He Said, She Said–This Time Professor and Student

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A philosophy professor and a journalism student are involved in an unusual he-said she-said sex case at Northwestern. The student filed a federal Title IX lawsuit last month, alleging that professor Peter Ludlow sexually assaulted her two years ago and that the school took no disciplinary action, despite finding that he had engaged in “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” (but not rape). Later, the young woman sued Ludlow himself. In fact, according to the university, Ludlow was denied a raise and an endowed chair, and was warned against one-on-one social contact with undergraduates and prohibited to drink alcohol with them–but was permitted to continue teaching with full privileges.  Brenda Slavin, the head of Northwestern’s Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention who investigated the case, has said that, contrary to the plaintiff’s claim, his dismissal was never considered or recommended.  Ludlow is currently scheduled to take a new job at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, where officials were apparently unaware of the harassment charges when they made him the offer.

Media Involvement

The conflict escalated when the student’s complaint was picked up by the local media, galvanizing feminist outrage. (Adding fuel to the fire, several news outlets wrongly reported that Ludlow had been accused of rape; in fact, the charge of sexual assault referred to allegations that he had groped the young woman’s breasts and buttocks.) Some Northwestern students mobilized against Ludlow, planning a sit-in and walk-out during his March 4 class; after Ludlow canceled the class, the activists held a protest in front of a dean’s office, and three of them met with university officials.  On March 5, the announcement was made that Ludlow would not teach for the rest of the academic year. Even Brian Leiter, a strongly liberal philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, who emphasizes his belief that sexual harassment in the field is a shamefully neglected “scourge,” has expressed concern over this triumph of “vigilante justice.”

‘Furiously Making Out’

As often in such cases, the facts are not easy to sort out.  (The student’s complaint and the university’s response can be found here; Ludlow’s response to her lawsuit against him is here.)  What’s not in dispute is that on February 10, 2012, the professor and the young woman–then a 19-year-old freshman who had been in Ludlow’s class the previous semester–spent an evening in Chicago where they went to three art shows, had dinner at a restaurant, drank at several bars, and ended up spending the night at Ludlow’s condo apartment in Chicago on the same bed.

Not surprisingly, their accounts differ considerably on the specifics. The student claims that she emailed Ludlow to tell him about an art exhibition that she thought he would find interesting, and he invited her to accompany him; Ludlow claims (via his attorney) that she invited him to the exhibition and he suggested going to the other two art shows afterward. According to the student, Ludlow plied her with alcohol even though she tried to refuse and repeatedly told him she was underage; according to Ludlow, she drank of her own volition, and he believed her to be 22 years old based on an online profile. The young woman claims that she asked Ludlow to take her home but he insisted on taking her to his place instead; Ludlow insists that they stopped by his condo so that she could pick up a video camera she had dropped off earlier, and he let her stay the night after she told him it was too late for her to take a cab back to her place.  The young woman claims that over the course of the evening, Ludlow repeatedly propositioned her, kissed her and groped her–even “furiously making out with her” on the elevator ride to his apartment–and that she begged him to stop but was too intoxicated to stop him or get away.  She also claims that she passed out and woke up in bed with Ludlow, with his arms around her.  Ludlow responds that she was the one who repeatedly made advances and propositioned him, and that they “fell asleep on his bed fully clothed and on top of the sheets.”

Later Contact

Ludlow’s attorney, Kristin Case, has released a statement saying that she is “in possession of communications” which show that, in the days after the alleged assault, the plaintiff repeatedly made friendly contact with Ludlow by text message and the social media and even asked him to meet with her.  According to Case, the young woman came to a conference Ludlow was attending, spoke to him again and made another attempt to initiate a relationship, which Ludlow turned down.

Regardless of who is telling the truth, it seems fairly obvious that Ludlow, at the very least, behaved recklessly and unprofessionally–and that even the actions to which he admitted merited a reprimand.  What’s less clear is how the university came to the conclusion that he had engaged in unwelcome advances but not (as the young woman claimed) sexual assault.

According to the documents, Slavin reviewed the allegations and found that Ludlow had indeed kissed the student, rubbed her back, put his arms around her while they lay on his bed, and told her he wanted to have a sexual and romantic relationship–but did not find that he had groped her or “made out with her” against her will. In his response, Ludlow claims (via his attorney) that there was no investigation at all, and that Slavin declined to interview witnesses at the bar who could corroborate his account or to review security camera footage from the elevator where the “making out” allegedly occurred.  Did Slavin simply split the difference between “he said” and “she said,” arbitrarily finding the less serious charges to be true and dismissing the more serious ones?  (It should be noted that, according to Northwestern, Ludlow appealed the sanctions and a four-person faculty committee upheld them, without recommending further penalties.)

report from NBC’s Chicago affiliate, NBC5, asserts that the plaintiff’s account was backed by another professor, Jacqueline Stevens.  But that’s a somewhat misleading claim, since Stevens’s knowledge of the events comes solely from the plaintiff herself–and, if one reads the article carefully, it becomes clear that Stevens did not talk to the student until a year after the incident, when the young woman was enrolled in her class.  (Stevens, as a list of her articles indicates, is strongly connected to academic feminist politics.)

Confidentiality Concerns

Stevens’s involvement relates to another murky aspect of the story: the involvement, or non-involvement, of the police.  The NBC5 report says, citing an unidentified “source,” that the student originally went to the Northwestern campus police in Evanston, Ill., but was told she would have to make the report in Chicago, where the assault allegedly took place; however, she decided not to go to the Chicago police “because of confidentiality concerns” and went to a local counseling service instead.  In the spring of 2013, after she shared her story with Stevens, Stevens encouraged her to file a police report and accompanied her to a police station in Chicago.  What happened after that is unclear; the student’s attorney, Kevin O’Connor, told the campus newspaper, The Northwestern Daily, that “there is not a simple answer to the question of whether or not the student tried to press criminal charges against Ludlow.”  There does not appear to be a pending criminal case.

Meanwhile, Ludlow has filed a lawsuit of his own, accusing Sun Times Media, Fox Television Stations, and Cumulus Broadcasting of defamation for reporting that he had been accused of raping the student.  His new position at Rutgers, where he was slated to head the university’s Center for Cognitive Science, may be in jeopardy, with a Rutgers spokesman saying that the school is further evaluating his candidacy.

Further developments in the various lawsuits may shed more light on the case.  Either way, the story is a stark illustration not only of the complexities of sexual misconduct allegations, but of the dangers of relying on campus star chambers to decide such charges.   If the young woman is telling the truth, Ludlow got a slap on the wrist for a sexual assault.  If Ludlow is telling the truth, his career may be ruined over a fairly minor instance of poor judgment, thanks to an academic kangaroo court and student zealots acting in the absolute conviction that a sexual assault accusation equals the truth.

(Photo: Northwestern professor Peter Ludlow. Credit: Northwestern.)

16 thoughts on “He Said, She Said–This Time Professor and Student”

  1. To Bell:
    The reason why his behavior was risky and unprofessional is because it left him open to exactly what happened, unjust persecution by this fanatical student. In todays feminist kangaroo court environment it is simply impossible for any professor to ever be safely alone with any female student, or ever going on a date with a female student, much less letting her spend the night. Even if nothing wrong ever happened, the professor is then totally open to blackmail when the student falsely claims something did happen.

  2. Bell asks ‘Why is going out with a woman who ASKED HIM OUT “reckless and unprofessional”?’
    You have to ask? It’s this simple: one is a teacher and the other is a student at the same institution. Do I need to explain more?
    Also, Professor Ludlow is 57. The student in question was 19 at the time. Do the math.
    So. Teachers & students shouldn’t date, and it’s generally a bad idea for teenagers to date someone old enough to be their grandparent. Mmmmkay?

  3. “Meg Lankers” is the perfect example of why rape accusations should no be handled in house by the campus “G-SS”.

  4. I don’t believe its a jury of ones peers, when college football athletes are forced to answer to Rape charges, by the campus “G-SS” or (Gender studies students)

  5. I don’t believe its a jury of ones peers, when college football athletes are forced to answer to Rape charges, by the campus “G-SS” or (Gender studies students)

  6. We must be raising our young women all wrong – there were so many’outs’ for this young lady, which she did not take. You go to the ladies room, crawl out the window or slip out the back door of the bar and take a cab home. In a cab or home, you can slug the guy in the gut to diminish his ardor . .argh! Even assuming every word she says it accurate, she heeded no warning signs and took no action to remove herself from unpleasantness.
    Ladies, never ever be without cab fare home. If a man has already signaled a desire for you + disinterest in your lack fo desire for him – you do not drink more and you do not permit yourself to be alone with him. Duh. You do not owe him an explanation for your lack of interest. Get up and walk away. Just go.

  7. So a, no doubt, highly Leftist philosophy professor gets stung by the very same Leftist agenda he has so fervently advocated in that bastion of total Leftism–Northwestern. Forget the unjust nature of it all, as the irony is so delicious, any sane person should be dancing a jig right now over the “what comes around, goes around” nature of this situation.

  8. “at the very least, behaved recklessly and unprofessionally”
    It’s unclear how you came to this conclusion. Why is going out with a woman who ASKED HIM OUT “reckless and unprofessional”? She wasn’t his student at the time. In fact, the date had NOTHING to do with his profession AT ALL. So, seriously, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!?!?!
    Simple: He’s a professor. She’s a student. Teachers don’t don’t don’t date students. Period. Teachers don’t rub their students’ necks. Teachers don’t take students to their bed. Period. Full stop.
    That clear enough?

  9. Bell is spot on with his (her?) analysis. To restate:
    1. No evidence of a crime (No rape kit, No police report and medically obtained evidence of physical injury etc.) equals no conviction. For the record hearsay is not evidence.
    2. Actions by Northwestern’s Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention or any University kangaroo court or other official or quasi official bodies to punish anyone based on unsubstantiated charges should lead to massive lawsuit for damages, to include personal injury claims against administrators.
    I personally hope professor Peter Ludlow cleans the university’s clock.
    As for “there is not a simple answer to the question of whether or not the student tried to press criminal charges against Ludlow.” Yes, there is, and it’s “yes”, “no”, or “lying”.

  10. I sort of disagree with Bell (above). I think that in all cases it is inappropriate (unprofessional) for a teacher to be on a date with a student. Doesn’t matter who asked whom. Ages don’t matter either. If he/she is your student then you should not be on a date with that person. Likewise, I am generally opposed to coworkers dating. That said, I agree that it is hooey for people to assume that a woman is telling the truth in such cases. Frankly, I am likewise reluctant to give cops the benefit of the doubt when they testify in court. They just lie too damn much to think they should be believed without something verifiable to back it up.

  11. This is what happens when philosophy and journalism, or their modern-day equivalents, get in bed together.
    I’m advising my sons to live off-campus and date non-students. With any luck, diploma worship will have been replaced with skill-based certifications by then.

  12. This is exhibit 9,994 as to why boys should not go to college.
    The woman asks a guy out, spends the evening drinking and flirting, goes home with him — and then ruins his career.
    I’m curious, in regard to the story’s author, what’s is “reckless” about accepting a date? Perhaps the author thinks that any man who goes on a date must accept the risk of false assault accusations (you want to date? what’s your appetite for felony assault charges?). Please, expand. What is reckless about dating a woman? Is it that she can change her mind and decide that she wasn’t in control of herself while she spent 8 hours in romantic foreplay?
    Where is the accuser’s name in this story? It’s a matter of public record, yet she is protected by some Victorian (“she’s a special snowflake”) prejudice. She’s attempting to ruin a man’s life. Her name should be on the record. Is she embarrassed that she asked out a man twice her age? And therefore she should be protected from the public disclosure of her behavior? I don’t think so. What is her name? She should be identified before she does this to the next man.

  13. What I noticed about this case is how comparatively reasonable the university sexual harassment office was compared to other universities, for example, at Harvard University. This was what Lawrence Summers tried to correct when he was Harvard president. Perhaps in the present case it is because the Professor was a minority. If so, this is a real contribution by the minority.

  14. We need to establish a couple of doctrines to sort all this out.
    1. No rape kit? No rape. (Unless there’s evidence of kidnapping.)
    2. No police report and medically obtained evidence of physical injury? No sexual assault.
    3. University kangaroo court? Massive lawsuit for damages, to include personal injury claims against administrators.
    As for “there is not a simple answer to the question of whether or not the student tried to press criminal charges against Ludlow.” Yes, there is, and it’s “yes”, “no”, or “lying”.

  15. “at the very least, behaved recklessly and unprofessionally”
    It’s unclear how you came to this conclusion. Why is going out with a woman who ASKED HIM OUT “reckless and unprofessional”? She wasn’t his student at the time. In fact, the date had NOTHING to do with his profession AT ALL. So, seriously, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!?!?!
    “even the actions to which he admitted merited a reprimand”
    Why? The actions to which he admits sounds like a typical date. Why would you claim that actions taken on a typical date “merited a reprimand”?
    Your rhetoric here sounds nothing less than a cop out. This line of reasoning clearly stems from sexism: the idea that an adult woman isn’t an adult man’s equal, so even the appearance of wrong doing (an no evidence presented whatsoever) is enough to condemn a man.
    “It should be noted that, according to Northwestern, Ludlow appealed the sanctions”
    Base on what, though? Higher educational institutions are well known for systematic misandry. Splitting the difference in a he said/she said, AGAINST THE MAN, is a perfect example. Not placing the burden of proof on the accuser and maintaining the presumption of innocence of the accused until proven otherwise, IS EXACTLY THE PROBLEM. What type of justice is that, where a man’s livelihood is put in jeopardy over a mere accusation, WITH NO CORROBORATING EVIDENCE?
    “he NBC5 report says, citing an unidentified ‘source,'”
    This is yet MORE PROOF of misandry. This is akin to saying, “We could be making this up because we’re not going to provide any information that can actually be disputed. We want to make a base accusation with no evidence whatsoever, and we’re CYOA with an ‘unidentified source’, maintaining strict confidentiality rules in order to prevent even the possibility of facing your accuser”.

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