When Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis published “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” in The Chronicle of Higher Education in February 2015, she didn’t expect she’d become the target of a Title IX investigation as a result.
A former video artist and a self-described feminist, Kipnis researches and writes about the intersections of politics, gender, and psyche. It was this interest that led Kipnis to explore the changing politics of sex on college campuses in her essay for the Chronicle. Though she expected the article to spark debate due to her critique of Title IX’s expanding reach, Kipnis was caught by surprise when student activists called for a public apology and the university opened an investigation into whether Kipnis had violated Title IX herself.
Kipnis’ article described problems with a “post-Title IX landscape” where “sexual panic rules” on America’s campuses and Title IX investigations can be the result of just talking about sex. Following the article’s publication, Kipnis was subjected to a 72-day investigation that proved her point all too well. That’s right: A professor was subjected to a lengthy Title IX investigation for her article about how there are too many Title IX investigations.
The American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP’s) new report on “The History, Uses and Abuses of Title IX,” which comes almost a year after Kipnis’ ordeal, makes clear that her experience is not unique.
Over the course of the months-long investigation, Northwestern racked up a laundry list of due process issues. First, it failed to provide Kipnis with a detailed notice of the charges against her, leaving her in limbo. Then it prohibited Kipnis from confronting her accusers and allowed her to have only a “support person” present at hearings, despite hiring its own attorneys to question Kipnis. Making matters worse, the university issued what was in effect a gag order to prevent her from speaking publicly about the matter. In fact, when her support person expressed general concerns about Title IX infringing on academic freedom at a faculty senate meeting, a Title IX complaint was filed against him too.
In May 2015, Kipnis decided to go public with her ordeal. Asked why she decided to speak out, Kipnis answered, “Raising questions is what I wanted to do.” In particular, Kipnis wanted to draw attention to the close relationship between today’s campus activists and college administrators.
Writing again in the Chronicle, Kipnis’ second article—titled “My Title IX Inquisition”—was published while she was still under investigation. In it, Kipnis shared the details of her investigation, demonstrating the negative impact that unclear federal guidelines, bloated college bureaucracies, and misguided campus activism can have on academic freedom, as well as the personal toll a lengthy investigation can take on its subject.
Only after the second article’s publication was Kipnis finally cleared.
For more from Kipnis on Title IX and its chilling effect on academic freedom, check out FIRE’s full interview with her above.
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