Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education has a follow-up story on Northwestern University’s Title IX struggles — triggered when two graduate students filed a complaint against professor Laura Kipnis over the contents of an essay she published in the Chronicle (an issue I covered here). It turns out, however, that the complaint against Kipnis was but one of three complaints, all aimed directly at free speech. The students filed a complaint against another professor for having the audacity to describe the charges against Kipnis in a faculty meeting, and — incredibly — one of the students filed a complaint against the university president for publishing a piece in the Wall Street Journal defending academic freedom. The students dropped these additional complaints after Kipnis was cleared of wrongdoing.
The Chronicle headline calls the controversy at Northwestern “painful and personal.” I’d describe it as “ludicrous and hilarious.” Everything that is happening at Northwestern is the result of generations of academic and ideological coddling of grievance-mongering leftist students. Where did the complaining students get the idea that they could enlist federal statutes and university processes in complaints targeted squarely at free speech? From the same university they’re now targeting. But now that the university is (finally) showing a millimeter of spine, the students are crying crocodile tears:
Two female graduate students who filed complaints about a February essay — published in The Chronicle Review and written by Laura Kipnis, a professor in the department of radio, television, and film — say the resulting media firestorm has been vicious. They have been maligned, and their academic careers, they say, are threatened. The students, one Northwestern professor said, “became academic villains of the week.”
News flash: If you don’t want to become villains, don’t behave like villains. Even frivolous Title IX complaints can upend professional lives, create a chilling effect on free speech, and ignite a media firestorm. But that was the point, wasn’t it? These students just chose the wrong targets — the rare professors who weren’t intimidated and the even rarer university president who seems willing to pay a bit more than lip service to academic freedom. Yes, Northwestern is in agony, but only good things can come from its pain — up to and including a rethink of the mindless imposition of punishing investigatory processes in response to even the most absurd complaints. So pull grab some popcorn and pull up a chair. This is getting good.