Investigators find Prof. Laura Kipnis did not violate Title IX

Sophia Bollag, Editor in Chief

Lawyers hired by Northwestern to investigate two complaints against Communication Prof. Laura Kipnis found last week she did not violate Title IX by writing an op-ed for The Chronicle of Higher Education, according to documents obtained by The Daily and sources close to the investigations.

In March, two philosophy graduate students filed Title IX retaliation complaints against Kipnis after she published an op-ed in February they said created a hostile environment for students who brought Title IX concerns to the University, including survivors of sexual assault.

Kipnis said she learned last week the investigators determined the allegations against her were unsupported by the preponderance of evidence.

Copies of the complaints obtained by The Daily alleged Kipnis’ article created a hostile environment by giving a misleading and inaccurate description of two students who filed sexual assault complaints against philosophy Prof. Peter Ludlow.

The philosophy graduate students who filed the complaints against Kipnis argued her article, which criticized NU’s ban on professor-student relationships, contained incorrect information about the two students who filed complaints against Ludlow. The two philosophy graduate students requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of their complaints against Kipnis and that the specific details of their complaints be kept confidential.

Students protested Kipnis’ article in March and delivered a petition to administrators asking for a “swift, official condemnation” of the article.

Kipnis criticized the investigation into the complaints filed against her, saying she was not clearly informed about the allegations against her or about the investigation process itself. She said she was not given the complaints in writing and that she was not allowed to record her interactions with investigators.

“People are kind of stunned that the Title IX process could be used in this way,” Kipnis told The Daily. “I thought there should be more attention paid to this overreach.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination by higher education institutions receiving federal funding. It also prohibits universities from retaliating against students who file Title IX complaints.

Kipnis publicized the issues she found with the investigation in another op-ed published last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education. She says she does not understand how she could have retaliated under Title IX when she had never had a Title IX complaint filed against her before.

“I didn’t see how I could be accused of retaliation if I hadn’t sexually assaulted anyone,” she told The Daily.

She maintains her February op-ed was protected as free speech under the First Amendment and that she did not violate Title IX by publishing it.

“I can see how in the media, this might end up looking like an issue of academic freedom,” one of the philosophy graduate students told The Daily in April. “But the thing is that academic freedom just doesn’t cover recklessly or willfully publishing things that are false.”

The student said she worried Northwestern students would be dissuaded from filing Title IX complaints if they thought an NU professor might be allowed to then write about them as Kipnis had.

“That’s the sort of thing that could dissuade a reasonable person from wanting to file a complaint if they thought the University could publicly write about this in a way that not just mocks you, but actually misrepresents what happened to you,” the graduate student said. “I’m concerned this might have a chilling effect on people’s ability to bring complaints forward to the University. Obviously some people really do need to bring complaints forward.”

The students who filed the complaints spoke to The Daily after the complaints were filed, but could not be reached for comment about the outcome of the investigations. One of the students directed The Daily to a piece she wrote for the Daily Nous, a philosophy blog. In the piece published Thursday, she said she believes Kipnis should have been given the allegations against her in writing and should have been allowed to record her interactions with administrators.

“Kipnis is right about the problems with Title IX systems,” the student wrote. “These problems, though, are precisely the same problems that students, much more vulnerable than her, without tenure, and often without access to attorneys at all, face regularly – including the students on the other side of the complaints against her.”

University President Morton Schapiro said many people have questioned the University’s decision to investigate the complaints at all.

“The idea that a student shouldn’t be able to bring a Title IX complaint against a faculty member because of the faculty member’s protection under the First Amendment — that’s not my decision. That’s not Northwestern’s decision,” Schapiro told The Daily. “That’s federal law.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @SophiaBollag