In Cathy Young’s excellent article on the “campus rape that wasn’t” at Ohio University, she referenced an open letter, penned by 34 Ohio University professors, expressing “deep concern” about the purported assault. You’d think, in light of the experience of Duke’s Group of 88, college faculty would be reluctant to pen open letters about sexual assault cases before the police have even completed their investigation. But the Ohio 34 apparently couldn’t resist. Now that the police have said no sexual assault of any type has occurred, none of the signatories appear to have backtracked.
The document is an odd one. On the one hand, by describing the sexual assault as “alleged,” it avoids the Group of 88’s blatant rush to judgment. Unlike at Duke, there’s no definitive statement that something “happened” to the accuser, and no thanking of protesters who had urged the castration of the accused. On the other hand, the letter doesn’t make much sense unless its signatories believed that a sexual assault actually occurred. It speaks of working “toward long-term solutions” (the solutions–and even the problem that needs to be solved–remain unaddressed in the letter). It urges students not to be a “passive bystander: If you see something that’s not right, intervene directly if it’s safe to do so.”
Who signed this strange missive? In the Duke case, pedagogical interests overwhelmingly predicted a professor’s willingness to rush to judgment–around 85 percent of the Group of 88 signatories specialized in the holy trinity of race, class, or gender, or in some cases all three. In the Ohio case, both the accuser and the accused appear to be white, and race-oriented faculty didn’t flock to the open letter. But gender-oriented ones did. The missive has signatures from eight representatives of the faculty senate; of the 26 unaffiliated signatories, 16 profess a pedagogical interest in race, class, or gender, with most of the 16 focusing on gender. (The list includes one professor who champions “a curriculum that addresses sexual assault prevention issues with men” and another whose most recent publication is “Teaching for Social Justice.”) In this respect, like the Group of 88 statement, the Ohio open letter is a reminder how the pedagogical transformation of the academy affects what goes on outside of the classroom.