Why Professors Are Becoming Scared of Their Students
by Andrew Kloster, Elijah Coryell, Daily Signal, June 22, 2015
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.
There is a simply poetic absurdity about the fact that—in writing a critical appraisal of the confusing sexual mores and consequent harassment investigations—Kipnis herself was accused of “retaliating” and found herself the subject of a sexual harassment investigation.
To compound the irony, after innocuously questioning the legitimacy of Kipnis’ investigation in a Faculty Senate meeting, Kipnis’ “support person” received his own Title IX complaint. Nowadays, even discussing sexual assault procedures can get you labeled a sexual harasser. Advocating for due process protections for those accused of potentially heinous acts can itself put you in the line of fire.
The irony now is that the terms “free speech” and “due process” are being turned on their heads, particularly by university professors themselves.
Last year, two students at University of California-Santa Barbara had their anti-abortion signs stolen by, and were themselves assaulted by, professor Mireille Miller-Young, who has since been sentenced to three years probation, 100 hours of community service and 10 hours of anger-management classes.
Miller-Young defended her actions as an exercise of free expression, and likened herself to a “conscientious objector.” (One might also recall the case of Mona Eltahawy, a journalist arrested for vandalizing pro-Israel subway ads. Caught on tape, Eltahawy repeatedly called her vandalism and assault of the videotaper, “freedom of expression.”) Whether vandalizing student displays, stealing student newspapers or attempting to silence dissent from the left-wing consensus, the sham defense is so often “but we are just expressing ourselves, too.”
If we are to take seriously the safety of our campus communities, basic principles of due process and free speech must be protected. Fundamentally, the first step must be to wrest these concepts back from those who deploy them dishonestly and irresponsibly. And until campus culture is changed to eliminate the identity politics and thin-skins that professor Schlosser identifies, things will only get worse.