A Professor’s Daughter is Murdered. A Judge Might have Prevented it, but…

… despite the fact that police had been called repeatedly to the murderer’s home because of his dangerous mental illness, the judge chose to deny the professor’s request for emergency intervention.  

A completely avoidable outcome, assuming a competent judge.

Cynthia Chang, Daniel Tao.. . and now we have a new name to enter into the professor-as-human-trafficker hall of fame.

Ashim Mitra, University of Missouri, joins this remarkable crew of slave-drivers, professors for whom students represent little more than indentured servants.

Because he pulled in lots of grant money, and because … well, he’s Indian and I guess it’s his way and who are we to judge his behavior by American standards … Mitra got away with enslaving his students for decades.

A long article about the dude gives you all sorts of insight into his sweet disposition. When a colleague called him on [his] behavior at a faculty meeting, “Mitra … called … the campus police to expel [the colleague] from [the] meeting.”

What do you have to do to lose your job at the University of Minnesota?

A UM professor keeps his job, but because he’s a moral degenerate he won’t be teaching or doing anything else there. Just collecting his salary.

As soon as he’s back from four months in prison (this was his financial fraud case, not his buying an arsenal of illegal guns case), he’ll rejoin his colleagues. I guess. I mean, will he even show up? No one wants him to. I guess UM would simply like to send him a big fat check every month.

Now if he takes a couple of those guns and shoots up the student center, then, maybe… Maybe he’ll get docked some salary…

Say it with me: Your tax dollars at work.

‘Professor Feiner insists this was not meant to be a partisan exercise. She says if students wanting to support the nomination wanted to enroll in the course and take the trip, they would have been welcome. “’

Nice try, babe.

‘I’ve spent my whole adult life in rarefied academic circles, where everyone has a good income and excellent working conditions. Yet I know many people in that world who are seething with resentment because they aren’t at Harvard or Yale, or who actually are at Harvard or Yale but are seething all the same because they haven’t received a Nobel Prize.’


Welcome to my world
Won’t you come on in?
Ivies and Nobels
Are there for me to win

Step into my heart
Leave your cares behind
Welcome to my world
Built with me in mind

Knock and all doors will open
Seek and I will find
Ask and I’ll be given
The key to this world of mine


Seething all the same
A hedgie lives next door
See how they rig the game
He makes ten million more

Krugman’s in the Times
Every week or two
I am far behind
In the Chronicle‘s The View

Ivy? Sure. Cornell.
But it’s rated last.
Life’s a living hell
My rage is unsurpassed



[T]he eliter-than-elite kids [at Ivy League schools] themselves help create a provisional inside-the-Ivy hierarchy that lets all the other privileged kids, the ones who are merely upper-upper middle class, feel the spur of resentment and ambition that keeps us running, keeps us competing, keeps us sharp and awful in all the ways that meritocracy requires.

The John Jay College of Criminal Mischief Allegations…

… jump to the New York Times, so UD now feels comfortable passing them along to you. (She saw them yesterday in the New York Post, but…) Unlike routine professor-mischief allegations, these are so lurid and extensive as to paint – in the words of the NYT – an entire “academic underworld” of sex and drugs, operating out of the offices of lots of professors.

A sample of office etiquette, John Jay College-style:

[One student said a professor there] poured her straight whiskey during a meeting in his office, locked the door and performed oral sex on her.

Without wanting to sound a prude, I will say that this seems pretty irregular to ol’ UD

Failed to…

inglatiate himself.

There’s always a silver lining.

And the silver lining in the long tragicomic thing the NYU sexual harassment mess is turning out to be is that it directs us again to the final two sections of Camille Paglia’s hilarious 1992 essay about people like Avital Ronnel, “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders.” Camille, it’s been too long.

I flashed onto Paglia’s classic when I read these sentences, written today in the Chronicle of Higher Ed by a woman who, very unhappily, worked as a grad student at NYU with Ronnel:

Structural problems are problems because real people hurt real people. You cannot have a cycle of abuse without actually existing abusers. That sounds simple, which is why so many academics hate it.

Her point is that deconstructive method has given academics sympathetic to Ronnel a way to sidestep the obvious abuse she doled out to the complainant – by theorizing and complexifying and performatizing human behavior. Derrida showed everyone the way when he denied his friend Paul de Man’s fascism by fogging it up so thoroughly that nothing meant anything.

This is the Paglia excerpt that came back to me:

Hey, fellas: there’s something out there that electrocutes people on beaches, collapses buildings like cardboard, and drowns ships and villages. It’s called nature. The next time the western horizon flames with crimson, remember that this is what Foucault never saw.

Richard Rorty, too, came to mind:

When one of today’s academic leftists says that some topic has been ‘inadequately theorized,’ you can be pretty certain that he or she is going to drag in either philosophy of language, or Lacanian psychoanalysis, or some neo-Marxist version of economic determinism. Theorists of the Left think that dissolving political agents into plays of differential subjectivity, or political initiatives into pursuits of Lacan’s impossible object of desire, helps to subvert the established order. Such subversion, they say, is accomplished by ‘problematizing familiar concepts.’

Recent attempts to subvert social institutions by problematizing concepts have produced a few very good books. They have also produced many thousands of books which represent scholastic philosophizing at its worst. The authors of these purportedly ‘subversive’ books honestly believe that they are serving human liberty. But it is almost impossible to clamber back down from their books to a level of abstraction on which one might discuss the merits of a law, a treaty, a candidate, or a political strategy. Even though what these authors ‘theorize’ is often something very concrete and near at hand – a current TV show, a media celebrity, a recent scandal – they offer the most abstract and barren explanations imaginable.


The clear and present realities the letter-writers in this case theorized away were, UD thinks, two:

1. Some human beings are very cruel.
2. Human collectives have a perennial tendency to degenerate into gangs that punish outsiders.

Strong-minded piece by Katha Pollitt on the Big Mess at NYU.

[Avital] Ronell’s work strikes me as a big bowl of word salad. But I understand that the general project of deconstruction is the analysis and dismantling of conscious and unconscious structures of power. How odd, then, that these professors could see domination operating everywhere except the one place they could actually do something about it: in their own relations with students.


A second complaint of sexual misconduct against opera star, University of Michigan professor, David Daniels.

The Avital Ronell Wars: Slytherin vs. Ravenclaw.

I thought things were quieting down (see this post), but Cornell University student journalists, taking note of the sexual harassment case that has “garnered widespread attention in academia and elsewhere,” have now attempted to ask three Cornell professors why they signed the now-notorious letter (“a terrible letter,” writes Masha Gessen in the New Yorker) defending the harasser.

Two of the professors responded like Donald Trump when asked by reporters about John McCain.

[Cathy] Caruth and [Cynthia] Chase declined to be interviewed by The Sun… Caruth said she understands “the general interest in this letter, but I feel it is too complex to be handled adequately through an interview for an article.”

The familiar too complex move – with its evasion, condescension, and self-aggrandizement – puts Caruth solidly in the Slytherin camp among the now-squabbling letter signers.

(Update: Here’s a whole analysis of the way the too complex bit has been used in this case.)

Slytherin because of what David Lehman memorably called the “slithering elusiveness” of the deconstructive analytical/argumentative method.

Rather than deal forthrightly with moral questions, you slither away by talking about complexity, or enigmatic gay coding, or the instability of signifiers. (The model here is Derrida’s 62-page dance around the obviousness of his friend Paul de Man’s wartime – lifetime, as it would turn out – degeneracy. “Borrowing Derrida’s logic, one could deconstruct Mein Kampf to reveal that its author was conflicted on the subject of the Jews,” as Lehman wrote.)

The Ravenclaws among the letter writers go the other way, seemingly forgetting everything they’ve learned and taught about a world of indeterminacy/performativity, and instead going right in for the linguistically transparent kill. “If any of the sexual contact alleged by the complainant had taken place,” writes Jonathan Culler to the Cornell reporter, “there would doubtless have been references to it in the emails,” and he doesn’t find any, so case closed. “If he effectively felt oppressed and harassed, there were ways of signalling this, which would have definitely not hurt his position,” announces Slavoj Zizek, taking up an astonishingly naive univocal position on the matter of language, not to mention cause and effect.

The Avital Ronnel Sex Scandal: A Little Postscript.

People seem to have tired of talking both about the Derrida Professor’s having been found guilty by NYU of sexual harassment, and the lawsuit the grad student she harassed has filed against her and the school. But Ronell’s animating intellectual commitment – deconstruction – is worth revisiting, and here are two comments on it, from very different political positions.

First: Martin Jay, reviewing, in 2011, a book of interviews with Ronell.

[Ronell] depends … heavily on mobilizing the tired rhetoric of combat that animated the “theory wars” of the 1980s. AR herself seems frozen in that moment, a bit like one of those Japanese soldiers on a remote Pacific island still fighting for the emperor long after he surrendered. There are, after all, just so many times you can act out Zéro de conduite before the audience gets tired of adolescent rebelliousness as a mode of critique. Intellectual mooning grows as tedious as the real thing. It is fair to say that the ranks of her regiment are in fact getting thinner and thinner as the scandal and provocation of deconstruction recede further into the past.

Second, Francis Fukuyama, in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Q. You have an unusual background for a political scientist. You majored in classics at Cornell, then did graduate work in comparative literature at Yale, where you studied with Paul de Man. Later you spent time in Paris sitting in on classes with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. Any memories from this journey through deconstruction?

A. I decided it was total bullshit. They were espousing a kind of Nietzschean relativism that said there is no truth, there is no argument that’s superior to any other argument. Yet most of them were committed to a basically Marxist agenda. That seemed completely contradictory. If you really are a moral relativist, there is no reason why you shouldn’t affirm National Socialism or the racial superiority of Europeans, because nothing is more true than anything else. I thought it was a bankrupt way of proceeding and decided to shift gears and go into political science.

The superannuated subversion both men evoke suggests a reading of Ronell’s recent troubles in which, perversely, she rather got what she wanted: A new lease on academic deviancy.


Which, Jay notes, Ronell believes Derrida invented.

“One cannot imagine how whited-out the academic corridor was when Derrida arrived on the American scene. There was really no room for deviancy, not even for a quaint aberration or psychoanalysis,” she asserts, blithely erasing Norman O. Brown, Herbert Marcuse, Noam Chomsky, C. Wright Mills, Hannah Arendt, Natalie Zemon Davis, Hayden White, Florence Howe, etc., from memory.

‘Uriagereka supports Maryland’s Terrapins, and occasionally watches their football, basketball, and soccer games. Now he wonders if he and his colleagues — engrossed in research and teaching — perhaps naïvely take a smoothly run athletics program for granted.’

That’s a contemptible statement. It’s like saying Uriagereka supports American democracy and occasionally votes. Now he wonders if he and his fellow Americans – engrossed in their daily lives – perhaps naively took a smooth running executive branch for granted.

No professor who teaches at a Big Ten university can avoid noticing the sickening corruption that runs their school. It’s precisely because it’s so disgusting that almost all professors eagerly look the other way (the exceptions, as you know, are econ professors, who can’t help running the numbers) — until the coaches are caught fucking little boys in the athletic department showers, or they run a player to death one hot summer afternoon. Oh then! We were so naive; after all, university athletic departments are notorious for being run so smoothly…

Mi Me Ma Mo Mu Too

A University of Michigan voice professor is accused of rape.

In the pages of the New Republic, Josephine Livingstone says what needs to be said about the sexual harassment scandal at NYU.

And she says it well. Excerpts:

[Avital] Ronell’s [background here] supporters have swarmed to defend her. But rather than expose a hypocrisy or invalidate the #MeToo movement, this has only underscored the point that #MeToo feminists have been making along — about the nature of power and the way it fosters abuse.

… [Avital’s defenders admit] they have had no access to the dossier of claims against Ronell. But they called [her accuser’s] allegations “malicious,” while emphasizing Ronell’s seniority and prestige — precisely what the allegations accuse her of exploiting. The signatories said they have “collectively years of experience to support our view of her capacity as teacher and a scholar, but also as someone who has served as Chair of both the Departments of German and Comparative Literature at New York University.” Later in the letter the group noted, “As you know, [Ronell] is the Jacques Derrida Chair of Philosophy at the European Graduate School and she was recently given the award of Chevalier of Arts and Letters by the French government.”

In the last few days, further defenses of Ronell have appeared online from well-known figures in cultural studies and literature like Chris Kraus, Lisa Duggan, and Jack Halberstam. Duggan … dressed up harassment in the guise of sophisticated theory. The language of Ronell’s emails must have baffled the investigators, she asserted, because they could not understand the sexualized language that passes between queers (Ronell and Reitman are both gay). “The nature of the email exchange resonates with many queer academics, whose practices of queer intimacy are often baffling to outsiders,” she wrote. This reasoning echoed the philosopher Colin McGinn’s denial that he sent sexual overtures to one of his graduate students, saying he referred to masturbation in an email only to teach her the difference between “logical implication and conversational implicature.”

Yes, I know it’s getting funny. That’s why, in an earlier post about this scandal, I used the term “tragicomic.” Another Ronell defender, Slavoj Zizek — a person in all ways indistinguishable from Chauncey Gardiner — believes he has disposed of the power-corrupts essence of the case in this way:

To explain the accuser’s participation in the game with Avital through her position of power is ridiculous. If he effectively felt oppressed and harassed, there were ways of signalling this, which would have definitely not hurt his position.

This is the vacuously oracular Chauncey Gardiner with Lady Augusta Bracknell thrown in – the comedy lying in the clueless conviction that anything asserted by a person of … magnitude? … becomes true.

Livingstone again:

Furthermore, other former students have accused Ronell of abusive behavior, with one anonymous student accusing her of a variety of unethical practices on Facebook, including breaking her students’ self-esteem, humiliating them in front of others, then using the newly malleable student to do menial tasks for her, like folding her laundry. Andrea Long Chu, who was at one time Ronell’s teaching assistant, wrote on Twitter that the accusations track “100%” with Ronell’s “behavior and personality.”

So how surprised can we be by the obvious parallel with the brutal coaches also in the news lately? Same hierarchy, same closed ranks, same self-pleasuring abuse of subordinates. As I said in an earlier post, whether it comes from the most reactionary or the most revolutionary arm of the university, abuse of power would seem to be the constant, the name of the game. On the field of corrupt behavior, the coach, the Continental, and the cheering squad meet.

“If even one-quarter of what [Ronell’s accuser] describes … is true, it suggests a more intense, more extreme, more abusive instance of a pervasive imbalance of power in academe,” concludes Corey Robin.

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