Recently in the New York Times, there was an investigation into the New York University Professor Avital Ronell, a world-renowned female professor who was found responsible after an 11 month Title IX investigation of sexually harassing her male graduate student. Amazing, she was not found responsible for sexual assault because there were “only two witnesses” and they had conflicting accounts.
Almost without exception, in every single Title IX investigation our firm has been involved in where males are accused of sexual assault, there are also “only two witnesses” who not surprisingly have “conflicting accounts” but that does not stop Title IX offices from finding males responsible for sexual assault time after time, expelling them from school and ruining their reputations.
She wrote emails in which she referred to her student as “my most adored one”, “sweet cuddly baby”, and “cock-er spaniel.” She had him meet her in Paris, saying it was for his studies, but then asked him to read her poetry in her bedroom while she took an afternoon nap. She insisted on staying with him in his New York apartment when the power went out after Hurricane Sandy and sleeping in his bed where she groped and kissed him.
For her defense, she claimed that she had no idea her advances made him uncomfortable, that they were mutual and invited- despite the obvious power differential, that he took too long to report, and that he is a bad student and complaining to get attention because he is not smart enough.
Replace Professor Ronell in this story with Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby and imagine the outrage.
Instead of outrage, though, people have jumped to her defense. Academics have written in to say that this behavior is not consistent with how she has treated other students, that she is a good person or a good accomplished professor, that the investigator is ruining her reputation, and perhaps most ironically of all, that Title IX is supposed to protect women – not harass them.
In actuality, Title IX is written to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex, regardless of whether someone is male or female. But what it has done and what it has turned into is a tool to persecute males. This case presents all of the double standards that males face in regards to Title IX today. Not only are males treated differently when they report as victims of sexual assault but also males are treated differently when they are alleged to be perpetrators.
What #MeToo has turned into is “the woman is always right.” And while it may not be surprising to see the hypocrisy amongst some feminist when one of the leaders of their community is held to account under the same standards and for the same conduct as a male counterpart, it is illustrative of what is going on underneath the surface.
Because the truth is these investigations, even if the underlying accusations are false, do ruin reputations. They do hurt people. And in most cases, it is young men being hurt and not being believed or having a fair shot at justice or having their side of the story heard.
We agree with Ronnell’s defenders on one point: Title IX hearings are not fair. And everyone should be outraged that she didn’t get a fair hearing. But everyone should be equally outraged that thousands of young men with far less power and influence than a famous NYU professor don’t get a fair hearing every year either with consequences far more serious than just a one year leave of absence. In many cases, these young men are permanently expelled from school and unable to attend any other University or college.
Because these hearings are set up for men to fail, it is so important at even the first hint of an accusation for a person to get in touch with an experienced attorney who understands how Title IX works. At Jurdem, LLC, we have had successful outcomes in Title IX investigations before but it wasn’t because the system was fair or because it works but it was because we were prepared. One challenge is that college students don’t always like to tell their parents that they’ve run into a problem at school but don’t let that fear stop you – get the experienced help you need right away