The Chronicle of Higher Education has always had a decidedly progressive tilt, which is hardly surprising. After all, it’s about higher ed, and what could be more higher ed than social justice? But in the case of Avital Ronell and her sexual abuse of her student, it was harder to figure out on which side of your social justice toast to put the butter.*
On the one hand, you had a victim of sexual harassment, even if NYU managed by bury the more serious claim of sexual assault pretending that it wasn’t sufficiently proven even though the evidence was overwhelming compared to the evidence in cases involving lesser scholars. The victim was gay, so that was an extra point, but then, the abuser claimed to be a lesbian (not that it should matter, but Ronell raises it at every turn), even if Salon recounted when she wasn’t so lesbian and had an affair at 27 with the 16-year-old son of her mentor, Jacques Derrida.
On the other hand, you had a philosophy “superstar,” renowned throughout a certain segment of academia for whom coherence and logic were foreign concepts.** Backing Ronell means they get the appreciation of a wealth of “renowned” scholars. Reitman brings nothing other than the ugliness of what Ronell did. There are no friends to be made, no debts to be paid, by treating a star like Ronell poorly.
It’s unclear whether the Chronicle writer, Katherine Mangan, realizes what she’s done. She’s a writer, not a lawyer, so she may be inclined to an uncritical view of the information she’s being fed. Though even as a writer, her failure to source claims is revealing.
Ronell, a professor of German and comparative literature at New York University, believes that her writing is what ultimately did her in, causing her to be suspended for a year without pay after being found responsible for sexually harassing Reitman.
Has Ronell been “suspended for a year without pay”? Mangan’s link to prove it goes to Mangan’s unsourced claim in her own earlier post. Another, who appears to have some inside info [edit: per CHE, the writer is Lisa Duggan, a professor of social and cultural analysis at NYU ], says it’s with pay, so a paid vacation. Others don’t know because NYU has refused to release the sanctions it imposed. Yet Mangan is spreading what could be an outright lie, but if she says it twice, it magically becomes fact.
Similarly, she lavishly spreads Ronell’s claims.
It was, she said in an interview on Friday, a rush to judgment in an era when legitimate concerns about sexual harassment can veer off into “sexual paranoia.” Silenced until now by a confidentiality agreement with the university, she said she was tired of being portrayed as a predator when in fact, she insisted, there had been no inappropriate physical contact between herself and her doctoral advisee, and the communications he objected to were freely reciprocated.
Was Ronell silenced by a confidentiality agreement? Where’s the agreement? Was an eleven-month investigation, to which Ronell never registered a peep until after she was held responsible, after her cabal wrote the absurd threat letter, after she realized her star power wasn’t good enough to overcome the disgust of her conduct, a “rush to judgment”? If she now has an issue with NYU’s handling of her Title IX case, even though she never complained before, her remedy is to sue NYU. But she’s not suing NYU. She’s attacking her victim. She’s fabricating excuses for her abuse.
A journalist would have asked for the confidentiality agreement upon which Ronell relies. Mangan didn’t. A journalist would have challenged the “rush to judgment” claim, which conflicts with every known fact. Mangan didn’t. A journalist would have asked why, if she now complains the proceeding was unfair,*** she wasn’t suing NYU. Mangan didn’t. A journalist would have asked for evidence of the punishment imposed by NYU, the actual, official, notification of sanctions, before spreading a story that it was a suspension without pay, and then using the baseless claim to respread the story as if saying it once proved it the second time.
Instead, she wrote:
Reitman, now 34, never indicated that he felt oppressed by such talk, Ronell insisted, and freely doled out similar expressions of affection. Both Reitman and Ronell are gay, and playful and over-the-top banter is how she talks with her friends in Manhattan’s West Village, she said.
Except he not only “indicated,” but complained to a vice provost of her sexual assault years earlier while he was still a student as set forth in his complaint. And Ronell, in her press release, inexplicably notes that while he acquiesced to her demands that he only engage her with the “love talk” she demanded, he told others that she was a monster.
Yet, shortly thereafter, Reitman sent an email to Gregory Lennon (unknown to Ronell) dated July 20, 2013 stating: “Tomorrow, I see the monster.”
On further occasions, he wrote to others referring to Ronell as “witch”, “evil”, “psychotic”, “bitter old lady” and other derogatory terms, while simultaneously bubbling over with effusive affection in his communications with her.
Yet, none of this appears in Mangan’s post, even if Ronell’s grad student “publicist” thought this somehow served Ronell’s defense. The deconstruction of Mangan’s astoundling uncritical, and unjournalistic, CHE post, and Ronell’s self-serving press release, could go on and on, but you get the point.
This isn’t merely a case of a woman accused of sexually harassing, assaulting, stalking and retaliating against a man. This is about a superstar scholar and an unknown grad student whose future relied entirely upon her good will. Yet, she pretends to be his victim.****
And this is about how the Chronicle of Higher Education has uncritically regurgitated Ronell’s bizarre, baseless and belated claims because there is more benefit to be gained by backing the scholar with clout than the now-Ph.D. whom Ronell promised to make a star if he only let her have her way with him. This wasn’t two undergrads having a one-night drunken fling, but a predatory prof who used the threat of her academic “mafia” to abuse her student for years. Not that you would know it from the Chronicle of Higher Education. But then, that’s higher ed for you.
*I note, as I have in my previous posts about this matter, that I am dear friends with Reitman’s lawyer, Donald Kravet.
**This is, of course, my view of Ronell’s writing. Here’s an example of what she wrote for public consumption. You can draw your own conclusions, whether this is brilliant or gibberish.
***Ronell now contends that it was a “kangaroo court,” which isn’t necessarily an unfair assessment, even if her concern only arose when it involved her, a tenured star professor, not powerless male college sophomores.
During an 11-month Title IX investigation, “I was in a kangaroo court, and now I look completely like a caricature of predatory aggression, which is a joke to anyone who knows me,” Ronell said. In another day, “people would say, ‘That’s Avi. That’s how she talks.’”
Then again, NYU used a three-investigator model with Ronell, which was its norm, and allowed Ronell to offer as many witnesses as she desired as to “how she talks.” even though “I sexually harass everyone” isn’t really a strong defense. But then, that was the best spin she could manufacture on short notice, and the existence of her emails made denial an impossibility. Not that Mangan cared.
****In her press release, Ronell says:
He had chosen Ronell as a luminary in his field and was clearly exploiting her in that regard.
Rarely has a professor used the word “exploit” to characterize the function of education.