Kipnis cleared after Title IX investigation she calls an 'inquisition'

Supporters, detractors weigh in

Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis—who attracted controversy in February by writing an op-ed accusing colleges of "sexual paranoia"—described the ensuing Title IX investigation as an "inquisition" in a follow-up essay for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The first essay

In her original article, Kipnis argued that policies governing professor-student relationships have gone too far and are creating an "intellectually embarrassing" climate of "sexual paranoia" on campus. 

According to Kipnis, the idea that professors are "all-powerful" on campus is pure "fiction" and the portrayal of students as "helpless victims" is an image conjured up by "feminism hijacked by melodrama."

However, the most controversial part of Kipnis' essay may have been her allusions to fellow Northwestern professor Peter Ludlow. While Ludlow was accused of sexual misconduct by two separate students, he was cleared—and then filed defamation lawsuits against the students.

Title IX complaints

Two students told the Huffington Post that they approached Kipnis shortly after her original piece was published to say that her description of the Ludlow cases included inaccuracies. The students say Kipnis did not offer to amend the essay. (The Chronicle later made some of the revisions requested by the students.)

In response, the students filed Title IX complaints against Kipnis and Northwestern's Title IX coordinator. The complaints accused Kipnis of retaliation and of creating a hostile environment. The students pointed not only to Kipnis' essay but also to a tweet suggesting that students were redefining dating as rape—and which they believed was directed at a particular individual on campus. 

Northwestern opened an investigation.

The second essay and investigation

In her latest article, Kipnis describes her experience with the investigation and argues that such processes are limiting professors' academic freedom. She explains that the university hired a third-party law firm to handle the investigation.

Kipnis outlines several issues that made the investigation seem unfair—calling it a "kangaroo court." First, she says she was initially told she could not learn her charges until her interview with investigators. Kipnis explains that she felt confused at many points in the process and says the explanatory resources provided to her were inadequate. She was also told that she could not seek legal representation, but she could get help from a "support person."

Reactions around the industry

In the days since her second article, Kipnis has attracted a wave of media attention—both supportive and critical.

Jonathan Adler, writing for the Washington Post, accused Northwestern of throwing academic freedom "under the bus," in addition to "overreacting… and betraying academic freedom." He says that "in a rational system," the Title IX complaints filed against Kipnis would have been "read and round-filed."

But some have taken the opposite stance. Justin Weinberg, associate professor at the University of South Carolina, argues that Kipnis misrepresents important details of both the Ludlow cases and her Title IX investigation. For example, Weinberg says that Kipnis claims the investigation was spurred by "intellectual disagreement," when the complainants were actually objecting to errors in Kipnis' story and her seeming hostility toward students who make Title IX complaints.

Weinberg also points out that Kipnis claims her academic freedom and freedom of speech have been threatened—while publishing an essay on the topic in a widely read industry publication.

Friday evening—the same day her second essay was published—Kipnis says she received letters stating that the investigations had concluded with a result of "no findings." The complainants still have 10 days to appeal (Kipnis, "The Chronicle Review," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/29; Read, "The Ticker," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/31; Weinberg, Daily Nous, 5/30; Kingkade, Huffington Post, 5/31; Adler, "The Volokh Conspiracy," Washington Post, 5/29).

The takeaway: Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis has been cleared in a Title IX investigation she described as an "inquisition." But some say that Kipnis misrepresented key details in her essay that triggered the investigation—and that the investigation did not threaten her academic freedom.

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