Feminist Philosopher Suspended for Sexual Harassment
New York University suspended Avital Ronell, a professor of German and comparative literature, for the coming year after finding that she sexually harassed a graduate student, Nimrod Reitman, The New York Times reported. Ronell’s behavior was “sufficiently pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of Reitman’s learning environment,” the university determined in its investigation under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination. Reitman reportedly said Ronell harassed him for three years, including via emails in which she referred to him as “my most adored one,” “Sweet cuddly Baby,” “cock-er spaniel” and “my astounding and beautiful Nimrod.” Reitman, now a visiting fellow at Harvard University, also said Ronell kissed and touched him, pulled him into her bed during a trip to Paris, called and texted him constantly, and refused to work with him if he did not comply. Like many graduate students who have alleged harassment, Reitman said he felt he had to put up with behavior that bothered him because of the power differential between him and his adviser.
Harassment is not gender-specific, but the case has captured significant attention because Ronell is female, unlike most other professors accused of harassment of late, and a noted feminist. The Times also reported that Reitman is gay and Ronell is a lesbian. A group of Ronell’s peers signed onto an open letter to NYU earlier this year, asking it to consider Ronell’s scholarly record in its investigation. Ronell denied harassing Reitman, telling the Times, “Our communications -- which Reitman now claims constituted sexual harassment -- were between two adults, a gay man and a queer woman, who share an Israeli heritage, as well as a penchant for florid and campy communications arising from our common academic backgrounds and sensibilities.” The communications were “repeatedly invited, responded to and encouraged by him over a period of three years,” she said. Reitman filed his complaint against Ronell two years after earning his Ph.D., initially alleging harassment, assault, stalking and retaliation. NYU found evidence of harassment but cleared Ronell of the other policy violations. Reitman’s attorney, Donald Kravet, said he’s drafted a lawsuit against NYU and Ronell and that he and Reitman are weighing their options.