Feminist philosophy professor suspended over sexual harassment allegations

Avital Ronell banned from teaching for a year following 11-month investigation

Tom Embury-Dennis
Wednesday 15 August 2018 14:37 BST
Professor Avital Ronell has been suspended over allegations of sexual harassment
Professor Avital Ronell has been suspended over allegations of sexual harassment

A revered philosophy professor who teaches feminism has been suspended by New York University (NYU) over allegations she sexually harassed one of her male students.

Avital Ronell, lauded as “one of the most original, bold and surprising” thinkers in modern academia, has been banned from teaching for a year following an 11-month investigation.

Her former student, 34-year-old Nimrod Reitman, accused Ms Ronell, 66, of physical and verbal harassment during his time at the university.

Mr Reitman, who is now a visiting fellow at Harvard, claimed Ms Ronell repeatedly kissed and touched him, slept in his bed with him, demanded he sleep in hers, messaged and called him constantly, and refused to work with him if he failed to reciprocate.

According to The New York Times, who saw excerpts of an NYU report into the case, Ms Ronell sent emails to her student in which she called him “my most adored one”, “sweet cuddly Baby”, and “cock-er spaniel”.

Ms Ronell, who is a lesbian, told the newspaper her behaviour towards Mr Reitman, now a married gay man, did not constitute harassment.

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“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.

“These communications were repeatedly invited, responded to and encouraged by him over a period of three years.”

Despite being cleared of sexual assault, stalking and retaliation, the university upheld the complaint against Ms Ronell of sexual harassment.

The decision by NYU has sparked a complaint from a group of international academics, who published an open letter accusing Mr Reitman of waging a “malicious campaign” against the professor.

“We testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation,” they wrote.

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