A Northwestern University insider, who wishes to remain anonymous, leaked to Popehat the following email on Title IX investigations, which was circulated to the Northwestern faculty and staff last Friday.
FROM: Joan Slavin [Director, University Sexual Harassment Prevention Office; Title IX Coordinator; Special Assistant to the Provost]
TO: FACULTY GROUP [3,344 email addresses], ADMIN GROUP [3,635 email addresses]
DATE: Friday, May 30, 2015 at 3:15 p.m.
Dear Northwestern administrators and faculty:
Many of you have expressed concern and upset at Professor Laura Kipnis' latest article, this one attacking Northwestern's Title IX investigation of her based on a past article. (Those of you who have not read the article can find it here: http://chronicle.com/article/My-Title-IX-Inquisition/230489/?key=Gm52dwRqaXtKZyxmNjlDZTpTYXE8NEx2MnREYn8hblFREg==. Trigger warnings for victim-blaming, sexual assault issues, cultural prejudice.)
As you know, we have a strict policy against commenting on pending Title IX investigations except to Northwestern administrators, victims, witnesses, victim advocates, student-administration liasons, and victims' emotional support companions. Therefore, I cannot state whether or not several more students have filed complaints against Professor Kipnis based on her writing an article discussing her experience with students filing complaints against her based on her writing an article. I also cannot state whether we have commenced a new proceeding, a more comprehensive one this time, against Professor Kipnis.
But I must emphasize that Northwestern University will not tolerate any retaliation or aggression, macro- or micro-, against students who have made complaints against faculty or each other. Such retaliation is both unlawful under Title IX and against University policy. Professor Kipnis' latest article, like her previous one, represents a deeply problematical challenge to these community values.
This situation requires a review of our basic anti-retaliation rules. I hope that this will both remind you of your obligations and demonstrate without cavil that our policies are completely consistent with freedom of speech, properly understood.
Public Attacks On Victims: When a student accuses a faculty member or another student of sexual misconduct, the only University response consistent with Title IX is contrition, acceptance, and support. That's an obligation of all University employees. Whether or not the complaint has yielded public litigation or press coverage, it is inappropriate for University employees to engage in victim-blaming and victim-challenging behaviors that might deter complaints. Prohibited behaviors include weighing, evaluating, questioning, critiquing, deconstructing, or otherwise assaulting the victim's complaint. This proscription applies to all departments: it is inappropriate to challenge a victim's factual account or legal assertion through the disciplines of law, philosophy, rhetoric, logic, or physics. Statements of support and belief in the victim's account remain acceptable — and strongly encouraged — under any discipline.
Professor Kipnis forces me to clarify a point that ought already be plain in an environment like this one: "neutrality" is no shield for attacks on victim integrity. Professor Kipnes' columns suggest that it is appropriate in the course of discussing an accusation to report what the target says in response to it. Unless the response is a full acknowledgement of wrongdoing and apology, it is not appropriate. Repeating what the wrongdoer says in response to an allegation re-victimizes the victim. The pretense of "neutrality" or "even-handedness" or "telling both sides" has its roots in privilege. Neutrality is not neutral in any academically meaningful sense.
We recognize that these concepts can be difficult to understand for some, particularly those in the physical sciences. Therefore, we have retained a professional adviser to help employees comply with their obligations. Justin Weinberg is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and has published a forceful rebuttal to Professor Kipnis' most recent article, and has reaffirming this University's values: http://dailynous.com/2015/05/30/northwestern-and-title-ix-whats-going-on/. As a respected Professor of Philosophy, he is eminently qualified to explain what areas of inquiry and discussion are inappropriate in a University environment.
Title IX Procedure: Professor Kipnis' latest article is a brutal and biased attack on the University's procedure for evaluating Title IX complaints. I must remind the faculty that discussions of procedure and "fairness" are not excuses to attack victims. Employees should avoid discussions that imply that any particular victim, or victims in general, may not be telling the truth, or may be seeking unwarranted remedies. We do not speak in a vacuum; our words can hurt and retaliate. Discussions of notice to the accused, assistance of counsel, burdens of proof, and opportunity to confront accusers all arise from a presumption that the victim might be untruthful or mistaken. That is not a presumption that we may lawfully or ethically entertain.
Curriculum: It is our collective responsibility to avoid unlawful retaliation not only directly, but implicitly. During this period of reassurance, and whenever Title IX investigations are pending, the College of Arts & Sciences faculty should avoid undue emphasis on problem authors whose texts undermine free reporting of sexual misconduct, such as Arthur Miller, Franz Kafka, or Harper Lee. This is an excellent opportunity to redouble our efforts to expose students to writers who embrace welcoming approaches to victim truths, including Rigoberta Menchu or Wahneema Lubiano. Classes on the American court system, civil rights and civil liberties, and criminal justice may continue so long as professors emphasize to their students that they are participating an an anthropological study of a profoundly sexist and cisgender-biased system and that no positive normative judgment is intended.
With these guidelines, I hope that faculty conduct will better reflect our University's shared values. Further Title IX investigations will help professors recognize how their expression, whether in the classroom or out of it, can help us achieve our goal: a welcoming environment for everyone.
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