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The Kipnis Lawsuit Seeks to Muzzle the Truth

The lawsuit filed by Northwestern Title IX accuser “Nola Hartley” against best-selling author Laura Kipnis (Unwanted Advances) has attracted substantial attention from both the mainstream media and from commentators; the two best pieces (taking differing approaches to the lawsuit’s merits) come from Robby Soave and Michelle Goldberg. The Kipnis book looks primarily at four cases—one at Colorado and three at Northwestern: Kipnis’ own Title IX witch hunt, and two cases involving former professor Peter Ludlow.

One case involving Ludlow (who seems to be an extremely unsympathetic figure) and an undergraduate student almost certainly ended wrongly; as presented by Kipnis, while Ludlow used horrible judgment, the accuser was unreliable. The second case, which involved Ludlow and a graduate student in his department, prompted the Title IX complaint against Kipnis and is also the subject of the lawsuit.

Related: Professor Laura Kipnis–She Faced Title IX Charges for Writing an Essay 

Three items particularly struck me from Hartley’s lawsuit—which, if anything, makes Kipnis look even more sympathetic than the Title IX allegation Hartley previously filed against Kipnis. The first involved Hartley’s peculiar definition of her own credibility. Northwestern’s investigator, the lawsuit asserts, found Hartley “extremely credible,” and, therefore, by implication, Kipnis should have, too.

Yet Northwestern’s own investigation ultimately did not proceed with the most explosive claim in the case: that Ludlow had sexually assaulted the Ph.D. student. The lawsuit massages this inconvenient fact by asserting that the investigator “found that she did not have enough evidence to determine whether or not a sexual assault had occurred.”

But using the preponderance of evidence standard, “not enough evidence” means that Northwestern’s own investigation deemed Ludlow, not Hartley, more credible on this critical point. (It probably helped that Ludlow was able to show he slept elsewhere on the night in question.) So Hartley is the “extremely credible” accuser whose central allegation even Northwestern didn’t deem credible.

Second, the lawsuit claims that Kipnis inaccurately portrayed the Hartley-Ludlow relationship. It wasn’t, Hartley asserts, the romantic fling that a thousand text messages and emails between the two implied. Kipnis, according to the lawsuit, quoted these text messages out of context. (How she did so must remain a mystery; the lawsuit doesn’t mention even one out-of-context text.)

Related:  A Judge Catches Notre Dame Acting Badly in a Title IX Case

Instead, according to Hartley, Ludlow all but groomed her from the start, inappropriately pressuring her to have a relationship with him in an almost textbook case of sexual harassment. The evidence she presents? Three conversations—each of which, conveniently, seem to have lacked any witnesses—in spring 2011, mid-fall 2011, and at an indeterminate date in late 2011.

It’s possible that Kipnis failed to appreciate that the Hartley-Ludlow relationship can best be reconstructed not by thousands of Hartley’s own words from the time, but instead by three witness-free conversations as Hartley (who the lawsuit describes as “emotionally intimate” with Ludlow) now remembers them. I doubt, however, any court would agree with Hartley on this point.

Third, multiple elements of the lawsuit make Hartley look (to be charitable) odd. She claims, for instance, that Kipnis’ book presented her in a “false light” as “litigious.” And her response to this problem is to sue over Kipnis’ interpretation of events? As part of her grooming claim, she asserts that Ludlow “enrolled” in a seminar, taught by another professor, that she took in her first year as a Ph.D. student. A senior professor “enrolled” in another professor’s class?

Hartley complains that Kipnis’ book “needlessly devotes an entire chapter to Plaintiff.” And the federal court system is the appropriate venue for resolving disputes over an author’s editorial choices? That chapter, Hartley continues, contains “facts never before publicized, and facts that Plaintiff did not want to be publicized,” thereby providing “far more detail” about the Hartley-Ludlow relationship than the “bits and pieces” previously in the public domain. (Again: these descriptions of the Kipnis research effort are Hartley’s.)

Related: Ruined by the Beach Boys and Other Title IX Disasters

Perhaps Hartley didn’t want some of the “facts” Kipnis uncovered to see the light of day—Northwestern’s secret process doubtless was preferable to her—but it’s hard to see the merit in a lawsuit downplaying the importance of “facts” about a widely-publicized case on a widely-publicized issue, and instead seeming to prefer that the public rely on “bits and pieces” of information.

Goldberg criticizes Kipnis for failing to ask Hartley for a comment before the book went to press. Kipnis should have done so if only to avoid this criticism—but there seems to be no chance Hartley would have agreed to speak with her. That said, the book extensively presents Hartley’s own words and actions (as even the lawsuit concedes), primarily by using text messages written by Hartley to Ludlow.

Given that the Kipnis book describes in some detail the claims Hartley presented to Northwestern, gathered from documents (including Northwestern’s Title IX report) obtained by Kipnis in her research, I don’t agree with Goldberg’s assertion that “there’s no indication [Kipnis] ever sought to hear” Hartley’s version of events.

My approach to writing about this issue is to post everything—all documents that I have used in writing about sexual assault and due process, either at Minding the Campus or in the new book, are available on my website. It’s true that Kipnis hasn’t posted the documents from the cases about which she writes. But the lawsuit’s implication that she simply chatted with Ludlow and then accepted his version of events is absurd.

Beyond the exaggerated claims, the baseline premise of the lawsuit is a chilling one: that while the Ph.D. student purportedly “takes no issue with [Kipnis’] choice to write on this topic,” Hartley, as a Title IX accuser, some of whose claims Northwestern accepted, should have a veto power over which “facts” Kipnis can present. This argument should raise grave concerns.-

Tenure, Kipnis and the PC University

Some coincidences are less coincidental than others are. Northwestern University recently investigated professor Laura Kipnis, regarding complaints that an essay of hers had violated students’ legal rights. Meanwhile, a committee of the Wisconsin state legislature voted to let the University of Wisconsin choose, as a matter of policy, whether its professors would enjoy the protections of tenure, removing that guarantee from state law, where it has been established for many years.

At no point do the two sagas intersect. The universities are in different states. One is private; the other is public. No actor in either story has even a walk-on part in the other.

The Public’s Rising Contempt

There’s a connection, however. Northwestern’s bizarre, egregious treatment of Kipnis strengthens the case against the credentials-industrial complex that MTC and other critics have been making for years: zealots, frauds, and cowards are turning the citadels of academic freedom into indoctrination camps.

The Kipnis story didn’t cause, but strongly reinforces, growing popular contempt for higher education and its denizens, whose vast self-regard rests on academic ideals they do so much more to flout than uphold. That contempt, in turn, makes it possible, even irresistible, for politicians to curtail prerogatives that serve academics’ private interests but no longer advance the public interest in ways voters can discern or believe.

The Wisconsin professors defending tenure are saying all the right things. (Despite being a little hysterical: tenure protects academics throughout the country without being enshrined in state law. Wisconsin has been the exception.) “Work in higher education, and in education more generally, depends upon the ability to have critical conversations,” said one. “I can’t stay where I can’t speak,” another declares. “And believe me, I cannot speak without tenure.”

Noble Words, Ignoble Deeds

The president of Northwestern University, Morton Schapiro, also says the right things. “Freedom of speech doesn’t amount to much unless it is tested,” hewrotein March. “And if the First Amendment doesn’t matter on college campuses, where self-expression is so deeply valued, why expect it to matter elsewhere?”

Despite the noble words, the deeds have been contemptible. In February, Kipnis published an essay, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It argued that restrictive university codes of sexual conduct amounted to “feminism hijacked by melodrama” about “helpless victims and powerful predators.”

Evidence justifying her lament that students “were being encouraged to regard themselves as … exquisitely sensitive creatures” came within days. Campus protesters denounced the Kipnis article, which one found “terrifying.” A public letteraccused her of “spit[ting] in the face of survivors of rape and sexual assault everywhere.” A petition, claiming that the essay had “caused tremendous hurt,” called on Northwestern to issue “a swift, official condemnation of the sentiments expressed by Professor Kipnis in her inflammatory article and we demand that in the future, this sort of response comes automatically.”

Northwestern did not officially condemn the article. It did, however, open an investigation after two graduate students formally complained that Kipnis had violated Title IX, the 1972 legislation prohibiting colleges from discriminating based on sex. In a follow-up Chronicle essay, Kipnis reported learning—eventually; the outside lawyers investigating her case did not reveal the charges against her until after she had asked repeatedly over several days—that one student alleged her article had had “a ‘chilling effect’ on students’ ability to report sexual misconduct.” The other, mentioned in passing and not by name in the first essay in connection with a sexual misconduct claim already filed, asserted that Kipnis had retaliated against her and created a “hostile environment,” compounding the initial act of gender-based discrimination, and thereby committing a new one. The charges were based on the essay and a single tweet by Kipnis.

A Clown-Show Inquisition

Denunciations of what Kipnis called her “Title IX Inquisition” were ferocious. Liberal blogger Josh Marshall denounced the “Kipnis clown show.” (Having earned a Ph.D., Marshall is familiar with circus life.) Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, argued that since the case against Kipnis was “ludicrous on its face,” Northwestern should have “dismiss[ed] it as quickly and decisively as possible.”

The university’s official position was that its only option was to pursue a case against Kipnis. “Northwestern University is firmly committed both to academic freedom and to free speech,” it said in a statement, “but it is also required to investigate and respond to allegations made by complainants that particular actions or statements might violate Title IX.” (Emphasis added.) The U.S. Department of Education’s determination to make Title IX a vehicle for policing campus sexual behavior is indeed a big part of the problem, but doesn’t sustain the claim that universities have no choice but to run kangaroo courts. When federal policies are unpopular on campus, like sending military recruiters during the days of don’t-ask-don’t tell, the universities’ posture is righteous disdain, not meek acquiescence.

Treating Her Fairly 

After Northwestern determined there was no basis for pursuing the Title IX case against Kipnis, one particularly obtuse blogger (a philosophy professor at another university) argued that the investigation she had been “demonizing” turned out to have treated her fairly. This assessment ignores the obvious fact that undergoing the investigative process was a punishment. Despite its president’s platitudes about valuing self-expression, Northwestern’s risk-averse faculty members will inevitably self-censor rather than increase their exposure to such investigations.

The fact that Kipnis has tenure belies Wisconsin professors’ claims about the impossibility of speaking freely without it. Tenure, as understood by one of the country’s most prestigious universities, is no longer a sufficient condition for exercising freedom of speech with confidence there’ll be no professional drawbacks.

But l’affaire Kipnis shows, strangely, that neither is tenure a necessary condition for free speech. In the midst of the controversy, a Northwestern graduate student wrote a Huffington Post article claiming the university was treating Kipnis too leniently, not too harshly. Its preposterous argument about how the school’s “hostile environment” had made it impossible for students to “flourish” led Josh Marshall to suspect it was a parody: an attempt, like the Alan Sokal hoax, to write something so idiotic that readers would quickly realize that even academics aren’t that crazy.

More importantly, as Kipnis argued, the fact of the Huffington Post article demolished its thesis. “If a graduate student can publicly blast her own university’s president, mock his ideas, and fear no repercussions, then clearly the retaliatory power that university employment confers on anyone—from professors to presidents—is nil.”

The First of Many?

What is, then, both necessary and sufficient to speak your mind in the modern academy without risking career turmoil is to affirm, rather than question, the reigning, strengthening political-identity orthodoxies. That reality mocks the pieties about tenure’s societal benefits, created when professors have the confidence to express their ideas boldly and pursue their work freely. And that reality reduces academic tenure to a job-protection racket sustained by tax and tuition payments from people who will never have guaranteed lifetime employment. Until academic life and governance is re-principled, the Wisconsin vote against tenure is likely to be the first of many.

Four College Buzzwords and a Shameless Plug

These days, the agenda of the academic elite can be boiled down to a few liberal buzzwords. The most important buzzword is “diversity,” which is usually nothing more than a code word for reverse discrimination and skin-deep identity politics. Recently, at Northwestern, they held a “race caucus” where 150 people gathered to discuss their experiences with discrimination on campus. Students then gathered at the school’s House of African-American Affairs to form a new group called “The Collective.” It was an ironic venue for the first meeting since the purpose of the group is to encourage “desegregation” on campus. In keeping with this ironic approach to fighting racial injustice, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger recently celebrated Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality by promoting institutionalized racism in the form of racial preferences in college admissions.

The second item on the left’s checklist is “activism,” by which they mean recruiting your kids for various left-wing political causes. For example, professor Joel Rogers at the University of Wisconsin sent an email asking his students to work on his private political project called ALICE, where volunteers could aid him in “identifying, supporting and assisting 10,000 progressive local elected officials.” Over at Penn, they are hosting an anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction conference this month with an address by Noura Erakat–a woman who refers to suicide bombers as those “fighting for their freedom and liberation.”

A third buzzword on the left’s checklist is “tolerance,” a value paradoxically enforced by silencing those who disagree with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. Robert Klein Engler–a conservative professor at Roosevelt University–was fired after telling a politically incorrect joke that offended someone in his class. The university called him to appear before an investigatory committee, but refused to even inform him what the charges against him were. Meanwhile the University of Michigan was busy planning an alumni field trip to the communist dictatorship of Cuba, where, presumably, sophisticated alumni, who swear by the principle of academic freedom, could gain appreciation for authentic Cuban culture by interacting with locals pre-screened by the Cuban government. They could then move on to relax on sunny beaches pre-selected for American visitors by Fidel and Co. Nothing signals a support for tolerance like vacationing in a land where even leaving the country is a privilege forbidden to everyday citizens.

A fourth buzzword on the list is “open-mindedness,” which means embracing moral relativism and occasionally submitting to weird sexual agendas in the classroom. At Western Nevada College, students were instructed to masturbate twice as often as normal, and to report detailed accounts of their sexual lives. Female students were told, write down “your views of your breasts and vulva,” and were given the instruction: “Your orgasms. Draw them!” At the University of Winchester in England, professor Eric Anderson claims that it is natural for men to cheat on their partners. Those who practice monogamy, he says, are subjecting themselves to “socially-compelled sexual incarceration.” After studying these stimulating topics, and learning to embrace the total liberation of the libido, students may find it informative to contemplate social factors behind a recent study by Dr. Maura L. Gillison of Ohio State University, in which she reports that 7% of U.S. teens and adults now carry the sexually-transmitted, cancer-causing HPV virus in their mouths.

Here Comes the Plug

The above stories might seem alarming, but as editor of The College Fix (you are now passing the shameless plug)–a campus news site that features original, student-reported news from around the nation–these are the kinds of stories I encounter every day. In fact, all of these stories were culled from just the last few weeks’ worth of articles on our site. It’s no secret that the left dominates academia. But it’s only by reading the details that one realizes how bad things really are.

Students come to us to share their stories. They tell us about the latest wacky diversity agenda on campus, or the latest scheme to demonize capitalism. They report when college administrators try to suppress free speech or undermine student groups whose beliefs don’t mesh with the prevailing liberal groupthink. Their stories confirm that those entrusted with training up the leaders of tomorrow are, oftentimes, doing a lousy job.

When we debate the value of a college education, we often speak in terms of high tuition costs, escalating levels of college debt, and uncertain unemployment prospects. But no debate about the value of college is complete without a discussion of values. What colleges are teaching is at least as important is how much we are paying them to teach.

The political indoctrination and moral assault that students are subjected to at most schools–that’s the real rip-off. It’s bad enough that you may have to pay a small fortune to send your kids to college. Worse yet when you consider that the ideology pounded into their brains for four years may well contradict all the principles you hold most dear.

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Update: This article originally attributed a quote to Penn BDS speaker Ali Abunimah, which should have been attributed to another scheduled speaker at the Penn conference, Noura Erakat. We regret the mistake.

Wright At Northwestern, Opinion At Dartmouth, And Beer

– After being offered and then denied an honorary degree by Northwestern University, Jeremiah Wright returned to speak at that institution on Friday, in a speech closed to media. The Daily Northwestern was there, and, while Wright’s remarks don’t seem to be particularly interesting, the opinions of students present clearly were. One attendee, echoing opinion expressed from a number of quarters in the university community, identified a stark cause for Wright’s degree troubles: racism.

Loyola University of Chicago senior Micah Uetricht said NU’s initial decision to extend the honor to Wright was a small but important step in correcting racial injustice.
“The vilification was race-based in the first place,” said Uetricht, who is white. “The revoking was just an extension of that in the first place.”

Keep fighting. Any day now, Northwestern will recognize the Reverend’s pioneering research into the origins of AIDS in the black community.
The Dartmouth features an interesting range of student opinion on whether “professors should talk about their political beliefs in class?” Almost all of the responses suggest they should, with, of course, caveats about disapproving pressures to share those beliefs.
The most interesting, and disquieting thing about the responses was how many, in embracing the expression of political opinions, established only meaningless tests of relevance or none at all. One student justifies professorial political expression in noting that “Marxism helped drive research into atomic physics and radiation during the Cold War, and almost every important political advancement has at least a few classics of literature written about it.” Sure, and yet it’s bewilderingly unclear to me how a frank expression of Marxism is going to ever enhance a physics class, or explanations of staunch Whiggery enhance a class on Felix Holt or Middlemarch.
Another student argues that “political views are as controversial, as questionable and as significant as any other perspectives in social science or in the hard sciences.” Well, yes, probably, but, with rare exceptions (I’m looking at you, Women’s Studies departments) most professors are hired and paid for their well-founded perspectives in the social and hard sciences, and not for the presumed viability of all of their opinions on anything. If unrelated controversial views on, politics, or, say, lawn care, or network television are regarded as quantities basically equivalent to academic expertise, I’m not sure whether that leaves room for any meaningful concept of “scholar” at all.
Read the full responses.
– And the University of Wisconsin is offering a class on making beer reports the Chicago Tribune:

The course, in the university’s bacteriology department, will focus on fermentation rather than consumption.

Sure it will. Somehow, students are rushing to sign up.

Northwestern Makes The Cold War Disappear

In order to fulfill the requirements for a major in history at Northwestern University, my daughter took a course called “The Cold War At Home.” As one might imagine in the hothouse of the college system, left wing views predominate. The students read Ellen Shrecker, not Ronald Radosh. Joseph McCarthy has been transmogrified into Adolf Hitler. And victimology stands as the overarching theme of the course.

Communists in the United States are merely benign civil rights advocates and union supporters. The word espionage never once crossed the lips of the instructor.

An extraordinary amount of time and energy has been devoted to the “lavender persecution” – harm imposed on gay Americans. Presumably, this group was more adversely affected by McCarthy’s allegations than others.

Despite the recent scholarship on the period such as Alan Weinstein’s well researched book on Alger Hiss or Stanton Evanss biography of Senator McCarthy, views that do not fit the prevailing orthodoxy aren’t entertained. Pounded into students is the view that America engaged in “totalitarian practices” not unlike the Soviet enemy we decried.

Although the course is entitled the Cold War at Home, you might think the instructor would be inclined to ask who the enemy is, why was the Soviet Union an enemy and what tactics did this nation employ against us. But these issues are not addressed.

Continue reading Northwestern Makes The Cold War Disappear