Northwestern's Kipnis cleared in Title IX investigation

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

2014-02-04T135125Z_01_TOR301_RTRIDSP_3_INTERNET-TWITTER

A Title IX retaliation complaint was filed against Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis in response to an article she wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education and a subsequent tweet. As discussed here, the university responded by opening an investigation of Kipnis. Now, the Chronicle reports, the investigation is over.

Laura Kipnis, the Northwestern University professor who became the subject of two Title IX complaints after publishing an essay in The Chronicle Review, has been cleared of wrongdoing by the university under the federal civil-rights law, which requires colleges to respond to reports of sexual misconduct.

Ms. Kipnis said in an interview on Sunday that she received two letters Friday night from the law firm Northwestern had hired to investigate both complaints. In each case, the firm judged that the "preponderance of evidence does not support the complaint allegations."

This is a positive development, but it is still an embarrassment to Northwestern that a formal investigation was opened in the first place.

South Carolina's Justin Weinberg takes a different view, suggesting there were legitimate reasons to at least investigate the complaint filed against Kipnis for her article and tweet, given its treatment of specific sexual assault allegations that had been filed against a professor in another department at Northwestern.

The University of Chicago's Brian Leiter says:

If Kipnis's opinion piece about sexual paranoia on campus, in which the graduate student is not even named and barely referenced, constitutes adverse "treatment," then there is no right for any faculty member at any institution receiving federal funds to offer any opinions, however indirect, about any question surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct at the institution. Even in the Title VI context, I am aware of no decision finding that speech like that of Kipnis—who has no power over any graduate student in philosophy, or their professional situation or opportunities—could constitute "retaliation" (feel free to correct me in the comments with a citation to such a case). The quite plain answer to "what's going on" at Northwestern in this instance is that graduate students have misused Title IX, and the University, fearful as all universities are of running afoul of those currently policing Title IX, aided and abetted this abuse.

In my view, Leiter has the better argument.

The Huffington Post has more on the background of this controversy, including comments from those who filed the complaints against Kipnis, here. Noted First Amendment scholar Geoffrey Stone also notes that the Kipnis investigation is not Northwestern's only recent betrayal of the principles of academic freedom.