The Title IX world turned upside down when Avital Ronell, a “world renowned” lesbian New York University professor, was “found responsible” for ongoing physical and verbal sexual harassment of Nimrod Reitman, her male graduate student. Reitman, who identifies as gay and is now married to a man, claims that Ronell, age 66, refused to work with him unless he allowed her to kiss and grope him repeatedly, and sleep with him. For evidence, Reitman produced text messages and emails in which Ronell called him her “c**k-er spaniel” and her “most adored one.”
In some ways, the allegations in Reitman’s complaint are similar to those of hundreds of Title IX cases throughout the country. But, the response to the Ronell case is different. Rather than being told by feminist defenders of Title IX that “victims of sexual assault never lie,” and that we should never blame the victims of sexual assault or harassment, these same feminist advocates now are calling this male victim a liar. In fact, Ronell’s feminist supporters—led by feminist icon Judith Butler—dismissed Reitman’s allegations in an open letter of protest claiming that “the allegations against her [Ronell] do not constitute actual evidence, but rather support the view that malicious intention has animated and sustained this legal nightmare.”
Ronell’s feminist campus colleagues claim to have witnessed “her relationship with students” and her “fierce commitment to students and colleagues.” Lauding her academic accomplishments, Ronell’s supporters point out that she “changed” the course of German Studies, Comparative Literature and the field of philosophy and literature over the years of her teaching, writing and service. They also think it significant that she holds the Jacques Derrida Chair of Philosophy at the European Graduate School, named after the French founder of post-modernism.
Ronell’s supporters “testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment” of their colleague. They demand that she be given the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her “international standing and reputation.” But, there is no respect for the dignity of her victim. In what has to be a disaster for NYU, Ronell’s academic colleagues made scurrilous attacks on Ronell’s alleged victim, claiming that they personally know the individual “who has waged this malicious campaign against her.”
In some important ways, this is the logical outcome of the mess created by Title IX. The mandates imposed by the law have devastated the lives of falsely accused students and faculty members who are deprived of legal rights by their academic institution. Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, has attempted to mandate due process protections for the accused but most colleges and universities have defied her attempts. In fact, some schools have implemented even more draconian policies. No longer content to deny due process to accused university students in the wake of often unsubstantiated and frequently false charges of sexual harassment and assault, there was even a movement last year toward destroying any hope for these students to transfer to other colleges and universities. The Safe Transfer Act, a bill promoted by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), requires transcript notation for those students who try to transfer to other colleges or universities after being found “responsible” for violations of Title IX policies. Creating a new “check the box” requirement specifically for the transcripts of the students who have become ensnared in Title IX’s ever-expanding net for campus “sex crimes,” Speier’s bill requires a warning on the academic transcript of any student found by a college or university to have violated the school’s rules or policies on sexual harassment and assault.
Endorsed by the National Organization for Women and End Rape on Campus, the proposed bill was endorsed by the Association of Title IX Administrations, which has built a higher education empire on the backs of innocent male students. The bill violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act because it fails to protect the rights of the accused. This, however, is not a concern of Speier. Her priority is to make sure that these students would “no longer be able to walk away from campus with a clean academic bill of health.”
Speier and her legislative supporters have not given sufficient weight to widespread concerns over the fairness of campus judicial procedures. The truth is that the campus court system that has emerged to address these cases provide little protection. Under the policies that many colleges and universities have implemented, the accused are often denied a chance to respond to allegations, are not informed of their options for resolving the complaints, are not given copies of the incident report or other evidence against them before the hearing, and are not allowed to call witnesses on their behalf. On many campuses they are denied legal representation and the right to cross-examine witnesses.
Last year the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a study of the top 53 universities in the country as identified by U. S. News and World Report based on 10 fundamental elements of due process. The study found that nearly three quarters (74 percent) of America’s top universities do not guarantee those accused that they will be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Fewer than half of the schools (47 percent) require that the fact-finders—the institutions’ version of judge and jury—be impartial. Seventy-nine percent of the 53 rated universities received a D or F for protecting the due process rights of those accused of sexual misconduct. Not surprisingly, New York University received an F rating, one of the lowest scores of the 53 schools, for refusing to provide a presumption of innocence, adequate time to prepare for the disciplinary process, notice of the hearing date, impartial fact finders, and access to evidence.
Some of the most prominent Catholic colleges in the country received the lowest ratings for providing due process rights to individuals accused of sexual misconduct. Like NYU, Boston College received an F rating from FIRE for failing to provide a clearly stated presumption of innocence, adequate time to prepare for the disciplinary process—including notice of the hearing date—and a prohibition on conflicts of interest that could compromise the integrity of the process. Georgetown University and the University of Notre Dame each received D ratings.
Such denials of due process rights were perfectly fine for the feminists when the accused were white heterosexual males. Yet, now that Professor Ronell has been caught in the same Title IX trap that she and her feminist colleagues have created to ensnare campus males, they have discovered the value of “due process” for the accused. Her supporters may in fact be correct when they write that “the allegations against her do not constitute actual evidence.” But Judith Butler and many of the names on that letter of support for Ronell have been among the strongest proponents of the #metoo movement on college campuses. They had no problem with kangaroo campus courts when those accused were male. After viewing the world through a post-modernist lens of power politics and seeing only white male patriarchal institutions using science, reason, and logic to victimize everyone else, it is refreshing to find these academic proponents of extreme relativism discovering the value of truth seeking.
If the allegations against Professor Ronell are indeed true, her behavior should be viewed by all—including her feminist supporters—as a horrific abuse of power. We may never know because in the quasi-civil proceedings that Ronell must endure—like hundreds of other accused males on campuses throughout the country—the allegations may never be properly adjudicated. Perhaps it is time to re-think the campus court system entirely by giving a real “day in court” to the accused—replete with presumptions of innocence, and due process rights, and a standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It may be time for universities to listen to Secretary DeVos and reconsider the entire Title IX industry itself.
(Photo credit: Wikicommons)