Sunday, August 19, 2018

What Would These Degenerate Twerps Be Without A Young and Literally Captive Audience?

jezebel  |  By many accounts, the New York University professor Avital Ronell—a German and comparative literature scholar and a superstar in her corner of academia— is a brilliant woman and a sought-after advisor. Former students who have taken her classes describe her as “original” and “inspiring.” Ronell, who is in her 60s and has taught at NYU for more than two decades, inspires a kind of admiration that some have called “mystical.” She is the kind of professor whose classes students don’t want to end.

But, for the past year, Ronell has also been the subject of a sexual harassment investigation by NYU’s Title IX office, initiated after a former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman, alleged in a complaint filed last September that she had sexually harassed him over a period of several years. On August 13, the New York Times reported that after an 11-month investigation, the university has found Ronell responsible for sexually harassing Reitman while he was earning his Ph.D. The university has suspended her for a year without pay and has also mandated that any future meetings she has with students will be supervised upon her return. Reitman and his attorney are considering filing a lawsuit against NYU, as well as Ronell.

News of the sexual harassment complaint against Ronell surfaced earlier this summer, after a group of prominent academics—including the noted feminist scholar Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek, and Gayatri Spivak—sent a letter of support to NYU officials, rallying to Ronell’s defense and decrying what they describe as a “legal nightmare.”

The letter, which was never meant to be public, was subsequently posted on the philosophy blog Leiter Reports, with the title, “Blaming the victim is apparently OK when the accused in a Title IX proceeding is a feminist literary theorist.” It is likely that without the publication of this letter, and without the signatures of so many influential and feminist scholars, many if not all of the details of Reitman’s complaint would have remained confidential—it is almost certain that much of this now very public and increasingly messy case would have been swept under the rug (a situation that I suspect NYU officials would have preferred).

In the letter, dated May 11, 2018 and addressed to NYU President Andrew Hamilton and Provost Katharine Fleming, the signers acknowledge they had “no access to the confidential dossier,” but believe that Reitman was waging a “malicious campaign” against Ronell and that “the allegations against her do not constitute actual evidence.”