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‘Blaming the victim is apparently OK’: Feminist scholars denounce Title IX probe of female feminist professor

All of a sudden, feminist professors are very concerned about due process in Title IX hearings!

That’s because feminist literary theorist Avital Ronell, a philosophy professor at New York University, is reportedly under investigation by the school’s Title IX office. Exactly what she is accused of has not been detailed in news reports in which Ronell and NYU have also declined comment.

But clearly, it’s a witch hunt, according to dozens of peers who recently signed a letter in Ronell’s defense, including one of the most well-known feminist theorists in the nation, Judith Butler.

Admitting they have not read the case file, these scholars nevertheless denounce and decry the fact that the investigation is even underway, and accuse the unnamed accuser of waging a “malicious campaign,” according to the letter, obtained and published by University of Chicago law and philosophy Professor Brian Leiter on his blog.

The hypocrisy (think hundreds, if not thousands, of young men who have been railroaded by Title IX probes over the last seven years) has not been lost on many observers, including Leiter, who titled his post: “Blaming the victim is apparently OK when the accused in a Title IX proceeding is a feminist literary theorist.”

Writes Leiter: “[Y]ou 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.'”

“So while Professor Ronell ‘deserves a fair hearing,'” Leiter continued, “…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.”

The situation also caught the eye of Christina Hoff Sommers, who has been tweeting about the situation for several days:

And writing in Quartz, Olivia Goldhill points outs:

The sentiments in the letter go directly against the basic principles that most agree on when it comes to how to respond to sexual-assault allegations: Its writers malign the accuser, suggest the accused’s prominence should influence how they’re treated, and claim—without conducting an investigation of their own or providing evidence—that the accused cannot be found guilty. It also portrays the act of investigating as actively harmful to the accused.

These attitudes, when put forward in defense of accused men, have been rightly criticized. Contemporary methods of investigating sexual harassment and assault—whether criminal, civil, or workplace tribunal—have failed to protect victims and allowed perpetrators to escape unpunished. In this context, claiming that the very act of accusing someone or conducting an investigation causes harm seems to prop up a system that typically protects the accused.

Butler, a professor of critical theory and comparative literature at UC Berkeley, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the letter on Leiter’s blog is an “incorrect version” and contained errors but declined to provide a correct version or explain how the one on Leiter’s blog is incorrect.

MORE: Title IX due process violations 

IMAGE: Jelena Aloskina / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.