CHICAGO (CN) – A Northwestern grad student claims a professor’s new book about campus Title IX and anti-sexual abuse policies defames her by suggesting she manufactured a rape allegation against a faculty member.
Last month, HarperCollins published a book by Northwestern University media studies professor Laura Kipnis entitled “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus.”
The book has received coverage in the New York Times, National Public Radio, The New Yorker and other major publications.
Kipnis, a feminist cultural critic, wrote the book after being hit with complaints under Title IX, accused by two graduate students of creating a hostile environment at the school because she wrote an essay criticizing the restriction on professor-student relationships as infantilizing to students.
She maintains that such policies increase the power of administrators over student lives, and are paternalistic rather than feminist.
In the ensuing investigation, Kipnis “uncovered an astonishing netherworld of accused professors and students, campus witch hunts, rigged investigations, and Title IX officers run amuck. Drawing on interviews and internal documents, Unwanted Advances demonstrates the chilling effect of this new sexual McCarthyism on intellectual freedom,” HarperCollins claims in a blurb about the book on its website.
An anonymous female graduate student at Northwestern – one that filed a Title IX complaint against Kipnis – filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday in Chicago federal court, claiming the professor’s book defames her by presenting her as “lying, manipulative, and litigious.”
“Unwanted Advances” allegedly includes an entire chapter that is a thinly veiled account of Jane Doe’s relationship with Northwestern philosophy professor Peter Ludlow.
Doe says Kipnis’s book suggests that she had a consensual dating relationship with Ludlow and later filed a fraudulent Title IX complaint against him as a means of revenge.
Doe claims nothing could be further from the truth.
“Defendants recklessly pursued fame and profit without regard for the harm their actions would cause to plaintiff, a young and promising graduate student who – rather than being on a mission to end Ludlow’s career (as Kipnis suggests) – in fact only very reluctantly came forward to disclose his conduct after she learned of other allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with students,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in original.)
Doe claims she only told the university that Ludlow raped her after someone else came forward, a Northwestern freshman named Yoona Ha, and accused Ludlow of rape. She says she did not come forward earlier out of fear making a complaint would hurt her academic career.
The university’s investigation found that Ludlow made inappropriate sexual advances towards Ha, but that he did not commit sexual assault. It did not fire him and a court found the school did not need to protect students’ safety.
However Ludlow resigned his position in 2015 after he was subjected to what Kipnis called a “Title IX witch trial” in an article she wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Chronicle Review.
In her lawsuit, Doe claims Kipnis “gratuitously discloses private and embarrassing details about the personal life of plaintiff,” including private text messages that she never wanted made public and are allegedly presented out of context.
Further, HarperCollins never contacted Doe to fact-check the claims made in the book, according to the complaint, despite knowing the Kipnis had a motive to retaliate against Doe for her filing a Title IX complaint against the professor.
“Kipnis and Ludlow became friends in the course of plaintiff’s Title IX charges against both of them, and Kipnis was motivated to help Ludlow get back at plaintiff and provide an alternative theory about his own conduct,” the complaint states.
Ludlow is not a defendant in Doe’s lawsuit. He has previously denied all allegations of sexual assault in statements published by local news outlets.
Doe seeks punitive damages for her allegations of public disclosure of private information, invasion of privacy, defamation, and emotional distress.
She is represented by Jennifer B. Salvatore and Julie B. Porter with Salvatore, Prescott & Porter in Northville, Mich., and Evanston, Ill., respectively.
HarperCollins and Kipnis both declined to comment on the lawsuit.