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The Office of the Independent Counsel was created post-Watergate to investigate executive branch wrongdoing. The Democrat-majority Congress reasoned that the DOJ would not be able to effectively investigate its colleagues and bosses. Republicans objected to the independent counsel statute for decades, both on separation-of-powers grounds, and because it was used as a political tool to harass Republican presidential administrations. But it wasn’t until Democrats’ own ox was gored, during the Clinton administration in the form of Kenneth Starr, that Democrats realized what they had wrought. The statute was allowed to expire quietly in 1999 with bipartisan agreement.
I thought of this history as I read Laura Kipnis’s account of Northwestern University’s own independent investigation of her conduct. Kipnis, a liberal professor at the university, has dedicated her career to feminist causes. However, after she recently wrote about her concerns regarding new university policies on sexual relations between professors and students, she became the focus of protests by feminist students. At first, she brushed off the protests. “I’d argued that the new codes infantilized students while vastly increasing the power of university administrators over all our lives, and and here were students demanding to be protected by university higher-ups from the affront of someone’s ideas, which seemed to prove my point.”
Things seemed less amusing when I received an email from my university’s Title IX coordinator informing me that two students had filed Title IX complaints against me on the basis of the essay and “subsequent public statements” (which turned out to be a tweet), and that the university would retain an outside investigator to handle the complaints.
I stared at the email, which was under-explanatory in the extreme. I was being charged with retaliation, it said, though it failed to explain how an essay that mentioned no one by name could be construed as retaliatory, or how a publication fell under the province of Title IX, which, as I understood it, dealt with sexual misconduct and gender discrimination.
Kipnis describes an extremely opaque process. She was originally not informed of the specific charges against her, or who had brought them. She was not entitled to legal representation — though she was entitled to bring a “support person”. She was not entitled to see the evidence against her, much less rebut it. The investigators are judge and jury. She was required to keep everything confidential; paradoxically, when a graduate student clearly antagonistic to Kipnis published all sorts of inside information about the case, and her “support person” quoted the article in a faculty meeting, new Title IX charges were brought against Kipnis’s supporter.
It turned out that the complainants, and the complaints themselves, had only the barest connection to her article.
Both complainants were graduate students. One turned out to have nothing whatsoever to do with the essay she was bringing charges on behalf of the university community as well as on behalf of two students I’d mentioned — not by name — because the essay had a “chilling effect” on students’ ability to report sexual misconduct….
The other complainant was someone I’d mentioned fleetingly (again, not by name) in connection with the professor’s lawsuits. She charged that mentioning her was retaliatory and created a hostile environment (though I’d said nothing disparaging), and that I’d omitted information I should have included about her…. She also charged that something I’d tweeted to someone else regarding the essay had actually referred to her. (It hadn’t.)
Please pause to note that a Title IX charge can now be brought against a professor over a tweet. Also that my tweets were apparently being monitored.
Despite the investigators’ insistence on confidentiality, Kipnis has written her account of the process, because she says she is appalled by the assault on her speech and due process rights.
This is a fight that conservatives have been fighting for years and even decades, but — as with the independent counsel statute — perhaps it is only a fight that those on the other side can win. In that light, the awakening of liberal professors to the illiberal application of their ideas is encouraging. Only Nixon can go to China, after all.
And yet, I find I am pessimistic nonetheless — because upon reflection, it seems to me that the independent counsel analogy inapt. Title IX is not merely a case of procedural abuse. Rather, it is a symptom of a larger cultural problem.
Perhaps a better way to understand Lura Kipnis’s situation is that the Sexual Revolution has entered its Terror phase. Having effectively dismantled the patriarchy in all meaningful respects, the revolution now brands citizens who are insufficiently loyal to the regime as enemies of the Republic. Some citoyens will exploit the situation, accusing their neighbors of treason in order to settle scores. Regardless, no one will be safe, not even the movement’s Jacobins, for the revolution needs to continually replenish its supply of enemies in order to justify its continuation. The revolution devours its children.
In the end, will the revolution deliver liberté, égalité, and sororité? Or will the masses, after decades of sexual uncertainty and terror and collateral damage, welcome the reestablishment of a more traditional order, even if that order is nominally less free? The impact of the sexual revolution on Western civilization — it’s too soon to tell.Published in