Title IX violations: does gender affect how they’re seen?

There’s a lot of kerfuffle this week about a female professor—a feminist professor—accused of a Title IX violation (sexual harassment or malfeasance), and how feminists and other authoritarian Leftists are defending her in a way that they presumably wouldn’t defend a male professor.  Much of the tale is laid out in the Chronicle of Higher Education article below (click on screenshot):

All we know about the “violation” is that Avital Ronell, a very famous professor of Germanic Languages and Literature and comparative literature at New York University (NYU), and also a feminist philosopher, was apparently accused of a Title IX violation. The details are murky, though if you read the addenda of the Leiter report (link below) you can get a hazy idea of what might have happened.  Naturally, and as is proper, NYU is not giving details, but that didn’t stop a group of Ronell’s supporters, including 9 NYU professors, from writing a letter to the President and the Provost of NYU defending Ronell (again, they know nothing about the nature of the investigation), urging her to be exculpated, and saying that because she is famous and accomplished, as well as having “grace, keen wit, and intellectual commitment”, she should be accorded “the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation.” Whether Joe Schmo or some other non-famous defendant should be given extra special consideration is apparently not on the table.

The letter was apparently composed by Judith Butler of Berkeley, a scholar and obscurantist I have no use for (I’ve written about her before), and then sent around to various people for their signature. Brian Leiter got a copy of the letter, apparently really angering Butler, who denies on flimsy grounds that it’s the right letter. You can see the letter here from Leiter’s link:  Download BUTLER letter for Avital Ronell. It will download to your computer.

Further, without any knowledge of what happened, the signatories are plumping for Ronell’s exculpation. My Chicago colleague Brian Leiter takes apart the letter on his website in a post called “Blaming the victim is apparently OK when the accused in a Title IX proceeding is a feminist literary theorist“, and adds some useful updates.

Indeed, the victim is blamed right at the outset of the letter, which says this:

We have all seen [Ronell’s] relationship with students, and some of us know the individual who has waged this malicious campaign against her.  We wish to communicate first in the clearest terms our profound an enduring admiration for Professor Ronell whose mentorship of students has been no less than remarkable over many years. We deplore the damage that this legal proceeding causes her, and seek to register in clear terms our objection to any judgment against her.  We hold that the allegations against her do not constitute actual evidence, but rather support the view that malicious intention has animated and sustained this legal nightmare.

Yep, that’s victim-blaming. The astounding hypocrisy and mendacity of this group of scholars must be seen to be believed: just read the letter. (Leiter also notes that if Ronell had anything to do with the letter, or even if she didn’t, the presence of nine NYU faculty signing it could constitute legal grounds for a suit asserting retaliation against the complainant.) Leiter winds up in high dudgeon, and I agree with him:

Imagine that such a letter had been sent on behalf of Peter Ludlow, Colin McGinn, John Searle, Thomas Pogge or anyone other than a feminist literary theorist:  there would be howls of protest and indignation at such a public assault on a complainant in a Title IX case.  The signatories collectively malign the complainant as motivated by “malice” (i.e., a liar), even though they admit to knowing nothing about the findings of the Title IX proceedings–and despite that they also demand that their friend be acquitted, given her past “mentorship of students”.  (I imagine many faculty members found guilty, correctly, in a Title IX proceeding have also mentored lots of students, chaired a department, and produced notable scholarship.)  If Professor Ronell had any role in soliciting this letter, it looks to me like a clear case of retaliation against the complainant that will compound her and the university’s problems.

But you get a real sense of the hypocrisy and entitlement of these precious “theorists” in the concluding paragraph of the letter addressed to the NYU President and Provost:

We testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation.  If she were to be terminated or relieved of her duties, the injustice would be widely recognized and opposed.

We may put to one side that Professor Ronell’s “grace,” “keen wit” and “intellectual commitment” are irrelevant in a Title IX proceeding.  What is truly shocking is the idea that she is entitled to proceedings that treat her with “the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation.”  Apparently in the view of these “theory” illuminati dignity in Title IX proceedings is to be doled out according to one’s “international standing and reputation.”  So while Professor Ronell “deserves a fair hearing, one that expresses respect, dignity, and human solicitude,” other “lesser” accused can be subject, without international outcry, to whatever star chamber proceedings the university wants.  Moreover, only one outcome of the process is acceptable, regardless of the findings:  acquittal.  Any other result “would be widely recognized and opposed,” I guess because grace, wit and intellectual commitment are a defense against sexual misconduct and harassment.

This is one of the problems of Title IX violations being judged by universities: men are assumed to be more guilty than women, and if the accused is a famous feminist woman, she’s assumed to be innocent from the get-go and deserving of special, kid-glove treatment—indeed, complete vindication.

If these things are adjudicated by universities rather than courts (and I prefer courts), it is at least fair to treat all people the same, regardless of their gender or their fame. Butler and her minions are trying to short-circuit whatever justice can come from such proceedings by writing directly to the higher authorities—and not knowing anything about the case. They are trying to get differential treatment for one of their friends and ideological compadres. That stinks.

h/t: j.j.


  1. Posted June 17, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    While I agree with most of this post:

    Indeed, the victim is blamed right at the outset of the letter, …

    Well, we don’t yet know whether the complainant is a “victim” or not. At this stage he or she is an “alleged victim”. The suggestion by the letter writers that the complaint is malicious could, as far as we know so far, be accurate.

    • Posted June 17, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Yes, you’re right, of course. But how would the writers know that the complaint was malicious? They didn’t even see the complaint! My point is that the letter by Butler et al. is hypocritical and an attempt to interfere in an investigation because they were friends with the accused.

    • Posted June 17, 2018 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Yes but since nobody knows whether the complainant is malicious or not except the parties involved, the right thing to do for the rest of us is to withhold judgement.

      • Posted June 17, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        I am not withholding judgment about Butler et al.’s attempt to interfere in the process.

        • Posted June 18, 2018 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          Sorry, I meant withhold judgement about whether or not the original complaint was malicious (the signatories of the letter made an accusation of malicious intent without any knowledge of the facts and are wrong, in my opinion, for doing so).

    • BJ
      Posted June 17, 2018 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      I think the point is that the people who wrote and signed this letter would normally treat the accuser as a victim who cannot, under any circumstances, be questioned. It’s only in a situation where it’s someone like Ronell who is accused that this rule goes out the window.

    • Rich Sanderson
      Posted June 17, 2018 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      True, but SJW feminists like Butler, insist we “listen and believe”.

      However, it seems that we are supposed to drop that standard, when a SJW (or someone SJWs like) is accused. Just like when a female student accused PZ Myers!

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    The whole Title !X business sounds like amateur hour, however I am not so experienced with their procedures. How do all these people get advanced knowledge to write the letter anyway? That should not be happening. If this is a sexual harassment allegation, the only kind they should be handling at the civilian level, it should be a very close hold event. Only the office presented with the allegation should have knowledge of it. You cannot have open knowledge of this stuff. What happened here is exactly the reason this stuff must remain close hold and stay that way all through the investigation process. If the investigator is properly trained the only people that will know anything are the ones called in for private interviews. Only after all investigation is completed and finding determined is any action taken. Even then it is not a public event.

    • Ralph
      Posted June 17, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Details of the accusation may be confidential, but surely cannot be withheld from the accused. As the article pointed out, if Ronell used her knowledge of the accusation to solicit retaliation against the alleged victim, that is a serious violation, whatever the outcome of the investigation into the underlying allegation.

      • BJ
        Posted June 17, 2018 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        “Details of the accusation may be confidential, but surely cannot be withheld from the accused.”

        You are unfortunately incorrect. The accused usually isn’t even provided the details of the accusation until they are in front of the board and asked to defend themselves. They can’t create a defense because they’re not told of the accusation’s details. All they know is that they’re accused of some impropriety by some person. They can’t have legal counsel, can’t cross-examine the compainant or witnesses, and other rules that almost completely preclude any ability for the accused to defend themselves. The deck is stacked against the accused.

        Unless, of course, they’re someone like Ronell.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted June 17, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        You misunderstand what I am say apparently. First, remember I am referring to sexual harassment. If it is sexual assault or worse it is a crime we are talking about and that should be handled by police. So, if it is sexual harassment, the accuser reports to an appropriate office. I assume one who knows how and is properly trained to handle sexual harassment cases. The next steps would be for a properly trained investigator to fully investigate the claim. The investigator would conduct interviews with lots of people including the person accused. It would be done in private, without the knowledge of anyone. If the accused or anyone else attempted to go to others for help, in the form of a letter or anything else, that would not go over well with the final authorities.
        Remember, the investigator does not make final decisions, they or he only gather the facts, evidence and turn in all of this to someone else.

  3. Fat Bastard
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    ….but some are more equal than others.

  4. Davide Spinello
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    For some reason I don’t find this surprising.

  5. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    At this point I am going to try to be neutral. The complainant might be rightfully entitled to issue a complaint about this professor. The complainant might also have malicious intention.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted June 17, 2018 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Please listen to yourself. This is not an event for every one in the public to choose up sides. That is not investigation it is nuts.

      • Sarah
        Posted June 17, 2018 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Exactly. This is about appointing oneself to the jury and deciding the case before it is heard because the defendant is a distinguished person with friends in high places. Too bad about the plaintiff. This is a farce masquerading as due process! Or it is if anyone pays attention to this letter, and the letter-writers should be ashamed of themselves. You might expect them to know better.

    • Adam M.
      Posted June 17, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      You’re right, of course. What rankles is the double standard, though.

    • BJ
      Posted June 17, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely. I remain neutral in whether Ronell did or did not do something wrong. It is the letter and the willingness of people who normally advocate these proceedings being entirely biased against the accused suddenly finding the entire process unfair and horrifying when it’s a woman and feminist scholar they like.

  6. Harrison
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    There should be no issue with following protocol provided they believe:
    A) she is actually innocent
    B) the process is fair and will reflect the above

    It seems that they do not believe at least one of these things. How odd.

  7. Posted June 17, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I am not withholding judgment about Butler et al.’s attempt to interfere in the process.

    • Rita
      Posted June 17, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink


  8. Ralph
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I look forward to an enlightened future when postmodern social theorists such as Butler are called to testify in criminal trials.

    Yes, your honor, the jury have seen security camera footage identifying the accused entering the bank vault; and she was apprehended minutes later on the sidewalk outside the bank carry a large sack marked “swag” stuffed with banknotes. But social theory has taught us that reality is created, not discovered. We must challenge the narrative of bank managers, police officers and security camera manufacturers, all agents of hegemonic masculinity. We must ask the accused: what was your lived experience of the events of that evening?

  9. BJ
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Another followup on Leiter’s blog: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2018/06/more-on-avital-ronell-and-the-friends-defending-her.html

    “A graduate student in literary studies, after reading the earlier post, writes:

    A remark on the line [from the letter defending Prof. Ronell]: ‘We have all seen her relationship with students […] : Although I do not travel in the same circles, I have witnessed first hand Avital Ronell’s behavior with her advisees during several conferences at NYU. To say that she cultivates a sexually- and erotically-charged environment would be a tremendous understatement. It is also a situation which is transparently fraught for undergraduate and graduate students and rife with potential for misunderstanding and conflict. While I know many who have thrived in this environment, I also know many who have suffered as a result of it. Obviously, none of this constitutes evidence concerning the case at hand (of which I know nothing), but it strains credibility to believe that those who are more familiar with the German Department at NYU — such as many of the letter’s signatories — were not aware of this climate.’

    If this opinion reflects an accurate assessment, then the signatories to the letter are not simply entitled hypocrites. We shall see what comes to light.

    UPDATE: Allen Feldman, Professor of Media, Culture & Communication at NYU, writes to strongly contest the preceding:

    ‘I have attended numerous conferences organized by Ronell and many of her classes and encountered nothing remotely akin to the description fabricated by this student. I for one do not consider Ronell’s dense readings of Heidegger, Holderlin, Kafka and Celan and other 19th century German romantics or 20th century German metaphysicians as ‘sexually charged.’ Ronell is known for her Freudian linguistic punning when teaching but the collective response of the audience is not titilation but rather laughter. If you do not take my word for the atmosphere in her classroom or conferences you can watch the numerous videos of her lectures and teaching on line.'”

    So, an unrelated graduate student attests to witnessing (and saying others have witnessed) Ronell behaving inappropriately and fostering an inappropriate environment. A Professor says that there’s no way this is the case, because he hasn’t seen this in other situations that the original commenter never actually discussed.

    To be clear: I wish Ronell to have a completely fair investigation and hearing. She deserves due process like any other accused person. What’s unfortunate is that the people who usually are perfectly fine with the unjustifiably slanted manner in which these hearings are conducted against men are suddenly aghast that this system is being used against a respected female feminist scholar.

    • Paul S.
      Posted June 17, 2018 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      What would become of a male professor known for “Freudian linguistic punning when teaching”

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted June 18, 2018 at 4:41 am | Permalink

        You mean, a guy who likes to talk dirty?

        What could possibly be wrong with that?



  10. Posted June 17, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Re: “Download BUTLER letter for Avital Ronell”

    No matter how trustworthy the source, I recommend thinking twice about clicking a link to a doc file.

  11. Posted June 17, 2018 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you use the term victim. The correct term is complainant.

    The term victim is an a priori presumption of the truth of an allegation, no matter how you spin it.

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Wikipedia reports that
    “In 1998, Denis Dutton’s journal Philosophy and Literature awarded Butler first prize in its fourth annual “Bad Writing Competition,” which set out to “celebrate bad writing from the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles.”

    The passage from Butler that “won” was this:

    The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

    • BJ
      Posted June 17, 2018 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      That would probably have trouble placing in the competition these days. It’s gone downhill faster than…well…someone who would run really fast from someone else for a funny reason (sorry, I don’t feel like coming up with a clever joke right now).

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 18, 2018 at 4:49 am | Permalink

      I understand every word of that. Individually and separately, as individual words. It’s just that I cannot grasp any meaning for the whole arcane mish-mash and my brain is angry with me for making it waste five minutes trying.


  13. Bill Ligertwood
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Shame, Shame… Jerry… I love you dearly but you didn’t give Lawrence Krauss even the hint of a benefit of the doubt. He’s guilty because a few women who had it in for him used metoo to get at him with made up allegations and vague charges. You fell into line immediately without even a question or without giving your friend and colleague the chance to defend himself. I might remind you that this could easily happen to you as well. And what this incident points out is that jumping to conclusions without evidence is not a good thing. Of course the Feminist Inquisition would defend one of it’s own. Happened here in Canada as well. Apparently only Males can by the perpetrators. It’s gone completely off the deep end IMO.

  14. DrBrydon
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t see anything wrong with this if Butler et al. apply the same standards to anyone in a Title IX investigation. It does seem to be very much as case of what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.

  15. Diane G
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 10:25 pm | Permalink


  16. Posted June 18, 2018 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    Yes, there is definitely a double standard…

  17. Posted June 18, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Hopefully some good will come out of this and we’ll see changes.

  18. Joseph O'Sullian
    Posted June 23, 2018 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    The supreme court issued a ruling if schools could be held liable for student on student sexual harassment under Title IX. The court said yes, but in a strong dissent, some of the judges warned that schools were going to have to make complicated legal decisions that they were not able to make.

    The courts and in the workplace the EEOC has the experience and expertise to do this but few if any schools do.

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