Professor Edward Schlosser (a pseudonym) recently wrote a provocatively titled piece: “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me.” The professor discusses identity politics and the culture of offense that has grown on college campuses.
And if Northwestern University School of Communication professor Laura Kipnis and the aftermath of her Title IX investigation at Northwestern University has taught us anything, it is that even discussing sensitive issues in the abstract could make you the target of campus censors.
In a February 27th essay published in The Chronicle entitled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” Kipnis reflected on the growing unease among university faculty when it comes to knowing the limits of free expression, both in classroom instruction and in student-teacher relationships.
Her comments included reference to publicly available details regarding recent Title IX sexual harassment investigations and lawsuits between Northwestern faculty and students. She was generally critical of a culture of fear on campus (“In the post-Title IX landscape, sexual panic rules”) and argued that the “new codes [of sexual conduct] sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing.”
And (who could have seen this coming?), soon after publication, two students filed Title IX complaints against her, asserting that her essay represented a “retaliation,” and that it had a “chilling effect” on students’ willingness to report sexual harassment on campus. She later wrote about this incident as well.
Thankfully, Northwestern recently exonerated Kipnis, but the poor treatment she endured over the course of her lengthy investigation has made onlookers take pause.
Although Kipnis was informed of the complaints filed against her, it would be days before she would learn the nature of the charges levied against her. She would not have the right to have an attorney present during the investigation proceedings. (Although she was allowed a “faculty-support person”—as long as that person didn’t speak.) Moreover, when interviewed by the investigating lawyers, she was not permitted to even record their sessions. Transparency need not be a priority when you are the judge, jury and prosecutor.