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“Telling your graduate student to climb into bed with you to own the neolibs”


This is the lawsuit that Nimrod Reitman filed against Avitall Ronell and NYU. It describes a remarkable pattern of egregious misconduct — Ronell essentially demanding full control over his personal life in addition to many unwanted sexual advances. (For example, after Hurricane Sandy she demanded to stay at his tiny apartment, although 1)her mother had an uptown apartment where the power never went out too, and 2)as an extremely well-compensated academic with subsidized housing she could, you know, stay in a hotel. According to Reitman, she also demanded to share his bed and continually groped him.) Even what is plainly documented in emails is serious misbehavior, and given that claims of Title IX overreach are inevitable it’s worth noting that NYU found her guilty and punished her only for what was in the emails although the rest of Reitman’s story checks out and his allegations of sexual assault have some support in the emails as well.

It’s unsurprising but still dismaying that more of Ronell’s allies have gone the full Zizek — for example, the “sanctioning individuals under Title IX is neoliberal” route. I think is is my favorite one so far, though:

Beyond my empathy with Avital, and my horror at the destructive power of these accusations couched in the disingenuous sentiments of #MeToo, I’m depressed that this seems like the end of any but all but the most technocratic pedagogy.

The New York Times article stirred the most virulent anti-intellectual, anti-artistic sentiment, which people are always eager for an opportunity to display. Those outside this world don’t seem to realize that Reitman – or any Ph.D student at NYU – is hardly an innocent.

Avital’s style of pedagogy was no secret, and he sought her out. No one prevented him from changing advisors. Like those in the art world who attacked Knight Landesman, Reitman is an empowered and privileged actor. His feigned helplessness after the fact is transparent to anyone who cares to consider the situation.

I’m not sure what’s more remarkable, the description of Ronell’s actions as “pedagogy” or the Lochnerite assertion that graduate students and star academics are similarly powerful figures. As Jacob says:

I strongly recommend this thread from Tim Burke about how the creation of superstars in the humanities has reified the power imbalances that the academics in questions were nominally committed to challenging. That it would end up here was inevitable.

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