Lawsuit against Kipnis moves forward

A judge decided Tuesday to proceed with a lawsuit filed by a graduate student against Communication Prof. Laura Kipnis and HarperCollins Publishers, declining to grant a motion filed by the defendants in July to dismiss the suit…

The student, using the pseudonym Jane Doe, filed the suit in May in response to Kipnis’ book, “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus.” In the book, Kipnis criticizes Northwestern’s Title IX procedures, detailing Kipnis’ experience with the process and discussing two Title IX complaints filed by Doe and another student against former philosophy Prof. Peter Ludlow accusing him of sexual assault.

Doe’s suit alleges that the book, which has received national attention, intentionally misrepresents facts and publishes private and unnecessary details about her. As quoted in the Tuesday order, the lawsuit calls “Unwanted Advances” a book “that — page after page — exposes extremely private and painful parts of Plaintiff’s life, makes false statements about her conduct, brands her a vengeful liar and turns this promising young graduate student’s life upside down for the entire world to see.”

Doe filed the suit on four counts, according to the order: public disclosure of private facts, false light invasion of privacy, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

This case is so very important, not just to philosophy but to the protection of victims’ rights. Read more here.

UCU Sexual Harassment Helpline

The UCU (union for most academics in the UK) has just opened a sexual harassment hotline, which is an excellent initiative.

This is a dedicated service for UCU members which any UCU member can reach on 0800 138 8724.  The helpline is in collaboration with Education Support Partnership (Ed Support).  Any member who has concerns or is experiencing sexual harassment can call 0800 138 8724 in confidence, free of charge and 24/7 to talk about their experience, discuss options, receive counselling (if clinically appropriate) and details of further sources of support, if necessary.

This is in addition to the workplace support from your branch. The helpline is an opportunity to discuss confidentiality your experience and talk through what you want to do next which may include asking your branch to support you take action against your employer. Many branches are now creating a named contact for sexual harassment cases and we are urging branches to adopt this approach and the model policy.

UCU is fully committed to eradicating sexual violence and harassment. Please call if you need to – we want to support you in every way we can.

What to expect when calling the service:

The call handlers will read out a confidentiality and code of ethics statement, take a few details and will ask you to discuss the issue you are experiencing. Ed Support’s specialists assess each call individually to locate the best course of action for you. Please note that if you request a call-back or are expecting a follow up call from the helpline this will appear on your phone as a withheld number for confidentiality reasons. If you need to get back in touch or enquire about a call-back to the service, please ring 0800 138 8724  or email them here – please include UCU sexual harassment helpline in your email subject and in the body of the email so they direct you to the right place.

If the lines are particularly busy or out of hours you may find that your call is answered by a specialist in a global service centre. This is to make sure as many calls are answered as possible so distressed callers are not being put through to an answer machine. Please rest assured that all specialists are suitably qualified and trained and your call will be handled in the best way possible.

Helpful advice for academics

A nameless YouTuber offers some timely, helpful advice for professors interested in dating their students. You can watch here.

(And, since it’s 2017 and everything is awful, it is worth flagging in advance that the video is satirical, and that it includes a sweary word.)

Weinstein, Westminster, and Philosophy

An article by Helen Beebee and Heather Widdows.

We don’t pretend for a moment that this is an easy problem to solve. We ourselves have in the past been guilty of failing to take proportionate action. We’ve been talking and reflecting, and there are things we would now do differently, different actions we’d have taken, different discussions we’d have had at department level and higher (rather than between ourselves) and different policies we’d have advocated for. We did some of this, we tried, but … in hindsight we should have done more: there was so much more that could have been done, and we feel bad about this. But hindsight is important: figuring out what you could have done differently is an important step towards doing things differently next time.

Read the whole thing.

Lisa Lloyd’s experiences at Princeton

Lisa Lloyd has shared a very depressing account of what her experiences were like at Princeton in the 1980s, including both recurring sexual harassment from Paul Benacerraf and manifestly unjustified dismissal of the quality of her work.  You can read the relevant bits of her account over at the Daily Nous here.  Or you can listen to her full story on the SciPhi podcast here.


Thanks for sharing this, Lisa.  I know it’s not easy to do.

“Everyone fucking knew”

A Hollywood screenwriter has written a powerful post, describing the way that everyone knew Weinstein was up to something bad, even if they didn’t know the details– and the reasons they went along with it.  And apologising.  He also notes the shock so many in Hollywood are expressing and calls bullshit on that.

Unsurprisingly, this has me thinking about the world of philosophy. I’m a pretty well-informed person when it comes to harassment in philosophy, and yet I am still sometimes shocked when a big story breaks.  So it’s not the case that *everyone* knows.  However– without fail– within days I discover that in a particular department, or a particular sub-discipline, it really was true that everyone knew– or at least strongly suspected.  And this is morally important, as these people are letting it continue, and not blowing the whistle.  (Well, some of them are trying to stop it, but not enough, or not the powerful enough people.)  And you know what else?  I often discover that some of the people expressing shock and horror on fb are actually within the circle of the “everyone” who knew that things were happening which shouldn’t have been– they were at the parties in professional settings at which sex workers were hired; they were at the department events held in strip clubs; they saw the moves being made by the professionally powerful older man on the professionally powerless younger woman.  And they just let it go on, expressing shock and horror only when it hit the headlines.

Sometimes I feel like there’s something to this adapted quote:

“if [disgraced philosopher]’s behavior is the most reprehensible thing one can imagine, a not-so-distant second is the current flood of sanctimonious denial and condemnation that now crashes upon these shores of rectitude in gloppy tides of bullshit righteousness.”

After all, some people are in a position to declare “no more department events at the strip club”, and to make that happen– it’s clear what these people should do.  It’s an important and baffling failure when they fail to do this.  What’s needed is not even difficult.

But individuals are not the whole of the problem.  We also need to think about institutions.  We desperately need to reform the way that departments and universities deal with sexual harassment.  Currently the university’s main interest is almost always adverse publicity– which means that victims and witnesses are silenced, and perpetrators are all too often quietly handed packets of money to go away.  There’s a nice discussion here of ways that institutions could be reformed.

And on an individual level we also need to think about the more complex cases in which people feel they don’t know how to intervene: e.g. the older man isn’t from the same department as the younger woman, and they can’t really tell whether what they’re seeing is mutually desired, or they have less institutional power (they themselves are just a student, and fear the consequences of objecting).  However, even in these cases, there *are* things to be done.  One could sit down next to the younger woman, join the conversation, offer her a way out in case she wants it (“some of us are going for pizza– want to come?”).  A colleague from another department could talk to the older man, remind of him of his professional power, and the potential problems that brings with it.    A student may not be able to safely intervene, but they may be able to check in with a fellow student, and see if they’re OK.  And they may be able to to raise issues with a sympathetic faculty member (though identifying these can sometimes be hard).

So did everyone fucking know, in all the philosophy cases?  In lots of cases, with appropriate domain restrictions in place, YES.  And we need to do something about all the reasons that this isn’t stopping the harassment.  I’d really love to see a widespread effort on the part of philosophers to think through ways that we can reform our profession– from individual actions to institutional change.  I hereby invite a discussion of this topic in the comments.  But please no identifiable discussion of individual cases or departments.

Excellent article on sexual assault and harassment in academia

This article by Anne McClintock is so rich that it’s hard to pick just a bit to quote.  I strongly recommend reading it.

To start you off, here is her brilliant analysis of why people are so invested in disbelieving rape victims:

Why is society so ready to sympathize with the perpetrator and disbelieve the rape victim? Believing that the perpetrator is innocent, or that he is in the thrall of drink, or that he is basically well-intentioned and guilty only of making a harmless mistake, all these are forms of magical thinking.

Magical thinking about rape allows people to believe in a world that is basically good and wholesome and safe. By speaking out, the rape victim tears the filmy web of magical thinking to tatters. And so the rape victim cannot be forgiven and must be banished, or silenced, or ostracized.

For centuries, rape victims have been blamed and shamed, flogged and beheaded, burned alive, buried alive, tongues cut out, driven out, and almost always disbelieved. How much easier to drown and disown them, and exonerate the perpetrators.

The rape survivor demands that we accept that perpetrators are not exceptional monsters, they are just the ordinary people we know. They are our everyday familiars wearing bathrobes, who turn out, with unspeakable suddenness, to be utter and forever strangers.

Magical thinking allows us to believe that the world is safe if we wear the right clothes, walk the right way, go to the right places, walk home with the right person.

Rape survivors hold up a dark, broken mirror to society that reflects a world without limits, revealing our deepest fears about the fragility of our world, a world where magical thinking is not enough to protect one from power abused with impunity.

There’s also a nice discussion of the self-undermining nature of Laura Kipnis’s own narrative of being the victim of a feminist “witch hunt”:

The strange truth about the Kipnis story is that her Title IX case, a central part of her book and of a lawsuit against her and HarperCollins, rebuts her own arguments. Kipnis was commissioned by The Chronicle of Higher Education to write an essay on campus sexual politics. Students at Northwestern University filed a Title IX complaint because she allegedly took factual liberties regarding a serious sexual misconduct case. Peter Ludlow, an associate professor of philosophy at Northwestern, had been charged with sexually harassing two of his students. Ludlow abruptly resigned during his termination hearing and moved to Mexico. Kipnis befriended Ludlow and a core part of her book engages the case.

Kipnis makes some startling admissions about what she called in a second essay for The Chronicle her “Title IX Inquisition”: “In light of the many horror stories I’ve heard about despotic treatment in Title IX cases, I have to say I was treated extremely courteously.” She confesses she had complete confidence she would win and that “academic freedom would prevail.”

And she indeed won. All charges were dropped. Freedom of speech prevailed. Unwanted Advances makes a familiar claim that campus misconduct hearings are “stacked against the accused”; that there “is no adequate method for sorting legitimate from specious claims”; and that “the safer path is to simply throw everyone accused of anything under a bus.” None of which were true in her case.

Far from a malevolent netherworld of rigged results, Kipnis admits her investigation had been “thorough beyond belief” and that the “investigators had “bent over backward” to clear her. More startling, she confesses with self-sabotaging frankness that she wished the investigation had been “a little less thorough.” She even “half-hoped” she would “be found guilty.”


But there’s so much more here– discussions of connections between Kipnis and various right-wing groups, standards of evidence, debunking of false claims about the outcomes of campus disciplinary procedures.  Really, read all of it.