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Northwestern Student Drops Complaint Against Professor In Laura Kipnis Case

06/01/2015 10:27 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015
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A Northwestern University graduate student who filed a Title IX complaint against the school's faculty senate head for discussing a controversial essay withdrew it over the weekend.

Stephen Eisenman, an art professor and faculty senate president at the school in Evanston, Illinois, was named in the complaint for publicly discussing the school's investigation into film professor Laura Kipnis, who wrote an essay arguing against Northwestern's ban on sex between professors and students. The student who filed the complaint suspended her grievance against Eisenman a week ago, and officially withdrew it on Sunday.

The Title IX complaints against Eisenman and Kipnis, which Northwestern is required to investigate under federal gender-equity law, sparked alarm in higher education, with concern that official investigations may compromise academic freedom.

"I don't blame any students who brought charges against me," Eisenman told The Huffington Post on Monday. "They're just students, they're learning, they're smart, they're trying things out, they make mistakes." He continued: "I do hold responsible the administrators overseeing Title IX. It was well within their prerogative to examine the charge and to determine it was without merit."

The student filed a complaint against Kipnis over her February essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education that critiqued student-faculty dating policies. The student complained the article misrepresented a lawsuit involving a philosophy professor. The complaint sparked a Title IX investigation into Kipnis by the university, and she chose Eisenman as a support person in the case. Kipnis was cleared of the charges on Friday.

The student filed an additional complaint against Eisenman for discussing the case, without using anyone's name, at a faculty senate meeting in May. One faculty member was said to have responded to Eisenman's description by saying the situation was out of "Stalinist Russia."

The student's complaint against Eisenman contended he was obligated not to discuss the case against Kipnis. The Department of Philosophy subsequently voted to ask whether Eisenman should step down for violating confidentiality, according to emails obtained by The Huffington Post.

But after Kipnis made her Title IX investigation public in another essay on Friday, and was then cleared, the student decided to withdraw her complaint against Eisenman.

The student, who didn't want her name publicly revealed, said part of the reason she withdrew her complaint against Eisenman was that investigators had begun to probe the case without getting her full statement.

"I cannot continue to be so naive as to hope that internal complaint processes can safely be made use of in good faith. It's clear that they cannot," the student wrote in withdrawing her complaint on Sunday.

Eisenman and Kipnis both maintained confidentiality had not been broken.

"I just thought this is getting absurd," Kipnis told HuffPost. "It started out absurd, and it's getting more absurd."

"The effect isn't trivial," said Eisenman. "Because bringing a charge against a professor [under Title IX] suggests that they may have done something profoundly bad."

Eisenman said he believes Title IX is essential, but the law's protections must "be treated with respect." He said he worries that unfounded investigations weaken the law. "This makes it much more [susceptible to] attacks with from the right," he said.

Northwestern said in a statement that it followed the law. The school declined to discuss specifics of either complaint.

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