The story is as follows.
Laura Kipnis pens a well-written article full of irony and wit in The Chronicle of Higher Education. She contends that sexual paranoia has engulfed campus life, producing humorless, infantalized students who require coddling at every turn. “Students are trauma cases waiting to happen.”
As if to prove her point, some humorless, infantalized students at Northwestern — in the name of fighting unjust systems and relations of power — invoke and extend the reach of bureaucrats to shut her up. They release a petition, stating, “We call for a swift, official condemnation of the sentiments expressed by Professor Kipnis in her inflammatory article and we demand that in the future, this sort of response comes automatically.”
Kipnis’ article is traumatizing. It is indicative of everything wrong with the world. Melodrama ensues.
There are protests. Mattresses are carried into the school’s administrative center as if the article itself is an incident of sexual assault. One of the march’s organizers calls Kipnis’ ideas “terrifying.” The Nation’s Michelle Goldberg notes, “The event was a deliberate echo of the performance art project of Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz, who is lugging a mattress everywhere she goes on campus for a year to draw attention to the university’s failure to expel her alleged rapist.” Goldberg continues, “Kipnis could hardly have invented a response that so neatly proved her argument.”
Kipnis says the protests are “symbolically incoherent.” There is something very different between rape and the publishing of an article, right? But in the extending of victimhood and vulnerability, and the blurring of all distinctions of severity, intent, and even content, the same symbols are used in varied cases because the protesters truly feel they are fighting the same problem. We might call it “The Problem.” And Kipnis is part of it.
All this hysteria is supposedly the product of “cultural Marxism” run amok. Yet there’s not a dialectic in sight. “If this is feminism,” Kipnis ponders, “it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama… [the] melodramatic imagination’s obsession with helpless victims and powerful predators is what’s shaping the conversation of the moment, to the detriment of those whose interests are supposedly being protected, namely students. The result? Students’ sense of vulnerability is skyrocketing.”
“Including, apparently, their vulnerability to articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education”, Goldberg adds.
The Humorless are undeterred. The status quo is insufferable, yes, and the burden great, but they march onward, ever onward. Title IX complaints are filed. The details of the complaints are not immediately provided to Kipnis.
I wrote back to the Title IX coordinator asking for clarification: When would I learn the specifics of these complaints, which, I pointed out, appeared to violate my academic freedom? And what about my rights — was I entitled to a lawyer? I received a polite response with a link to another website. No, I could not have an attorney present during the investigation, unless I’d been charged with sexual violence. I was, however, allowed to have a “support person” from the university community there, though that person couldn’t speak. I wouldn’t be informed about the substance of the complaints until I met with the investigators.
Somewhere in the Czech Republic a door is kicked down. The people in the room are thrown against a wall by the police. One perks up and asks, “What are the charges?”
“We don’t have to tell you.”
Kipnis relates, “I wrote to ask for the charges in writing. The coordinator wrote back thanking me for my thoughtful questions.”
At the Huffington Post, the Humorless chime in. It is an article by Lauren Leydon-Hardy, a Ph.D student at Northwestern. She is caught up, not just in the arduous task of fighting the relentless and obscene Chronicle of Higher Education, but in a sordid love affair with adverbs:
- “But her piece was wildly factually inaccurate, and in ways that were obviously harmfully misleading, while conveniently serving to further legitimize her agenda.”
- “It is staggering that [Northwestern’s president] has so recklessly and entirely undone the legitimacy of that confidence. This is an absolute betrayal.”
- “This is not only intellectually lazy and academically irresponsible, it’s professionally reprehensible.”
- “But Kipnis’ op-ed was alarmingly inaccurate. And immediately after its publication, several individuals reached out to her directly to correct the myriad misrepresentations of fact that she harmfully published as gospel.”
- “How can those students endeavor to flourish on a campus where their own president has publicly taken sides against them?”
- “One wonders what else the university could possibly do to create a more hostile environment.”
One wonders, indeed. One wonders if Leydan-Hardy’s major was English. One wonders what frightening adjectives one can use next. One wonders if this article, and this entire debacle, is a well-orchestrated work of satire, or a glimpse of a terrible future. One wonders what’s next.