Suspended

Male grad student’s harassment case against prominent feminist professor prompts fierce debate about #MeToo

Philosopher and professor of German and comparative literature at New York University Avital Ronell. (YouTube)

The case of a male graduate student who alleged harassment and assault by his advisor, the famous feminist and professor of German and comparative literature at New York University Avital Ronell, has sparked a heated debate about the place of men in the #MeToo movement after a number of prominent feminists rushed to Ronell’s defense. The popular philosopher was found responsible and suspended for a year after an 11-month Title IX investigation found her guilty of harassing her former grad student, Nimrod Reitman, The New York Times reported.

Reitman, 34, who is gay and now married to a man, had alleged that Ronell, who is a lesbian and nearly twice his age, harassed him over the course of three years during his time at N.Y.U. — including incidents in which she allegedly required him to lie with her in her bed while she kissed him and touched him repeatedly. He said that she constantly emailed and called him and refused to work with him when he rebuffed her advances, which he reluctantly endured out of fear that speaking out would ruin his career. When he complained to her about the behavior, he said, she retaliated by jeopardizing his job prospects. He claimed she wrote his recommendation letters pro forma, but the Title IX report didn’t corroborate that claim. The report showed that her recommendation letters “were comparable to those for other former students.” According to an excerpt of the Title IX report, Ronell had written emails referring to Reitman as her “most adored one,” “sweet cuddly baby,” “cock-er spaniel,” and “my astounding and beautiful Nimrod.”

According to Reitman, who is now a visiting fellow at Harvard University, the harassment began in 2012 when Ronell invited him to stay with her in Paris for a few days. On the day of his arrival, he claimed, she made him read poetry to her while she took a nap and then pulled him onto the bed.

“She put my hands onto her breasts, and was pressing herself — her buttocks — onto my crotch,” he said. “She was kissing me, kissing my hands, kissing my torso.”

After she engaged in similar behavior later that night, he said, he confronted her and told her that it was inappropriate, but the harassment continued for years afterword.

Nimrod Reitman, Ronnell’s former grad student at NYU, is now a visiting fellow at Harvard University. (Facebook)

Ronell has denied having had sexual contact with Reitman, and said that her communications with him were “repeatedly invited, responded to, and encouraged by him.” Those backing the professor, including prominent feminist scholars such as Judith Butler, the author of Gender Trouble, authored and signed a letter noting that while they had “no access” to the contents of the Title IX report, that they felt the allegations against her were “malicious” and that they wanted to “testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation.” But critics have suggested that the defense of Ronell sans facts was hypocritical and contrary to the values of the #MeToo movement, and compared it to other letters used to defend powerful men accused of harassing women who worked or studied under them.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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