Kipnis on Peter Ludlow and Title IX nonsense

Laura Kipnis, whose ordeal I mentioned recently, just published another piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education. She explains what she saw during the process that led to Peter Ludlow’s resignation from his job at Northwestern University and it’s pretty damning for the administration. I don’t know whether Ludlow is guilty of what he’s been accused of, but judging from what I have read about this case, Northwestern certainly did not treat him fairly. Kipnis should certainly be commended for taking a stand at great risk for herself in this case. So should Jessica Wilson, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto who made a courageous statement in defense of Ludlow, as Kipnis explains in her essay.

As Kipnis also notes in her piece, Ludlow’s case is hardly isolated. She knows that because, after she wrote that essay in which she explained how she had been the victim of a Kafkian Title IX investigation, she apparently received tons of emails from people with a similar story. Perhaps she heard from John Doe, a student at Yale who recently brought a lawsuit against the university, after what seems to be another Title IX disaster. His case was discussed in the Wall Street Journal, which describes the most damning aspect of the case in this passage:

This case also involves free expression because it began, Doe alleges, with Yale’s draconian regulation of his speech. According to his lawsuit, in late 2013 a female philosophy teaching assistant filed a complaint with the university’s Title IX office about a short paper Doe had written. In the context of Socrates ’ account in Plato’s “Republic” of the tripartite soul, the paper argued that rape was an irrational act in which the soul’s appetitive and spirited parts overwhelm reason, which by right rules.


According to the lawsuit, Pamela Schirmeister, Title IX coordinator and an associate dean in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, summoned Doe to her office and told him his rape example was “unnecessarily provocative.” She ordered him to have no contact with the teaching assistant and directed him to attend sensitivity training at the university’s mental-health center. She also informed him that he had become a “person of interest” to Yale, which meant that the university had to intervene to ensure he “was not a perpetrator himself,” in the lawsuit’s words. A few months later, the same Title IX office initiated the sexual-assault investigation against him.

The complaint itself can be read here and, as far as I can tell, the Wall Street Journal’s description of the allegations made by the complainant is accurate. If these allegations are true, then Yale clearly misbehaved.

In her book, Kipnis also talks about David Barnett’s case, which I had also commented a few years ago. If her description of that case is accurate, which frankly strikes as very plausible, then it’s absolutely outrageous. The usual suspects have been almost completely silent on Kipnis’s book, even though a few years ago, they couldn’t stop commenting on the facts she discusses. Jennifer Lackey, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern involved the controversy about Ludlow, recently posted something on Facebook in defense of the graduate student who accused him. As Leiter noted, this gave rise to a pretty remarkable discussion, during which Benj Hellie wrote this very apt comment which explains why the usual suspects are silent and deserves to be quoted in extenso:

Look, you [David Sobel] and your comrades set out on a cause you took to be righteous. In the course of it, the field was agitated into an angry mob against Ludlow. In consequence, Ludlow was driven out of his job, and out of philosophical society; lost his house and savings, and wound up with no source of income. Now, that is not a nice thing to happen. Thinking about it makes the heart ache. Of course, if it happens to a bad guy who deserves it, then instead of heartache, time to clink the champagne.


So of course that is what people want to believe. Moreover, your group has made this a big rallying point: a shibboleth, if you will, by the ritual recitation of which people recollect their big success and restore group solidarity. So you and your crowd really have it as a big part of your self-identity that Ludlow got what he deserved.


I add also that the group sees itself as setting the moral tone for philosophy as a whole: I think Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa made a point to that effect the other day, about how it is important not to let outsiders (like me, I guess) define philosophy’s response to this debacle. I acknowledge the success of your campaign: there is truly a chilling effect, where almost no one is willing to challenge your verities in public; and perhaps some of the causes the group stands for are to the good (set that aside).


Now comes Laura Kipnis. The world is paying close attention; and the judgement of the world is that this very central rallying point of your group is a grave mistake. Within the group, it does not seem that way, but that is really very blinkered: a great many folk out there think your shibboleth is a false god.


Now, reiterating the point above, from the point of view of your group, that is quite unsettling. The smashing of the icon inevitably threatens group cohesion. And the moral supremacy of the group within philosophy is also on very shaky ground, if the rest of the field wakes up to the overreaching and decides to give the raspberry.


So, regarding the pressures in question: both the internal cohesion of the group, and its external capacity to exercise power, are threatened. Neither of those is something anyone would abandon willingly; but I suspect each is something all see looming on the horizon (Elizabeth Harman, if I recall correctly, referred to Kipnis as a ‘nightmare’). A pressureful situation, without a doubt.

Hellie wrote another great post on Facebook, which also deserves to be read. I’m having a conversation with him in the comments that you may also find interesting.

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