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Northwestern accused fraternity of rape based on anonymous report about unidentified victims

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Professor targeted in Title IX witch hunt slams school for ‘vigilantism’

When The Daily Northwestern reported Feb. 6 that Northwestern University issued a campus alert that women had “potentially” been drugged and raped at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) house, it failed to mention some material information.

Namely, that Northwestern didn’t know the identities of the alleged victims and that the drug-and-rape report didn’t come from any of them. It came from an anonymous tip.

The Chicago Tribune reported all this the next day, making clear that Northwestern had set off a campus panic – and publicly accused a specific fraternity – without any clue as to the veracity of the report or the anonymous source. Indeed, campus police can’t open a criminal investigation because there are no “complaining witnesses.”

The Daily only updated its story four days later when a spokesman seemed to confirm the Tribune‘s details, suggesting the administration misled not just its student newspaper but the entire community. (The campus police chief also emailed students the same day as the SAE alert, saying explicitly it had received “an anonymous report” about another alleged drug-and-rape at a “second, unnamed” frat house.)

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These revelations set off Northwestern Prof. Laura Kipnis, the victim of a previous witch hunt by the administration for criticizing “sexual paranoia” on campus.

She wrote a scolding letter to the editor of the Daily comparing Northwestern to Rolling Stone for its discredited gang-rape story at the University of Virginia:

[T]he university community has leaped to action, with Associated Student Government calling for immediately suspending SAE and other frats. Task forces are being created, social events are being suspended, there are calls to rewrite various constitutions and policies.

[W]e need to slow down the rush to judgment until we’re in possession of sufficient verifiable information to form solid conclusions. If we fail to do that, we’re guilty of what the commission that later investigated the Rolling Stone story excoriated as “confirmation bias”— that is, forming conclusions in advance of the facts to justify our biases. In other words, if we believe that campus culture is a rape culture, then any rape allegation has to be true.

And at this point, all we in the NU community know is that anonymous charges are being investigated … leaping to action — especially in the absence of verified (or perhaps even verifiable) complaints — is at best a failure of due process, and at worst vigilantism.

MORE: Laura Kipnis beats Title IX claims over ‘sexual paranoia’

Here’s the problem, as laid out in an exhaustive post by Badger Pundit: The Daily abruptly took down Kipnis’s published letter in the wee hours Monday morning, as little as an hour after it went up. Kipnis told the blog Monday:

I got an email this morning saying the Daily had decided not to post my letter after all because they’ve been unable to confirm with the university that the reports are anonymous. I wrote back asking why the Trib has this information and they don’t. So either the Trib report is wrong or the university is withholding info from the Daily.

The Daily then told Badger Pundit the letter was “mistakenly published” Sunday night (note the Feb. 12 date on the archived page) before the paper could “verify some information,” then said within the hour that the Kipnis letter had indeed been republished.

It’s now dated Feb. 13, with no editor’s note disclosing that it was yanked shortly after it was “mistakenly published.”

Badger Pundit takes the administration and the Daily to task for ginning up this campus panic without any verifiable evidence:

The university had ample time to rebut [the Tribune report] before the Daily Northwestern initially published the Kipnis letter on February 12. [Daily Editor in Chief Julia] Jacobs’s explanation … therefore seems quite suspect, particularly given how eager the Daily Northwestern was to publish letters arguing not only that SAE should be banned based on these reports, but that the entire fraternity system should be abolished — that students should express their “anger” by mounting protests “to advocate burning the whole thing to ground.”

Read the Daily story, Tribune story, Kipnis’s letter and Badger Pundit post.

CLARIFICATIONIt’s not clear when exactly the Daily published and then removed the Kipnis letter. The Google cache timestamp of the original page reads 10:57 p.m. Central. Badger Pundit told The Fix it had been removed shortly after midnight, a few minutes after it appeared in an RSS feed. The sentence has been rephrased to connote the uncertainty.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” Previously he led media and public relations at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a free-market think tank. Greg is developing a Web series about a college newspaper, COPY, whose pilot episode was a semifinalist in the TV category for the Scriptapalooza competition in 2012. He graduated in 2001 with a B.A. from Seattle Pacific University, where he co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon.

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