A group of graduate students at Cornell University is condemning a group of professors who signed a letter defending NYU professor Avital Ronell, who was accused of sexual harassment by a former student.
Cornell graduate students are hitting back after three professors signed a letter in support of New York University Professor Avital Ronell, who was accused of sexually harassing an NYU graduate student.
The professors, Cathy Caruth, Cynthia Chase, and Jonathan Culler, signed onto a letter which Breitbart News covered in June, that defended Ronell from the accusation of sexual harassment on the bizarre basis that she has done strong feminist academic work.
In a letter to the Cornell student newspaper, Caruth said that she signed onto the letter as a way of urging NYU to conduct a fair investigation into the accusations. “Upon reading the letter that appeared, many of us felt that the letter was improper and that we certainly did not (and do not) wish to appear to condone any attempts to silence or defame accusers or to condone abuses of power by those who have it,” Caruth said.
Peter Shipman, a graduate student at Cornell, dropped a course taught by Caruth after he learned that she had signed onto the Ronell defense letter.
“Tenured professors hold an immense power over grad students careers,” Shipman said in a comment to the Cornell student newspaper. “Professors have the ability to use their power to basically shape, manipulate, and ruin grad students however they please because as grad students we have no check.”
“I am troubled that despite her claims about not approving of the final letter, which openly attacks Nimrod Reitman’s character, Prof. Caruth has still made no attempt to retract her name from it, either now or earlier this summer,” Shipman added. “I appreciate her willingness to speak on the subject, but both her and Prof. Culler’s comments about the case in my view reflect a gross misunderstanding of the way power operates in the university, and I am deeply disturbed by that.”
Another graduate student, Kristen Angierski, said that she believes the professors were simply looking to ensure that Ronell received a due process investigation. Still, Angierski highlighted the bizarre portions of the letter that focused on Ronell’s feminist scholarship, which is irrelevant to the abuse claim.
“I have to assume these professors are not pro-sexual harassment but rather pro-due process,” Angierski wrote in a comment to the paper. “Nonetheless, some of the language in that letter is reminiscent of sexual assault defense claims that center the assaulter’s ‘potential’ rather than the victim’s experience of abuse.”