Denunciations of what she terms the “Great Prohibition” jibe with Kipnis’s claims that contemporary campus culture essentially coddles students to the point that they can’t rely on themselves to deal with the world that awaits them. “The new codes sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing,” she wrote. “Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen. If you wanted to produce a pacified, cowering citizenry, this would be the method.”
In addition to such essayifying, Kipnis summarized a legal battle between a Northwestern University undergraduate student and a philosophy professor accused of “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances.” After laying out the conflicting accounts of their interactions, Kipnis commented, “What a mess. And what a slippery slope, from alleged fondler to rapist.”
These thoughts had perhaps more impact than Kipnis could have imagined. As reported by the Daily Northwestern, 30 or so campus protesters “marched to the Rebecca Crown Center carrying mattresses and pillows Monday morning to protest a lack of a reaction from administration after Communication Prof. Laura Kipnis wrote an opinion piece Feb. 27 criticizing strict rules against professor and student relationships.”
And then: Kipnis learned that two Northwestern students had filed Title IX complaints against her “on the basis of the essay and ‘subsequent public statements’ (which turned out to be a tweet), and that the university would retain an outside investigator to handle the complaints.” Title IX is a 1972 law that combats gender discrimination in public education, and Kipnis’s ongoing brush with the statute gets a full airing in this follow-up essay that Kipnis wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Highlights: Kipnis wasn’t allowed to have an attorney with her for her meeting with investigators; she wasn’t apprised of her charges before the meeting; she had to fight with the investigators over recording the session. “I’d plummeted into an underground world of secret tribunals and capricious, medieval rules, and I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about it,” writes Kipnis.
In order to bring greater transparency to her own proceedings, Kipnis details the charges against her from two graduate students. One, she writes, “turned out to have nothing whatsoever to do with the essay. She was bringing charges on behalf of the university community as well as on behalf of two students I’d mentioned — not by name — because the essay had a ‘chilling effect’ on students’ ability to report sexual misconduct.” And the other was mentioned, though not by name, in the part of Kipnis’s original essay pertaining to the philosophy professor. “She charged that mentioning her was retaliatory and created a hostile environment (though I’d said nothing disparaging), and that I’d omitted information I should have included about her. This seemed paradoxical — should I have written more?” writes Kipnis.
This second complainant also charged that Kipnis had referred to her in a tweet, a claim that Kipnis denies. “Please pause to note that a Title IX charge can now be brought against a professor over a tweet. Also that my tweets were apparently being monitored,” writes Kipnis.
The investigators, writes Kipnis, interrogated her about stuff that would trouble anyone who cares about free expression: “They’d asked endless questions about particular sentences in the essay, the sources for my ideas and claims, and what I’d meant in that fateful tweet,” writes Kipnis. In a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog, Kipnis says they also asked “fishing expedition” questions, such as how she would respond if a student informed her of an instance of sexual harassment. “I said I would contact the dean of students,” says Kipnis. “There was a fair amount of these fishing-expedition questions that I should have objected to at the time.”
Now get this: The investigators recently informed Kipnis that the complainants would drop the matter but only if the professor agreed not to write about the case anymore, along with a public apology for her actions.