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Letter to the Editor: Negative reactions to Kipnis book don’t take into account reporting process, other nuances

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In response to the statement about my book, “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus,” by the Northwestern Philosophy Graduate Student Association:

I understand these are painful subjects to air, but it’s also important to keep in mind that a professor lost his career over these allegations, and has been effectively blacklisted in the philosophy discipline. The graduate student’s story has already been ratified as the official story. It wasn’t my goal to retell that story, I was reporting on what got left out. As far as exposing private information, the grad student I call Nola Hartley in the book (a pseudonym) has herself exposed and discussed much of this information publicly in an interview with reporter Robin Wilson (“A Professor, a Graduate Student, and 2 Careers Derailed”). The discrepancies between that account and documents I had access to (including her own texts and emails) are a legitimate avenue of inquiry.

If the portrait I draw in the book is dissonant to her colleagues, perhaps it’s because private and public behavior aren’t always consistent.

I’d also like to remind the Graduate Student Association that Hartley (and a fellow grad student in your department) not long ago brought me up on Title IX complaints for writing eight words about her. To suggest that she or her friends would have been eager to speak to me about her relationship with Peter Ludlow — and I should have sought them out for interviews — is disingenuous at best.

As far as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, once again, philosophy grad students seem awfully eager to bend federal power to silence someone with views they don’t approve of. The Supreme Court ruled in Gonzaga University v. Doe in 2002 that FERPA creates no personal rights to enforce. The Department of Education would have to make the determination as to whether FERPA applies here, and since I used pseudonyms throughout the book, it’s less than obvious it does. Still, it would be the basis for an interesting First Amendment case.

Laura Kipnis
Professor of Radio-TV-Film
Northwestern University

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