than that, right? You didn’t ask — “Hey, would this behavior amount to retaliation?” You lodged a charge that you (or a third party, since it’s unclear which student you are) had been retaliated against. Right? Or are you equating making a charge with asking a question? I can sort of see how one might get into thinking that. But I don’t think that’s the most revealing way to think about it. You lodge a charge, that forced the U to undertake an investigation. It was charged with asking and asking the question whether Kipnis’s behavior constituted retaliation. (I’m not, by the way, holding you at all responsible for the way the U handled your accusation. Pretty bizarre stuff, that.)

It seems pretty clear that you yourself had already made up you mind. You did think that Kipnis’s behavior (and also the behavior of the President of the faculty Senate) amounted to retaliation. You seem to think that you were entitled to think that by something somebody said. Indeed, it seems you may still think that. i say that because although you say “set aside the question of whether this rises to the level of retaliation,” you then quickly seem to imply that any reasonable person would think that it does. I’m thinking of the following:

“When a student comes forward to her university to say she’s been raped, but she’s terrified of what coming forward would mean for her future, and when a university responds to let her know that they will protect her – “retaliation is strictly prohibited!” they say – what should she think that means? What would you think it means? Would you think you could be sued for filing a complaint? Would you think that a professor at your institution could take to the stage of national media to misrepresent what happened to you, blithely indifferent to yours pleas that she, at the very least, be responsible to facts, whatever her broader opinion? Would you think that the president of your university’s Faculty Senate could violate a written confidentiality agreement by discussing a complaint you filed on the floor of the faculty senate while it was still being investigated? Would you want to come forward, risking your well-being, career, and your future, if any and all of these things could happen without repercussion? Of course not, because no reasonable person would.”

But this is what I get confused by the reasoning in your OP. I’m sure the University meant it and meant it sincerely that they would see to it that the student who filed the charge was not retaliated against for making the charge. But I don’t think it reasonable at all to construe such assurances as implying that University thereby takes on the burden of policing the speech of members of the academic community in the way that you seem to think it should. You seem to think that title IX prohibitions against retaliation amount to prohibitions against anybody saying, thinking or doing anything that might cause the accuser any sort of hurt feelings.

Let’s grant that hurt feelings can deter action. So perhaps you’re thinking that anything that has a tendency to deter the accuser’s action amounts to retaliation. Is that your reasoning? I suppose that makes some kind of sense if you think that Title IX gives an accuser an absolute right to be taken by others at his or her word, an absolute right to be free from the negative opinion of others — or at least the expression of negative opinions, by others, including, perhaps, the negative opinion of mere bystanders, at least if they are members of the relevant community, but even if they have no direct or indirect power over the student. Maybe you’re thinking that a professor at a student’s university, in virtue of being a professor there, has some intrinsic power over the student’s reputation. Maybe you think that the expression of negative opinions that might damage that reputation of the accuser is a form of attack, a form of intimidation, a form of retaliation. An abuse of repuational power, let’s call it.

But I’m afraid that doesn’t seem like a “reasonable” construal of what “no retaliation” means. In fact, it seems extraordinarily broad, don’t you think? And because so broad, quite unreasonable. A law that enshrined such a conception of what retaliation might amount to would be really, truly frightening. Cause it really could be used to silence all sorts of expression of opinion.

If I’m right — and I’m no lawyer, so who knows — then an accuser does take certain risks and can’t be shielded from those, I’m afraid, by the law or the university or the courts or anybody else. There’s for example the risk that he or she might not be believed. THere’s the risk that some in his or her community might just have and express negative opinions of some sort about his or her actions and accusations.

Myself, I tend to withhold judgment on these things for as long as I can. I’m prepared to believe the worst of everybody involved in this scenario. Ludlow, his accusers, the university, Kipnis, etc. That includes you too, I’m afraid. I have no idea who you are or what you are like. But if you turned out to be a horrible person, I wouldn’t be shocked. Same for Kipnis, same for Ludlow. I’m also prepared to believe the best of each of you too. Ludlow could be the biggest sexual predator ever for all I know and his victims victims in the truest sense. Not having much real evidence to go on, I choose simply to remain agnostic for the nonce.

But suppose I were more prone to rash judgments. Suppose, counterfactual, that I have made up my mind somewhat rashly and my rash opinion is unfavorable to the accusers. And suppose that I was to say as much in print. Would the rashness of my judgment suffice to make me complicit in the alleged harassment of the accuser? Would just the holding and expressing of a rash judgment make me complicit in further harassment? That’s what you seem to think. Indeed that’s what many seem to imply. Rash judgments unfavorable to the accuser heap on violation. (But couldn’t the same be said about rash judgments unfavorable to the accused too, I wonder?) I’m no fan of rash judgments, believe me. I think that should be avoided. Mostly on epistemic grounds. But maybe on moral grounds too. But if we start using the law to legislating against them, down that path lies a frightening degree of thought control. Or so it seems to me.

Anyway, I do hope you heal and receive justice, whatever justice entails. But I do think the filing of the charges against Kipnis was neither a wise nor a reasonable thing to do, however infuriated (whether justly or unjustly) you were by her opinions.Report

Monica
Monica
6 years ago

@DC: I have just read the additions to the thread (I don’t check the comment thread that often, I’m afraid). Yes, I can see the confusion. The way I see it, many authors in this thread try to elucidate whether the graduate students at NU ought to have filed a Title IX complaint. Some of them describe it as “going after prof. Kipnis”. They evaluate in multiple ways whether the parties had any justification for doing so. To me, it seems that this line of thought developed above boiled down to whether the factual inaccuracies are minor or not. I see that many authors in this thread conclude: “no, they ought not to bc the corrections were minor”. I see many problems just with this line of questioning: well, *who* has to decide when one/someone else files this complaint? I find it strange that a bunch of people who are not personally involved to start policing the actions of someone whom they don’t even know. I, myself, have just started reading the Title IX documentation. But it is clear to me, that this is hardly a matter to be settled by some remote parties. Moreover, I think it’s deeply problematic to think that one can separate the factual inaccuracies from the overall point or narrative of Kipnis’s piece if only because the same misrepresented facts can be embedded in rather different arguments: they can exemplify different things, they support different conclusions. One such narrative is where they are instances of “sexual paranoia on campuses”. And this is where Kipnis’s beliefs and philosophies are directly relevant to how she writes about the cases. Finally, I can imagine how being the graduate student at the receiving end of this argument, I can say that as far as those matter involve *me*, they are not minor. I can also see how telling someone else what is/ought to be of minor importance or not is dismissing their point of view as a knower. Suppose there was an overwhelming consensus on this thread that the changes are minor. What then? First, let us remind ourselves that this is not a conversation in which the person who is most deeply involved can be a part of, in a safe manner. Did we manage to support anyone here? Kipnis, perhaps? I am not sure what we would achieve, other than split into camps and feel that our opinions are validated and “right” every time someone posts something we resonate with. The way I see it, we missed other good opportunities for conversation. Leave that aside for a moment. I don’t see many suggestions for how the graduate student would have been empowered to act in light of Kipnis’s first piece. What is clear to me is that we can count ourselves to be very lucky to have a thoughtful and kind friend who is willing to support us and lend their voice when we need it. I would have been personally devastated by Kipnis’s piece if I would have been the case she described there. But it would have hurt more to see how so many members of the community I want to see myself a part of are policing my reasons, question my motivations and take me to be the paradigmatic case of destroying academic freedom, digging at the heart of what universities as knowledge communities stand for. Far from being melodramatic, it is deeply worrisome.Report

Joe
Joe
6 years ago

The reason we should all be reading this article is that it reminds us of the human costs of the abstract positions on speech we wave around at each other. The lack of empathy for alleged victims amongst the Speech Warriors is truly staggering, and I’d place a lot more credence in their intuitions if I thought that hey genuinely cared about the way that speech can target the vulnerable.

THAT said, author, if you’re reading this, I think that you may eventually come to view your actions differently. The launching of a formal complaint within an institution that has the power to sanction and/or fire people is a serious matter, and must be treated as such if institutions are to function at all. The odds of being able to demonstrate *intent* to retaliate were very low, given that Kipnis merely played fast and loose with facts in order to score larger rhetorical points in the silly little game she’s playing. So, I think, that what many of us are (gently and not-so-gently) saying is that there may have been a slight error in judgment here: you wanted to protect students, but you have in fact produced a situation which Kipnis has all-too-easily been able to spin as a “witch hunt”, since her article was more stupid and crass than it was openly malevolent. Title IX complaints are crucial tools for students, but when they are used in cases like this they may lose some of their public legitimacy.Report

Bharath Vallabha
6 years ago

Thanks to the author for a very thoughtful post, and for his/her courage in getting involved. Still, I am not sure about filing the complaint. The author says the complaint was filed not because of Kipnis’ views on the “theoretical issues”, but because Kipnis took “factual liberties”. I don’t think such a sharp distinction can be drawn.

If I were in the student’s position (I may not be able to image it fully), I would be upset both by the factual liberties Kipnis took and by the fact that she was using my situation as an example in making her point about the broader, theoretical claims. If I came forward about an allegation of rape, I would be horrified to find that someone, even if they got the facts right, was treating my coming forward as a weakness on my part, and was seeing my situation through the lens of students behaving like children. If the person also got the facts wrong, that would merge together for me with the theoretical stance into a general sense of condemnation and disapproval, as if I was making a big deal out of nothing. Kipnis’s “melodrama” comment captures this: it blurs the line between her theoretical position and her depiction of this particular example.

In the current atmosphere, it might not be possible to come forward and hope that the case will be seen only on a factual basis and independent of broader theoretical issues. That is only possible when there are more precedents and conceptual clarity on the issues. To help the people coming forward, and the people accused, what is needed is much more discussion of the theoretical issues; to create frameworks in which the cases can be seen more objectively, rather than the cases themselves also being the locus of the theoretical disagreements.Report

Seriously?
Seriously?
6 years ago

@Monica

“…But it would have hurt more to see how so many members of the community I want to see myself a part of are policing my reasons,”

Well isn’t that what the members of an academic community do? Police reasons, as you put it. Isn’t that what we do when we treat the other as a fellow rational being? Try to determine which claims and counterclaims are backed by the “force of the better reason.” Policing reasons is a sign of respect, I would think.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

@Monica:

I think it is important to have empathy for the students involved with Ludlow, and even to some extent with the student who wasn’t involved with him but decided to become part of the process. The more I see how Title IX is fundamentally misunderstood by professional academics and university administrators, the more sympathetic I am to the students for not getting it right. Again, most of our ire seems reserved for Northwestern for making such a mess of it. The attorneys especially involved knew better and should have alerted the school pretty quickly that the essay wouldn’t support a Title IX complaint.

It is very important to scrutinize this case not in order to attack or punish the complainants, or even the university, but to have a public debate over what Title IX is and what it is not, and the responsibilities of universities to conduct investigations that are fair to all parties involved, including the accused. The harder Northwestern gets hit during this discussion, the more likely it is that other universities will do a better job going forward.

To specifically address an important point you raise:

” They evaluate in multiple ways whether the parties had any justification for doing so. To me, it seems that this line of thought developed above boiled down to whether the factual inaccuracies are minor or not.”

I think there are a lot more issues implicated that are being glossed over, and the fact that even the anonymous explanation that we are all responding to here does not address in concrete terms what inaccuracies constituted the retaliation does not help. As I see it, to have an arguably justified retaliation claim in this situation you would need all of these things to be at least credible on their face:

1. First, that Kipnis’ statement about the student being in a relationship with Ludlow is inaccurate. Unless I’ve missed something, Ludlow claims they were in a relationship, and the student has not publicly said one way or the other. Obviously sexual assault can be carried out within a relationship so absent a statement from the student I don’t see how Kipnis is accusing the student of lying or doing anything improper, so I don’t see how Kipnis’ decision to rely on Ludlow’s characterization absent any available denial constitutes wrongdoing under Title IX (as opposed to, arguably, poor journalistic practices).

2. Next, that as a matter of law a single essay by someone in a non-supervisory role in which the complainant was referred to anonymously and frankly almost tangentially could “intimidate, threaten, coerce, or discriminate against” Title IX complainants. The only way I can think of making this stick would be a “hostile environment” claim, which the caselaw is pretty clear has to be repeated and pervasive and cannot stand simply because of a single incident.

3. That Kipnis, in this case actually wrote the essay intending to “interfer[e] with any right or privilege” of the complainants secured by Title IX.

4. That the innaccuracies in the essay were, in fact, material ones that could have created a hostile environment, which would require them to be so egregious and over-the-top that they fundamentally changed the day-to-day “environment” in which the complainant existed. Simply being inaccuracies (even intentional inaccuracies) is not enough; retaliation under Title IX refers to something more specific than generalized bad behavior. It is not an administrative analogue to defamation, slander, or charges of unprofessionalism.

If any one of these is not credible then the claim as a whole is not credible. Personally, I find 2 and 3 especially to just not be credible accusations.Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
6 years ago

Suppose someone very publicly, and over your strenuous objections, claimed it was established that there was a consensual sexual relationship between you and your alleged rapist, while offering no evidence for this claim beyond the say so of someone found guilty of sexual harassment nor suggesting she had any. What would one make of that? Speaking strictly for myself I would be strongly inclined to think 1) this person has it out for me and/or 2) this person would rather write an inflammatory piece than an accurate one. If you grant me that the first response is a reasonable one, and you add that the author is a prof in the same institution where this went down, then I think you have the resources to see why suspicion of retaliation is not unreasonable.

Additionally, one thing that needs to be borne in mind in all this is the difficulty of speaking without opening oneself to a lawsuit. Such lawsuits, even if they are clearly going to be unsuccessful, can make life miserable especially for the financially vulnerable who lack the resources to get top-notch legal advice–adding to their fears and hesitancy to speak. In such contexts we should be wary of supposing that people are able to share with us all of their reasons for doing what they did.Report

Anon Faculty
Anon Faculty
6 years ago

I was open to the complaint until reading this. Violating–and this is an obvious stretch to bring up that as part of an action regarding federal law–the faculty handbook has nothing to do with Title IX. Getting facts wrong is not retaliation–even if they should have been fixed. Some things are obvious: Kipnis should have corrected her piece. But if the question is if this is obviously not a title IX, the essay answers it by not even bothering to go through anything in title IX or caselaw or precedent that would lead one to the conclusion the author wants to draw. The problem is we have a way of importing all manner of behavior into the law: the prison industrial complex is fed by bringing within the law all manner of behaviors that have no business there. Academic freedom means putting up with crappy ideas, even offensive ones (and Kipnis’s rather naive suggestions about professor-student relationships are well past their expiration date). But if the question is about Title IX, then leave it for those who use their power to abuse women or men.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

@Joe:

“The reason we should all be reading this article is that it reminds us of the human costs of the abstract positions on speech we wave around at each other. The lack of empathy for alleged victims amongst the Speech Warriors is truly staggering, and I’d place a lot more credence in their intuitions if I thought that hey genuinely cared about the way that speech can target the vulnerable.”

I’m not sure how to understand this comment. One way is: the abstract “free-speech” position has too great a human cost, especially among the vulnerable, so we should no longer have a right of free speech. (In this case I guess that right means academic freedom as conventionally defined, but it could be generalised.) That’s perfectly prima facie reasonable (albeit, in my view, ultimately badly mistaken): obviously, a general right of free speech has to be argued for rather than assumed. And of course only a very naïve defender of free speech thinks that it’s an *unalloyed* good, that there are no cases where it causes harm.

But for those of us who think the case for a given general free-speech right is clearly established (I guess we’re the “Speech Warriors”), of course we’re going to be unmoved by particular examples of harm. That’s because if free speech is a right, it isn’t the kind of thing that gets weighed in the balance against harm done on a case-by-case, speech-act-by-speech-act basis. That’s true on theoretical grounds (that’s not how rights work, even this philosopher of physics knows that much political theory) and on practical grounds : for a “right to free speech” to mean anything, I need to be able to rely on it: I need to know that I always have it, except in clearly-identified, narrowly-defined situations that I can reliably identify in advance; I need to be confident, ahead of a speech act, that I have the right to make it.

All this assumes you’re dealing with “normative Speech Warriors”, who think that a given person *ought* to have a free-speech right. But the case is even clearer for “descriptive speech warriors” who think that they actually *do* have that right – either because they have a contractual right to free speech, or because they work at a US public institution and so have a First Amendment right. Again, as defined, these rights are set out as *rights*, not desiderata to be assessed case-by-case.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
6 years ago

I would also like to know more about the factual mistakes that, according to the author of this post, Kipnis made in her original piece. Indeed, I have read Pogin’s letter (https://www.facebook.com/kathryn.pogin/posts/10100416756678472), but it seems to me that it only establishes one factual mistake, namely that Kipnis wrote that several lawsuits from the undergraduate student who accused Ludlow of sexual assault were dismissed, when in fact only one of them had been dismissed.

The rest of the letter, as far as I can tell, does not establish that Kipnis has made any other factual mistakes. It explains Pogin’s disagreement with Kipnis on various philosophical issues and argues that she was careless in handling some of the facts. But that’s not the same thing as showing that she made other factual mistakes, beside the one I mentioned above.

In particular, Pogin blames Kipnis because she wrote that Ludlow previously had a consensual relationship with the graduate student who accused him of having raped her, even though she “has neither confirmed this is the case, nor had a chance to dispute the claim in court given that her motion to dismiss had to presume all the facts as he alleged them could be substantiated, whether or not she believed that to be true”.

Now, I hate to state the obvious, but a claim is factually mistaken only if it implies a falsehood about matters of fact, not if it’s true but has not been shown to be true. The fact that the graduate student who accused Ludlow has not confirmed that she previously had been in a consensual relationship doesn’t make Kipnis’s claim that she had false. So, at best, Pogin could have established that Kipnis was careless — perhaps culpably so — because she made a claim that she didn’t have sufficient reason to believe to be true.

But, even if she had indeed shown that, it would still not have established that Kipnis made a factual mistake about that specific point. In any case, I don’t believe that Pogin has established even that weaker claim, that it was careless of Kipnis to claim that Ludlow had been in a consensual relationship with the graduate student how accused him.

Indeed, note that, in the passage of her letter quoted above, Pogin did *not* say that the graduate student who accused Ludlow of rape denied that she was at some point in a consensual relationship with him. If the graduate student denies that she was ever in a consensual relationship with Ludlow, then why didn’t Pogin just say so, which might indeed have established that Kipnis shouldn’t have written what she wrote? I’m not a lawyer, so there may be a legal reason why she didn’t that I don’t know about, but in that case I would be curious to know what it is.

It’s true that, in her letter, Pogin also says « given that the university’s finding that he sexually harassed her was based precisely on the relationship which he alleges was consensual, one must wonder how a relationship could be found to both sexually harassing and consensual at one and the same time ». This suggests that, according to Pogin, the graduate student who filed a complain against Ludlow for sexual assault was never in a consensual relationship with him.

But what’s in the public record suggests to me that it’s only true if you accept a particular, highly controversial notion of consent, according to which consent cannot really exist when the right kind of power asymmetry obtains. (For the record, if you think I’m jumping to conclusions here, I want to say that in the original version of this comment I had argued for that claim more at length but Justin refused to publish that part. I say that, not to publicly shame him, though I think his decision was unjustified, but because I don’t want to be accused of being careless.)

If that’s right, the claim that Ludlow was previously in a consensual relationship with the graduate student who accused him of rape is only a factual mistake if you accept this conception of consent. But of course this conception of consent is highly controversial and that’s precisely one of the things Kipnis was criticizing in her original piece.

Of course, even if she was indeed in a consensual relationship with Ludlow, he might still have raped her. But, as far as I know, Kipnis never said that she wasn’t. Thus, it seems to me that, if we’re talking about factual mistakes, not philosophical views that we may or may not agree with, Pogin has only established one in her letter, namely about the number of lawsuits by the undergraduate student that were dismissed. Honestly, this doesn’t strike me as a particularly egregious mistake, and certainly not one that warrants filing a complaint for retaliation against Kipnis.

In her article in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathryn-pogin/melodrama-notes-from-an-ongoing_b_6805676.html), Pogin mentions another factual mistake in the article Kipnis wrote, namely that she wrote that a suit was thrown out “last month” when in fact the suit had apparently been dismissed on February 5 and Kipnis’s piece was published on February 27. But it’s even more ridiculous that such a completely unimportant mistake could ever justify a retaliation complaint.

So, unless the author of this post can show that Kipnis made other factual mistakes (in addition to those Pogin identified), it’s really hard to believe that s/he filed a complaint against her merely because she made some factual mistakes and refused to correct them. That’s not because I think that no such a complaint could ever be justified by the fact that someone made factual mistakes in a column that mentions a sexual assault complaint. I have no doubt that it could happen, but the factual mistakes in question would have to be very different and a lot more serious than the ones Kipnis made, at least those which have so far been established.

To be clear, I have also little doubt that the author of this post *believes* that’s why s/he filed that complaint, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually why. Given the nature of the factual mistakes that Kipnis did make in her piece, it seems more plausible to me that s/he filed a complaint because she didn’t like what Kipnis said in that article and somehow convinced herself that s/he was doing it because she made factual mistakes and refused to correct them. After all, people’s real motivations are not always transparent even to themselves, it happens to everyone to fool themselves about why they do what they do.

While I’m at it, I also think that comment 45 above is exactly right, I hope people will read it.Report

Associate Professor
Associate Professor
6 years ago

I would like to express support for the author of this post, and for the students who (i) made the complaints against Ludlow, and (ii) made the complaints against Kipnis. In particular, I think that the correct attitude to take toward the complaints against Kipnis is that (i) of course the students had the right to make the complaint of retaliation, and (ii) we (i.e., those of us not parties to the case) are not in a position to be able to tell whether their complaints were well-founded or not. This is for reasons having to do with the charge of retaliation – it depends on how Northwestern’s policies about sexual harassment and retaliation work, not on any individual’s interpretation of ‘Title IX’ whatever that might be, and on how Northwestern thinks that acts of retaliation can potentially harm the community and those in it. Retaliation is usually spelled out in a clause in a university’s sexual harassment policy that is designed to discourage actions by members of a community – such as a respondent’s friends, colleagues, and allies – that are intended to discourage, silence, or intimidate complainants from coming forward with their complaints. This can include threats to publicize their identity, or their complaints, or smear their reputation, or cast them as ‘sluts’ or ‘asking for it’, etc. All of this should be familiar from the David Barnett case, where the question of what constitutes retaliation also arose. As in that case, the standard for judging whether something counts as retaliation is not Title IX law, but the standard set up by Northwestern in the policies they’ve adopted in order to conform to Title IX policy. I could be wrong about all this, but this is how I understand the situation at my own university.

As for Kipnis’ editorial – I myself did come away with the impression that she was saying that the students at Northwestern who’d raised sexual harassment complaints against Ludlow had in fact dated him, and had either fallen under the influence of a ‘feminism hijacked by melodrama’ which encouraged them to think of themselves as helpless victims when they ought to have known what they were doing (having affairs with faculty members because it’s fun or helpful to their careers, as I guess Kipnis said she did), or were ‘getting back’ at Ludlow after an affair gone wrong by using the weapon of the sexual harassment policy at Northwestern (which would be unethical). To say this this so publicly, when the cases are still ongoing, and when the complainants are not at liberty to speak about the details of their own cases, looks like it constitutes retaliation, at least as I understand it at my own university. Certainly it would discourage anyone from coming forward to make complaints, if she or he knew that faculty members at her or his own institution would take to national venues to heap scorn on him or her for the complaint. If a student at my university were to make a confidential complaint of sexual harassment against a faculty member here, it would certainly be my right to speculate in a national publication that the student had been dating the faculty member and hence the relationship was consensual and the complaint baseless, but I would also expect a complaint of retaliation if I were to do so.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Associate Professor (54), this seems absolutely perfectly put. I’d only note that what Kipnis did seems even worse than “speculate in a national publication that the student had been dating the faculty member” which would at least have implied that it was an open question. What she smuggled in was a presupposition.Report

Richard Hanley
Richard Hanley
6 years ago

David Sobel (15) and (50): I’m having trouble understanding some of your claims about the case. For instance, the timeline of events. You seem to suggest that Kipnis knew of the graduate student’s denial of the dating claim prior to publication. Is that your claim? (My understanding is that Kipnis was unaware of this until contacted by Pogin.)
Or is your focus on the refusal to correct post-Pogin? I have some sympathy with the CHE editors (and by implication, Kipnis) on this score. While not “incomprehensible,” Pogin’s letter did bury the request for correction in a paragraph that seemed to be about something else entirely. At least as far as I can tell, once they realized they had missed that part of Pogin’s request, CHE made the correction.

[Comment from Justin: Richard, it was more than one person at Northwestern who contacted Kipnis, post-publication, about this (and other concerns with the article). The Chronicle did not make the corrections until a few weeks later.]Report

Kathleen Lowrey
Kathleen Lowrey
6 years ago

Associate Professor at 12:39: exactly! Yes, free speech hooray. Laura Kipnis can say what she wants, jackbooted agents of the state are not clamping her in leg irons. But that she can say exactly what she wants, in a national publication, about students involved in an ongoing bureaucratic process at the university at which she works, and expect somehow not to also become embroiled in exactly those bureaucratic machinations: give us all a break, please. And what exactly has Kipnis suffered as a result? Nothing. Her career is fine, her salary is fine, some people’s opinion of her (mine included, someone who has really liked some of her previous writing) has dropped through the floor, but that’s a part of the exercise of free speech. You say what you think, other people hear it and draw conclusions. Meanwhile, the consequences for students — who in this specific case were availing themselves of processes and procedures that are institutionalized in the university they attend, not that were cooked up by a coven of radical feminist witches run from a brambly mountaintop, and who were awaiting the outcomes of those processes and procedures — are self-evidently chilling and their positions are much more vulnerable than that of Kipnis. Of course Kipnis, as tenured professor, can say the sort of things she said and keep her position intact. That a university might be asked to examine specific instances of using that privilege to kick down and to consider whether they constitute retaliation isn’t a travesty of justice.Report

Yet Another Anon Grad Student
Yet Another Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Associate Professor @54, since these definitions are used in trials held by the university, the university is free to set up whatever it wants as a definition of harassment–including sneezes and the raising of eyebrows. Of course, this will be ultimately futile given that the university would then be inevitably demolished in a civil suit in a real court of law. For that reason it’s probably best that universities use definitions of harassment/hostile environment that conform to existing case law.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

There is a foundational problem with this argument: allegedly false reporting is not a civil righs violation. To the precise contrary, allegations of defamation and false light depiction, which this account of the still secret complaint amounts to, have long been used to stifle civil rights activism. That is exactly what happened in the case that imposed constitutional limits on defamation claims, NYT v. Sullivan, where a defamation action was used to attempt to punish a newspaper for reporting on civil rights activities in Alabama. It also allegedly happened in the Ludlow case itself, where the professor asserted defamation claims The idea that a student who was not even the subject of the purportedly false reporting could instigate what amounts to an asminstrative defamation investigation under the guise of a civil rights law is truly absurd.Report

nybearfan
nybearfan
6 years ago

It’s comforting to learn that the author did not intend to mount a witch-hunt against Kipnis, but the argument remains utterly incoherent. There is absolutely no evidence, real or imagined, of any tangible harm Kipnis’s article, errors and all, has or could plausibly have caused. The claim is sheer nonsense. A passing mention, vague on the facts and silent on the victims’ identities, could hardly be expected to have any bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the case. And as the author acknowledges, IT HAD NO SUCH BEARING in fact. So where is the harm?

And of course the errors themselves barely register as errors at all; Kipnis did not have all the facts, and her gloss made this both obvious and immaterial to her argument. The irony, of course, is that the complaint against her is the best possible confirmation of her thesis.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
6 years ago

In my last comment, I meant to write that comment 44 by Seriously? is exactly right, not comment 45 as I wrote by mistake.Report

Seriously?
Seriously?
6 years ago

Your hypothetical is radically underspecified, so who knows?

If you really want to play that game, I could imagine scenarios in which I might well find the credibility of the accused higher than the credibility of the accuser. But I don’t see at all, frankly, what this sort of hypothetical has to do with what Kipnis wrote. She didn’t purport to make any particular determinations about credibility.

But suppose for “fun” — which is the last thing any of this is, frankly — that she had made some explicit or implicit assessment of relative credibility. What exactly would be the actionable harm in that? That’s a sincere question. I presume that people are free, as say jurors are free, to a assess the credibility of testimony any way they choose. Nobody has an intrinsic right to be presumed credible in a controversial case. Not taking a person to be as credible as they take themselves to be does not seem ipso facto to harm them or violate them in any way. But perhaps you believe otherwise. Perhaps you believe accusers, especially vulnerable accusers, have certain epistemic rights — where this is to be understood in broadly moral terms — to the be taken as credible until proven otherwise. I’d like to hear why you think that. I could imagine an argument. But don’t want to do so, if you’ve already got one. Also, I don’t want to put words in your mouth or thoughts in your head.Report

Seriously?
Seriously?
6 years ago

Comment 62 is in response to comment 50 by David Sobel, by the way. I thought it would be nested under his comment. No such luck.Report

Echo
Echo
6 years ago

But they might suffer a Title IX investigation, right?Report

Another Professor
Another Professor
6 years ago

Once again, some very basic and simple facts are getting lost here. LK wrote a long essay, one paragraph of which discussed the events in Northwestern Philosophy (a department that is not her own, concerning students with whom she has no professional relations whatsoever). In that paragraph, she ran several events together confusingly and made some factual errors that were later cleaned up. This is turn sparked a Title IX allegation of retaliation. It would behoove everyone who comments here to read Kipnes’s two essays and the response to the letter in the Chronicle that provides her own timeline and her own characterization of the errors. There is I think reasonable grounds for conflicting interpretation of their intent and their seriousness, but I cannot fathom an interpretation that warrants the claim of retaliation. The author and her friend were, I suppose, within their rights to file such a claim (and I suppose somewhere in this thread, someone explains how a third party, like the author, can claim to be retaliated against). But they ought not to have. And I think one can say that and still have real sympathies for the humans at the center of this story, for the horror of rape and the deep problem of sexual harassment in academia. And of course one can say that and still think that the ugly backlash the women bringing the charges are receiving is deplorable and should stop.Report

Laura Grams
Laura Grams
6 years ago

This news about the possible Honor Court charge against a University of North Carolina student who made public statements about her sexual assault case is interesting to examine in juxtaposition to the situation at Northwestern. From IHE: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/02/26/unc-charged-student-honor-code-violation-discussing-her-rape-allegation#at_pco=smlwn-1.0&at_si=5572564f334169e2&at_ab=per-12&at_pos=0&at_tot=1Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

I strongly object to the notion that Free Speech Warriors and People Who Care About Oppression are mutually exclusive categories. This notion seems to plague these debates. I am a Free Speech Warrior precisely because I care deeply about oppression. The problem with free speech, folks, is that it only works if everyone has a right to it, the oppressed and the oppressor alike. Otherwise, who exactly gets to decide who exactly is worthy of speech? The powerful? The majority? Our free speech right has been one of our greatest tools in the fight against oppression. But, defending free speech is often a very lonely road, because you get accused of not caring about how whatever speech made whomever feel. I care deeply about free speech, because I care deeply about the oppressed.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

Re comment 66, in the case you cite, UNC’s administration ultimately intervened to quash the proceeding by a stident honor court that was considering imposing punishment upon an alleged victim of assault for her public statements, reasoning that her free speech rights were implicated . But as her lawyer noted, damage was done simply by allowing the proceeding to go on as long as it did. The parallel to Kipnos’ situation is therefore striking.Report

Monica
Monica
6 years ago

[ My apologies and many thanks to the moderators of this thread. If you can tolerate my last musings, thank you. ]

First: unlike some authors here, I am not willing to indulge the fantasy of taking the philosophical community at large (real or virtual) to be a place where equally situated self-determined, autonomous rational thinkers interact by exchanging reasons, claims, counterclaims, accepting or rejecting them but shaking hands at the end when they reach the conclusion they’re happy with (@seriously?). To do so is irresponsible when, de facto, some voices are louder than others, some have more credibility and authority than others, when some people have more power than others.

Second: I see that some people here(@DC) have more knowledge of the use and meaning of Title IX procedures (and laws in general). Which is great and very encouraging! Thank you all. I hope we/I can learn from you.

Finally, a more radical proposal. I am open to the idea that, although professor Kipnis is a faculty member at NU, she is ignorant (i.e. has no clue) of some parts of the social tapestry of NU. Many points in her Freudian analysis make me believe that this is indeed the case. Why does it matter? Well, it matters because her voice would not be quite as chilling or credible if she were to apply her Freudian insights into the workings of a university in a galaxy, far, far away.
In the old days we would say that “with freedom comes responsibility”. Far from being just “intellectually silly”, professor Kipnis’s musings are intellectually (and not only) irresponsible. For some time I hoped that another professor at NU would raise their voice and provide the much needed, wiser alternative to her article. Perhaps, then, nobody would have thought that the only instrument they have to give others some strength is to be the NU Title IX maze runner. So far, this letter by a grad student is the closest thing to that hope.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I’m gradually becoming convinced that we are no longer dealing with a politics but a theology. These debates are dead ends because they are not debates among participants who realize we are all deeply fallible, biased, and prone to error. They are debates with priests and judges, with pure vessels of truth and morality.

It is sad because it poses as a more purely “leftist” politics, when it is anything but. It is the right in a new disguise. The true left–the Marxist tradition–is principally grounded in the objective, not the subjective.Report

Seriously?
Seriously?
6 years ago

@Monica:

Then what do you take the “philosophical community at large” to be if not the “fantasy” of a community of inquirers equally dedicated to truth all with equal access to the means of producing and discerning the truth?

You seem to think that philosophy isn’t about reasoned argument among people who have no initial claim to occupying a privileged position in the space of reasons. I’m just guessing. But it sounds as though you just might think that philosophy is something like a mere roll call of competing ideologies, each backed by some greater or lesser degree of power. Not the power of reason — that’s just a delusion and fantasy to think that a philosopher could try to back his or her views with nothing but the force of the better reason. I don’t know but if I had to guess, I would predict that you’re going to any talk of the force of the better reason to be just a disguise. In the end, I suspect that you think it’s just politics all the way down. I assume that because of the way you seemed to dismiss what you called “policing reasons” as a move that the powerful make when they don’t want to take the complaints of the marginalized seriously.

Call me a fool, call me naive, call me, of all things, “irresponsible” for not believing as you appear to believe. But unlike you, with respect to equality, I actually do believe that humans have a degree of autonomy, self-determination, and rationality. And in my naive delusions, I also admit believing that we all have roughly equal access to and so are equally situated with respect to the most important thing of all — the space of reason.

But I suspect you don’t believe in that space as I conceive it. I suspect you think that’s a deluded fantasy too, right? One person’s reason, is another’s treason, as it were. It’s all about power. And of course, not all are equally situated with respect to power. I mean some have tenure, some have wealth, some have opportunities that others lack. I assume your talk of credibility and authority, is meant to refer to that the kind of credibility and authority that come with institutional power. There is such credibility and authority — no doubt about it. But if that were all that mattered in philosophical discussion, god it would be a depressing and pointless profession. That’s a profession I wouldn’t want to be a part of. A game I wouldn’t want to play. What would be the point?

But hey maybe that’s just my false consciousness operating. Maybe you’re right and I’m wrong about the way the philosophy game is really played. Maybe I’m really just a deluded politician merely parading as an explorer out to chart the landscape of reasons.Report

anon female grad student
anon female grad student
6 years ago

What I’ve learned from this debacle is that I can file a Title IX complaint against pretty much anyone for something they’ve done that can be interpreted (even if it’s a wild stretch) as discriminatory in some way. The university is obligated to put that person through an investigation and maintain confidentiality (to the greatest extent possible); indeed, the accused person is also required to maintain confidentiality. Is this correct? Or have a misunderstood the confidentiality rules?

These are extensive protections indeed. I hope, out of respect for the good effects of Title IX, that people do not continue to abuse these protections. Of course, if confidentiality rules are as I’ve described them, I suppose we’ll never really know. I wish I could say these two frivolous retaliation complaints were the only two I’ve ever heard of. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. *No one* (neither the accuser nor the accused, nor anyone else involved) is served well by these abuses.

What might be lost in these arguments about the merits of this particular case is the necessary revisions to current procedures. Universities should be under no obligation to investigate frivolous complaints (by which I mean, complaints that, if true, are not in fact a violation of Title IX). Nor should they be pressured into erring on the side of caution in deciding which complaints to investigate. Such revisions would protect *everyone*, as the current case demonstrates, since students might be genuinely confused about what is and is not a violation of Title IX.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

No 72, I think you have gotten to the heart of the matter. Title IX is among the most demonstably successful civil rights regimes instituted by Congress. It has changed the face of our nation’s universities, not as much as we should want, but all for the good.

That is why it is essential that opponents of gender based discrimination, in all its forms – including and especially harassment and abuse – should be at the forefront of decrying misuses of this important civil rights regime like the absurd complaint that is so weakly defended above.

Thankfully, the answers to the problem are not obscure, rather, they are procedural: as the commentor above suggests – no institution of higher learning should ever accept and investigate claims that are directed at punishing speech, period full stop.

Finally, as professor Eisenman generously stated after the even more frivolous claim against him was terminated, it is primarily the responsibility of university administrators and the government regulators they look to for guidance to ensure that abusive and facually defective claims are rejected at the outset.

Thus, Eisenman said, it is wrong to direct undue criticism at students who are in the process of learning the rules of the raod for discourse in civil society, and are to be expected to make mistakes along that road

Yet all of us have a responsibility to reflect on and learn from our mistakes, and that includes students and faculty in university communities who should always endeavor to preserve and enhance – and certainly not abuse – valuable tools like civil rights enforcement regimes. As the Kipnis affair shows, such abuses can have deeply unfortunate repercussions. That is why the lack of such self-critical reflection evinced in the above post from the complainant is so concerning.Report

Genuinely Baffled
Genuinely Baffled
6 years ago

This is in response to Joe @ 46:

You state that “the lack of empathy for alleged victims amongst the Speech Warriors is truly staggering”

What I find baffling is the tendency of intelligent individuals, largely in contemporary academic circles, to locate their position in explicit and mocking opposition to concerns regarding free speech. Particularly in ostensible support of oppressed groups.

This seems like the definition of a losing gambit. It is politically toxic, equating social justice causes with right-wing caricatures of progressivism. It is also astoundingly myopic in that it assumes that the hammer of speech regulation will always and only be wielded by those friendly to social justice causes, apparently in the teeth of all historical evidence.

Why, exactly, do you feel that minimizing concerns regarding free expression is helpful to oppressed groups? Is there any historical basis whatsoever that you can indicate in which cracking down on free expression has advanced the causes of the powerless? Can you genuinely not imagine a scenario in which such a stance could backfire?Report

Richard Hanley
Richard Hanley
6 years ago

Following up on Phillipe Lemoine’s post (53), there are some language issues here (ironically, issues very familiar to Ludlow himself)…
The OP says in part:
“I am a graduate student who knowingly involved myself in a legally volatile situation because Kipnis, intentionally or not, wrote false things about two students found by our university to be victims.”

This asserts “Kipnis wrote false things about two students found by our university to be victims.” Since we don’t know their names, call the two students U and G. Let’s grant that Kipnis wrote about U. What did Kipnis say about U that was false? That U brought “several” lawsuits when U only brought two, is what we are told. OK, granted. What did Kipnis say about G that was false? Here’s where things get interesting. We can infer from Kipnis’s (albeit clumsy) response to Cynthis Lewis (http://www.chroniclecareers.com/article/Parsing-Sexual-Paranoia/229009/) that Kipnis was intending to say about G that Ludlow had brought a defamation suit against G. But how did Kipnis attempt to identify G in the first place? One answer is, with the description: “a former grad student whom he had previously dated.” Now either this description applies to G or it doesn’t. If it applies to G, then Kipnis did not write a falsehood, and so did not write a falsehood about G. But the charge in the OP and elsewhere is that the description does not apply to G. It either applies to some other individual, or else to nothing at all; but then it seems Kipnis did not succeed in writing anything about G. To put the point another way, if the correct rendering of Kipnis’s original assertion is “There exists an x such that x is a former graduate student, and Ludlow previously dated x, and Ludlow sued x for defamation,” then what Kipnis said is false all right, but not about G. My claim is modest: that the author of the OP (and several–or only two–others on this thread and elsewhere) have not yet given an account of how it is that Kipnis wrote something false about G.

[Note that although she might have succeeded in doing so, Kipnis did not even attempt to identify G as an alleged victim of Ludlow’s. Indeed, Kipnis was criticized for not identifying G in this way (by Cynthia Lewis). And fair enough—from Kipnis’s article alone, no one would known that anyone other than U was an alleged victim of Ludlow’s. (If you think differently, then you might as well read “The professor sued for defamation various colleagues, administrators, and a former grad student whom he had previously dated,” as saying that he had allegedly sexual assaulted colleagues and administrators whom he had previously dated.) Kipnis’s article has a pretty strong implicature that the defamation lawsuits arose out of the U case alone.]

So what is the argument that Kipnis (originally) wrote something false about G? Presumably it is that Kipnis’s assertion is properly rendered as “The former graduate student that Ludlow sued for defamation was previously dated by Ludlow.” That is, Kipnis’ assertion is of the form “The F is H,” and is false since “the F” picks out G uniquely (via the usual Russellian machinery), and G is not H.

Some evidence against this rendering is that Kipnis used the indefinite article “a” rather than “the.” (Test your intuitions. If Ludlow *had* dated G, and had also sued at least one other former graduate student for defamation, then would what Kipnis wrote have come out false? Not by my lights, yet it would be false on the suggested rendering.)

Perhaps Kipnis’s critics can deny the Russellian treatment of definite descriptions. Or perhaps they can deny that the Intentional Fallacy is a fallacy. Or perhaps they should claim something weaker than the OP quote above: either that although not asserted by Kipnis, something false about G (of the form “The F is H”) was nevertheless communicated (e.g. by implicature); or else that falsehood is not the issue after all (cf. Lemoine at 53).Report

AgainAnon
AgainAnon
6 years ago

The moderator seems to reject any post that links to the page on the Leiter Reports that says, “This student is getting terrible advice.” ( http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2015/06/an-unfortunate-response-to-the-title-ix-fiasco-at-northwestern-involving-kipnis.html )

I think the moderator’s censorship is mildly scandalous.Report

Monica
Monica
6 years ago

@Seriously? (#71): For me, philosophy is not a game. I’ll let you guess, suspect, assume, and predict the other stuff about myself and others, since you seem to like this activity tremendously.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I think the Title IX complaint was a mistake, but I do sympathize with the students and imagine it’s a mistaken anyone in their situation might have been inclined to make.

I do have a serious question about the motive for the complaint: wasn’t the complaint itself a form of “retaliation”? I say this not to demonize the students. If I was in their situation, I’d have been offended by Kipnis’ article and been tempted to do the same. But it may be worth recognizing that we may not dealing with *either* heroic ethical-political will *or* villainous free speech suppression, but instead just ordinary human, all to human, sentiment.Report

Lisa Duggan
Lisa Duggan
6 years ago

Universities act primarily to protect themselves from liability, they do not act to protect anyone, students or faculty, accuser or accused. Sexual harassment codes morphed long ago from their original feminist intention, to offer redress to those harassed under conditions of gender inequality and sexual predation. Now, they are more like military anti-fraternization codes that forbid socializing across status lines, to protect the hierarchy and the institution. The confidentiality rules, supposedly designed to protect a complainant from reprisal and ostracism, actually function to protect the university. They are drafted by lawyers working for the university. Title IX, though issuing from the federal government, is similarly being instituted by liability averse university corporate lawyers. In such circumstances, accusers and accused will feel abused by the process–because in fact neither is truly being served. Protests aimed at asking for enforcement from a university administration are ill conceived, in the way that hate crime legislation is ill conceived–such laws enhance the power of the police and the prison system more than they act meaningfully to reduce hatred and violence. Organizing on campus might be aimed at creating new forms of solidarity and collective action, from among students themselves, rather than at asking for and using university regulations that will only frustrate all concerned. An example might be taken from Incite! a woman of color organization against violence against women that eschews strategies that only enhance the powers of the police state. It is also necessary to keep in mind, even as we organize ourselves to address the realities of sexual assault under conditions of gender inequality, that we need a process that recognizes the rights of the accused and doesn’t assume guilt upon accusation. There are too many historical examples of anti rape and sexual assault movements gone horribly awry by invoking slogans like “believe the women” or “believe the children.” Black men have been lynched and unfairly prosecuted for over a century for rapes they didn’t commit, that many white women have lied about. The panic over Satanistic child abuse practices in day care centers put scores of people in prison with long sentences, before those prosecutions were revealed as deeply flawed. It also doesn’t help us to overdramatize the impact of rape and sexual assault. Yes, these are horrible events connected to gender inequality (I have been subject to sexual harassment and assault myself). But if we use hyperbolic language to declare that all instances of such assaults, without regard to circumstance, “ruin” lives and “damage” people–what are we telling ourselves and the people who live through such assaults? Gayle Rubin long ago, in her classic essay “Thinking Sex,” argued that sex is overburdened with significance, and that this underlies persecutory sex law and rampant moral panics. When we equate a rub on the bottom with a brutal rape, we are going to end up in a persecutory frenzy that can not make crucial distinctions. Can we keep all of this in mind, while we also organize around the indisputable fact that sexual assault is too often trivialized and dismissed? Can we accept that simply “believing” every charge leads us down a very dangerous path, as dangerous as disbelieving. We have to hold the possibility that the accused is not guilty in mind when we write and organize around sexual assault. And we should reject the “protection” of paternalistic institutions and supporters along the way.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
6 years ago

I think it’s reasonable to say that Kipnis referred to the graduate student who accused Ludlow of rape, even if the description she used in order to do it turned out not to apply to that student. After all, people often refer to something by using a description that it doesn’t satisfy, so I don’t think this line of argument is particularly convincing. But it’s certainly true that Kipnis only mentioned the graduate student in question very tangentially in her original piece.

Also, from what I understand, the falsehood about the undergraduate student who accused Ludlow of sexal assault is not that Kipnis said she had filed several lawsuits when in fact she had only filed one (which arguably wouldn’t have been a falsehood), but rather that several of the lawsuits she filed had been dismissed when in fact only one of them had been. I say that because this misunderstanding has been repeated several times in this discussion.

As for Kipnis’s claim that the graduate student who accused Ludlow of rape had previously been dating him, I actually made several distinct points which can be summarized as follows. The first point is that, even if as Pogin suggested in her article, the graduate student had denied that she was ever in a consensual relationship with Ludlow, this would not show that Kipnis wrote something false but merely that she was careless.

But I also noted that, as far as I know, there is nothing in the public record that clearly indicates that the graduate student denied that she was at some point in a consensual relationship with Ludlow. In particular, Pogin never explicitly says that in her article, even though she would presumably be in a position to know if it were the case.

[Here I was making another important point that Justin refuses to publish. I edited my comment to meet his demands, but I want to note for the record that I strongly disagree with this censorship, which in effect prevents me from discussing information that is publicly available.]

So it’s not even clear to me that Kipnis was careless in describing the graduate student who accused Ludlow of rape as having previously been in a consensual relationship with him. And, as I already noted, even if it was, it still wouldn’t follow that what she said was false. Therefore, based on the information that is publicly available, I think what the author of this post said is not very convincing.

Finally, I want to emphasize that, of course, the graduate student may well have been raped by Ludlow even if they were indeed dating at some point. But as far as I know Kipnis never said anything about that. I was only replying to the author of this post who claimed that s/he had filed a complaint against Kipnis because she made some factual mistakes and refused to correct them.Report

Richard Hanley
Richard Hanley
6 years ago

@ Philipe Lemoine (81), presumably responding to my (76): thank you for the correction to my understanding of U’s case (even though you wrote “one” where I wrote “two”). I relied on what others had more or less asserted here, hence my “is what we are told” (note that folks–including you, apparently–have been oddly coy about responding with precision to requests for clarification from e.g. Ligurio (38) and others). More fool me–I will never again rely upon my fellow philosophers in this way.

As to G’s case, you respond as though I misunderstood your (53). I didn’t. And I mostly agree with it. But I fear you did not understand my point. You write (81):
“I think it’s reasonable to say that Kipnis referred to the graduate student who accused Ludlow of rape, even if the description she used in order to do it turned out not to apply to that student. After all, people often refer to something by using a description that it doesn’t satisfy, so I don’t think this line of argument is particularly convincing.”

Your intuition might not even be relevant: you might be talking about speaker’s reference when the issue is semantic reference. Or else you’re begging the question (against e.g. Russellians). Or else you’re following some other response I outlined at the end.

Kipnis has been accused of harming G, in part (cf. the OP) on the ground that Kipnis publicly *wrote* something *false* *about G*. This ground involves interpretive claims, ones that philosophers of language are entitled to examine. The more dubious those claims are, the less compelling is the *stated* case against Kipnis, your psychological report notwithstanding.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
6 years ago

Sorry, you’re right, “two” is what I meant to write, not “one” as I wrote by mistake. (Otherwise the remark I make in parenthesis — that this would arguably not even be a falsehood — wouldn’t make any sense.)

I don’t think it’s fair to say that I have been coy about responding with precision to requests for clarification. I have written a rather long comment, which you cited, in which I explain what exactly I think Kipnis said that was false. In that comment, I did precisely state what Kipnis’s mistake about the number of lawsuits was, though it’s true that I didn’t explicitly noted that Ligurio and others were mistaken on that issue.

Finally, regarding your previous comment, I think I understood what you were saying. My point is that *Kipnis* clearly referred to the graduate student who accused Ludlow of rape, even if the description she used to do so may not apply to that graduate student. It’s true that, assuming Russell’s theory of description is correct, *what she wrote* either was true or was not about the graduate student in question, but I thought it was a bit jesuitic to bring that up in the context of this discussion. I think what matters here is what *Kipnis* meant and how she was understood, not the literal meaning of *what she wrote*.

That being said, I didn’t mean to make too much of this disagreement, since I think we are clearly in agreement on the essential points.Report

aravis
aravis
6 years ago

The author of the article states the following about Kipnis’ essay:

“I think the argument Kipnis offered in her essay was intellectually silly and concretely harmful to individuals in our community…”

“Her erroneous representation of a particular case at Northwestern, involving living, breathing, human beings, caused tangible further harm to two women…”

Please explain how Kipnis’ essay — regardless of its quality — “concretely” and “tangibly” harmed *anyone*. Be specific. And no, someone *saying* they were harmed is not enough. Anyone can say that about anything.

As graduate students at a top university, I am sure that the author will be more than able to answer this very simple question.Report

Carla Fehr
Carla Fehr
6 years ago

Thank you, author, for writing this. Your closing paragraph is so important for people to hear and think hard about: “Hold these two facts together in your mind: she believes she was assaulted, and she regrets having ever told another soul. This is the world we live in. It’s not melodramatic; it’s heartbreaking.” I agree, it is heartbreaking. Some of the comments on this thread also sadden me. So, how about some constructive discussion about how to make things better in philosophy? How can we better support our students? How we can we undermine the practice of ignoring or dismissing serial harassers? How we can support departments that want to create cultures where there is less risk of these sorts of things happening in the first place? How can we help universities develop practices that are more transparent and fair to both the survivor and the accused? How can we help departments where these horrible things happen heal and become safe places for people to work and study?Report

Anne Jacobson
Anne Jacobson
6 years ago

I think it is courageous of the poster to adress these issues here. I am very grateful she did. Anonymity seldom survives much scrutiny. At the same time, we need to start to become more aware of what goes on when someone seeks to use the remedies the university appears to offer.

feministphilosophers.wordpress.com has a new blogger who has some expertise in the law and is going to attempt to clarify some legal concepts. Reading their posts might be interesting for those those addressing legal issues here. My own fraught 2.5 year trip to a final settlement through the EEOC left me convinced that laws have to be interpreted and that the resources needed for a good interpretation were beyond me. And some of the stuff was so complicated – such as who can testify at a hearing – that it wasn’t worth it to me to try to store it in my brain. Also, very often how these complicated matters are conducted is not simply a matter of decisions by university administrators. Further, given the federal scrutiny universities are getting re Title IX, it might well make sense to act on all complaints.Report

Anne Jacobson
Anne Jacobson
6 years ago

The series of posts on legal matters that I mentioned above is here:

https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/philosophical-change-in-the-shadow-of-the-law/Report

Cheryl Abbate
Cheryl Abbate
6 years ago

I am truly inspired by the courage of the author of this post. And, at the same time, my heart hurts knowing that yet another woman graduate student is being distracted from her own important research in order to spend her time defending herself, and other vulnerable members of academia, who inevitably will be, or have been, targeted in similar ways by irresponsible and unprofessional self-proclaimed tenured-professor “journalists,” who can’t bother to conduct thorough and unbiased research for their “articles” in order to get their facts straight. I really hope the graduate student continues to find the strength and motivation to protect herself, both her reputation and her own personal well being, because I can only imagine how devastating and demoralizing this all must be right now. And, we really need people like this author in our profession.

“She regards it as nothing less than a life and career ruining decision. Hold these two facts together in your mind: she believes she was assaulted, and she regrets having ever told another soul. This is the world we live in. It’s not melodramatic; it’s heartbreaking.”— Very well said.. and this passage is, unfortunately, representative of the experiences of too many women in academia. And, it expresses why so many victims will never come forward.Report