Well, that's a relief! It turns out that writing an essay defending a professor accused of sexual harassment is not sexual harassment.
After a three-month-long Title IX investigation, Northwestern University has cleared tenured film professor Laura Kipnis of charges of "retaliatory behavior" and "creating a hostile environment " in an article titled "Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe" published in the Chronicle of Higher Education in February.
Kipnis' views are inconoclastic, to say the least. In her 2001 polemic, Against Love she mocked the idea of marital fidelity (boring!) and asked what's wrong with adultery, a sin she cheerfully admitted to having committed many a time. In her Chronicle essay she mocked the policy, now nearly universal on college campuses, of restricting professors wanting to date their students, a sin she cheerfully admitted to having committing many a time, at least back in the day when such relationships weren't frowned upon:
It’s the fiction of the all-powerful professor embedded in the new campus codes that appalls me. And the kowtowing to the fiction—kowtowing wrapped in a vaguely feminist air of rectitude. If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama. The melodramatic imagination’s obsession with helpless victims and powerful predators is what’s shaping the conversation of the moment, to the detriment of those whose interests are supposedly being protected, namely students. The result? Students’ sense of vulnerability is skyrocketing.
During the course of her rambling essay Kipnis described a series of back-and-forth lawsuits (all thrown out of court) involving alleged sexual misconduct by an unnamed (by Kipnis) Northwestern philosophy professor, a female undergraduate he had taken to an art exhibit, and a graduate student whom the professor said he had dated. A judge and several media outlets had described one of the alleged incidents as "rape" although it involved only alleged fondling. "What a mess," Kipnis wrote.
The essay prompted two other graduate students to file a complaint with Northwestern that prompted the investigation, required by Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination on college campuses that the Obama Administration's Education Department interprets as giving accusers a low threshold ("preponderance of the evidence") for proving their cases. The grad students told the Huffington Post that Kipnis had made factual errors in the essay that she had refused to coorect. They also based their complaint on a March 8 tweet by Kipnis in which she said that "dating is not the same thing as rape. The grad students asserted that Kipnis had meant the tweet as an attack on a particular student who had accused a professor of sexual harassment.
Kipnis wrote a second essay for the Chronicle titled "My Title IX Inquisition," in which she asserted that Northwestern's investigator had refused at first even to inform her of the precise charges against her and questioned "why a professor can’t write about a legal case that’s been nationally reported, precisely because she’s employed by the university where the events took place." Fortunately for Kipnis, according to the Huffington Post:
On Friday, Northwestern told the parties they reached a conclusion of "no findings," meaning the evidence did not reach a preponderance of evidence that Kipnis was "responsible" for the charges.
Well, that's nice. I'm not even much of a fan of Laura Kipnis, although I'll admit that she can crack a few good jokes. As a married woman, I'm against adultery, and I think that sexual activity between professors and students is a breach of professional ethics–and is also unfair to students the professor doesn't deem attractive enough to make a pass at.
But for university to even consider using Title IX apparatus to penalize a professor for speaking out to assert her ideas and to defend a professor on her own campus whom she thinks was unfairly accused? I don't understand why Northwestern pursued this bogus "retaliatory behavior" complaint in the first place.