Kathryn Pogin, a philosophy grad student at Northwestern University, has written an open letter in response to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis on ‘sexual paranoia’ in higher education. The article – which you can access without bumping up its readership stats here – discusses the case of Northerwestern professor Peter Ludlow at some length. With respect to that case, Pogin comments:
In your article you write, “The professor sued various colleagues, administrators, and a former grad student he previously dated, for defamation.” As an editorial comment, your argument is more persuasive than it otherwise would have been had you included that the reason the graduate student is being sued for defamation is because she, like the undergraduate student whose allegations you describe at least a bit, brought an internal Title IX complaint against the professor for sexual assault, in this case, alleging that he raped her. But, editorializing aside, this sentence does what you purported to find so disturbing about the use of the of the term ‘survivor’ by some campus activists–it makes a claim on the basis of allegations which are as of yet unsupported. You claim that the professor previously dated the graduate student he is suing. The foundation for that claim is his own legal complaint against her. The graduate student 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. Moreover, 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.
You also write, “He sued the university for gender discrimination (he says he wasn’t allowed to present evidence disproving the student’s allegations)—this suit was thrown out; so were several brought by the student.” The undergraduate student brought two lawsuits. One against the university, one against the professor. The one against the university was dismissed–the one against the professor was not. The student has brought no other lawsuits. To say that “several” brought by the student have been thrown out is both false and damaging.
She continues with more general observations about the alleged ‘Title IX’ panic that universities, and especially the students who attend them, are experiencing:
I am part of the post-Title IX landscape as a student concerned with sexual violence on college campuses, and I do, like you say, find myself experiencing a touch of panic. To be clear though, my panic is not some ill-founded anxiety bred out of an inability to see women, or students, as something other than damsels in distress, nor by an inability to conceptualize my own experiences, nor by my being some wilting violet. The sense of panic I feel comes from seeing professors in my own discipline shuffle from one institution to the next after being involved in harassment scandals that are covered up, swept under the rug, and quickly forgotten as if academia has modeled itself after the Catholic Church. It comes from knowing victims who have been driven out of their departments and out of their chosen career paths because try as they might justice will not be served to them. It comes from knowing that senior and well respected persons in my profession, in the context of making decisions about hiring, have referred to sexual assault as something that we should not hang over a person’s head forever. It comes from knowing that if I am ever assaulted by a professor, even filing an entirely confidential and internal Title IX complaint might result in my being sued for defamation–where what could potentially be the most private, horrific, and heartbreaking experiences of my life will be made public through someone else’s narrative, and where someone like you may refer to my suffering flippantly as melodrama.
Kipnis’ article – which includes the claim that the success of feminism has placed menopausal women with low libidos in positions of power, and they now want to legislate against everyone else’s sex life, and which suggests that because she didn’t experience any lasting harm from professor/student relationships anyone who thinks such relationships might in some contexts be harmful is experiencing a type of moral panic – would be laughable if it didn’t have the potential to be so damaging.