Title IX investigators let Northwestern University Professor Laura Kipnis off the hook after determining that her essay in The Chronicle Review criticizing anti-sex paranoia on campus was neither retaliatory nor likely to have a chilling effect on future Title IX complaints. This is a welcome result—as I wrote last week, a finding in favor the students who had filed the complaint would essentially establish that a discussion of Title IX was in fact a violation of Title IX if any party objected to the tone of that discussion.
The students have 10 days to appeal the verdict of the independent law firm that handled the complaints. It's not clear if they will; they told The Huffington Post that their main objection to The Chronicle Review article was not ideological, but rather, a disagreement about the facts of a different Title IX case that Kipnis wrote about. One of those details was indeed corrected in the body of the article, so perhaps the students are satisfied. They actually agreed with Kipnis that some facets of the investigation seemed unfriendly to her basic rights. In any case, Title IX should not serve as a vehicle for students to air grievances with their professors. The law's original intention was merely to protect women from gender-based discrimination; broadening it to include the kinds of complaints the students filed against Kipnis is beyond farcical.
Kipnis remains accused of violating university policies barring retaliation. This charge, like the accusations in the student complaints, should be set aside. There was nothing in Kipnis's articles that could reasonably be construed as retaliatory. If merely stating what happened to a person in a Title IX case amounts to retaliation—under either Title IX or other university provisions—then no professor will dare to speak out against Title IX. Indeed, these investigations likely have already had a significant chilling effect on criticisms of sexual harassment policy.
Kipnis's case, at least, is rallying a lot of people to the cause of Title IX sanity. In Jezebel, Natasha Vargas-Cooper writes:
The Title IX creep that's happening to Kipnis doesn't just stop with her. Kipnis was allowed to bring a 'support person' , who was not allowed to speak, to her meeting with the Title IX investigators. A Title IX complaint was then filed against the support person. Certainly, such blithe use of a provision to expand the sphere of victimhood seems counter productive to the goal of protecting those who were directly victimized by sexual misconduct or discrimination.
For the rest of the insane and increasingly paradoxical twists to Kipnis' ordeal (which is still ongoing), including the Title IX investigators asking Kipnis if she would like to file her own retaliation claim against the students, read her dispatch here. It is a stunning example of feminism devouring itself.
Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds, who quotes me in his latest USA Today column, writes:
Title IX, as its simple language provides, was intended to open up colleges to women, not to empower a Stalinist bureaucracy to torment people who don't toe the feminist line. Congress needs to haul some Department of Education bureaucrats up for hearings, then rewrite Title IX to make clear that it doesn't grant the kind of sweeping powers over academic expression that educrats have seized. Despite what they might think at the Department of Education, 1984 was written as a cautionary tale — not an instruction manual.
The prevailing interpretation of Title IX is a problem—not merely for freethinkers and contrarians, but for the basic operations of the university and for the bank accounts of today's college students. Everyone can be accused of Title IX retaliation, and everyone can accuse everyone else of Title IX retaliation. The university will hire loads more bureaucrats to deal with the complaints, the lawyers will collect their checks, and tuition prices will continue to soar.