May 19, 2017
Laura Kipnis is getting sued over the publication of her new book on campus sexual misconduct
by Simon Reichley
Media critic and academic Laura Kipnis has a new book out, titled Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus. It continues an investigation into the bureaucratic and cultural transformation of campus sexual politics wrought by a 2011 amendment to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, an investigation that began with a much-discussed pair of essays from 2015 that Kipnis published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, discussing the handling of Title IX complaints against Peter Ludlow, a philosophy professor at Northwestern University (where Kipnis is a tenured professor) who resigned after allegations of sexual harassment by two former students. Those essays, in turn, prompted Title IX complaints by one of the same students against Kipnis herself, which the university dismissed after investigating them.
Much to nobody’s surprise, Kipnis is now being sued for defamation by one of the plaintiffs of the Title IX suit against Ludlow.
The complaint, filed under the name Jane Doe with the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that Kipnis’s book insufficiently protects the plaintiff’s identity, “gratuitously discloses private and embarrassing details” about the plaintiff’s life and relationship with Ludlow, and intentionally misstates factual details of that relationship and the student’s life, and that Kipnis and her publisher, HarperCollins, “recklessly pursued fame and profit without regard for the harm their actions would cause.”
Neither HarperCollins nor Kipnis have provided comment.
As Stassa Edwards at Jezebel points out, Ludlow’s and Doe’s portrayals of the timeline and nature of their relationship are so divergent as to be mutually exclusive. Of course, this foundational inconsistency has been the trouble all along. Doe and Ludlow have been telling inconsistent stories from the get-go, and because of the opaque nature of the Title IX process, as well as the well-founded suspicions surrounding the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault allegations on campus, neither the courts nor the Northwestern administration have been able to settle the issue.
Simon Reichley is assistant to the publishers and office manager at Melville House.