Northwestern Student Sues Over Failure To Fire Professor Accused Of Sexual Assault

220px-Northwestern_University_Seal.svgLudlowThere is an interesting controversy at Northwestern concerning an allegation of sexual assault brought against philosophy Prof. Peter Ludlow. While the school investigated the allegation and disciplined Ludlow, it did not find sufficient evidence to terminate him. That decision is the basis of a Title IX lawsuit which prohibits sex discrimination by higher education institutions receiving federal funding. The case will raise the question of how far a court will go in countering the conclusions of a university investigation. In this case, the university responded but the student disagrees with its conclusions. The question is whether such a disagreement amounts to a form of discrimination.

The unnamed student says that she went with Ludlow to an art show in Chicago in February 2012 and that he sexually assaulted her. The student claims that Ludlow bought her alcohol and that she asked repeatedly to be taken back to Evanston and that Ludlow alleged refused. She says that she woke up the next morning in Ludlow’s bed after losing consciousness. It is not clear why she could not go to Evanston on her own after Ludlow allegedly refused to take her. They continued to two different art galleries and two or more bars. The student says that she was just trying to get to know a professor better on the trip and that he coerced or forced her to drink alcohol. She says that her blouse was undone the next morning but there is no indication that there was more alleged than fondling. Ludlow apparently told the committee that the student communicated with him after the “date” and that those messages show a lack of coercion or threats. His lawyer insisted that

“We . . . have text messages which show that (the woman) was very friendly with Mr. Ludlow on February 15, 2012-five days after the alleged assault — and that she, in fact, asked him to meet with her in person, and then came to a conference he was attending, asking him to talk to her. At that time, Mr. Ludlow told her, as he had in the past, that he did not want to be romantically involved with her.”

Joan Slavin, at Northwestern’s Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention, concluded in a letter to the victim that Ludlow

“initiated kissing, French kissing, rubbing your back, and sleeping with his arms on and around you on the night of February 10-11 2012,. I do not find that Respondent touched your breasts or buttocks. I find that you were incapacitated due to heavy consumption of alcohol purchased for you by Respondent, and were therefore unable to offer meaningful consent to this physical touching that night. I also find that Respondent told you he thought you were attractive, discussed his desire to have a romantic and sexual relationship with you, and shared other personal information of a sexual nature, all of which was unwelcome to you [and] Respondent’s conduct toward you violated the University’s Policy on Sexual Harassment.”

The university assembled a formal investigatory committee after the allegation was raised and six faculty members found that Ludlow made “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” toward the student. The panel unanimously voted to deny him a raise during the 2012-13 school year, rescinded his appointment to an endowed professorship, and prohibit any contact with the student. The stripping of an endowed chair is considered as heavy punishment in academia.

The punishment clearly appears to support the view of inappropriate advances as opposed to sexual assault. Notably, no criminal charges were brought against Ludlow. However, there is a report that a political science professor helped the student file a police report one year after the alleged assault.

The student has charged that the investigation and discipline was insufficient and shows “deliberate indifference and retaliation” to a complaint by a student. That is a bit hard to square with the response of a full investigation. One can certainly disagree with the failure to seek termination, but it would be hard to call the response a sign of indifference. The school has also noted that it extended assistance to the student from the Dean of Students’ office, Counseling and Psychological Services and Center for Awareness, Response and Education, and other offices.

(For full disclosure, Northwestern is my law school alma mater — I went to University of Chicago as an undergraduate). The student also claims that she will “continue to suffer humiliation, mental and emotional anguish, anxiety, and distress as a result of the hostile educational environment created by Defendant and its deliberate indifference.” That again seems difficult to square with the relatively tough discipline meted out by the Committee in the removal of the chair and other steps. The problem is that we do not know the precise findings of fact and what is known is a conflict of these two accounts. If there was a sexual assault, this should be both a disciplinary and criminal matter. If a committee believed that an attempted rape or a sexual assault had occurred, there would seem no option but termination.

Notably, a report states that the University enacted a prohibition on consensual faculty-student relationship in January, indicating that such relationship were not barred at the time of the incident. Most schools allow for consensual relationships if a student is not in a professor’s class. Faculty has also called for additional changes to allow an accuser to be informed of findings and sanctions as well as putting such findings into a professor’s official finding. Notably, Ludlow is currently a candidate for a job at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey but that school’s spokesman says that the case “was not brought to our attention by either the candidate or his employer.” (It is a strange omission since any search of his name will bring up a large number of sites discussing the case). It would be highly troubling to me for a candidate to interview for a position and not reveal such an allegation if it arose before or during such consideration.

The original complaint stated that the committee recommended that Ludlow be fired but the University did not act on its recommendation. However, a report says that her counsel is moving to amend the complaint to show that no recommendation of termination was formally issued by the Committee.

It is a case that could help define the responsibility of a university in such cases where the accused vehemently denies the allegations and the Committee finds sexual harassment but not sexual assault. The fact that such relationship are allowed between professors and students makes the matter all the more difficult from an evidentiary standpoint. The new change will bring clarity to that aspect of future controversies.

Northwestern is seeking the dismissal of the case.

30 thoughts on “Northwestern Student Sues Over Failure To Fire Professor Accused Of Sexual Assault”

  1. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your
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  2. I’ve walked in this woman’s shoes too. It was obvious he intended to try to sleep with the woman when he rented a hotel room and slept in the bed beside her. It is wrong for a professor, or any teacher that matter, to abuse their power this way. He should have been fired.

    I too have been the victim of a witch hunt on campus, when I was accused of sleeping with a professor who made it obvious to everyone but me that he wanted to sleep with me. There was no merit to the accusations of misconduct on my part. Yet I was the one made to suffer rejection and humiliation. I did not withdraw from the school, by the way.

    It was a witch hunt where I was pointed at, abused publicly, and condemned without the benefit of a trial. All because I smiled at a professor who seemed to take an genuine interest in me. (Later, there were so many sexual harassment complaints about him that he left the school under a cloud of disgrace, his employment prospects ruined. Good riddance to bad trash.) He was very slick.

    People questioned me, my motives, my lifestyle and even my appearance, when this creep leered at me when I was not looking. Repeatedly, people said of me “I could not be this naive” etc. (I toughed it out and graduated with my 3.8 intact.) But there were professors who were afraid to give me an A that I earned, because I was “tainted goods” in the small minds of the student body. Once, when another professor defended me, HE was in turn accused of sleeping with me. The whole thing was ridiculous.

    What makes it even more disturbing is that there _were_ professors raping students at this school. I almost became a victim of this professor myself, but I threatened him with a fistful of keys, telling him that I’d mark and scar his face one day when he unzipped his pants and told me to sit on his desk. And yes, to get my degree, I had to face him once again, as he was on my jury for my Master’s. despite my complaints about him to the Dean.

    Professors should not approach their students for sex, if that student is enrolled at the same University. It is an abuse of power. That much is clear, but what of harassment from the students themselves, when they stage a witch hunt against an innocent woman?

    The whole thing is ugly and it brings out the worst in people.

  3. This case has been much discussed on philosophy blogs, and there is a very important fact missing from the present discussion: both Ludlow and the student allege that the university came to its conclusion without an adequate investigation. (The student has sued Ludlow in a separate state court action; the student, of course, insists that all of her allegations are true, while Ludlow insists that none of them are.)

  4. jeffD im totally with you and im a woman who was raped at 12 and gang raped at 14. stalked and almost killed for my 20th birthday. and even i can see that some women have taken total advantage of that particular law to destroy a man who has turned her down, ignored her advances, or not given her what she wanted… obviously society learned nothing from the duke fiasco. and not its not all women but the scheming , pathetic ones who grow up thinking the world especially men owe them something for some reason…..

    its funny to me that when a woman says sexual; harassment the man is automatically guilty.. but when a man says it. there is doubt from here to neversworry….women want it both ways.. they want to be seen as strong, intelligent , independent equals to men yet at the same time they want to be seen as soft vulnerable, emotional wrecks. and they wonder why we women are seen as shrews with emotional and mental issues.. smfh…. i dont know if this man is guilty or not.. but i do know that its obvious he didnt FORCE THIS GIRL TO GO WITH HIM. she went of her own free will, she also could have said no to the alcohol and stuck to soda or juice. how do we know the professor wasnt just as drunk as she claims to be and didnt even realize he had fallen asleep in bed with his arms around this child? there are to many unanswered questions one of the biggest being if she felt she was sexually harassed why did she have contact with him after that night?

  5. I’m not sure whom to believe based upon what’s been presented…. As Annie pointed out its troubling with her post communication wanting to meet….. Could this person be a creep…. Of course…. Could the student have another agenda…. Probably…… There’s not enough to charge, much less terminate in my opinion…..

  6. Why is it when it comes to accusations of a sexual crime by women so many people want to throw out that pesky “innocent until proven guilty” thing?

  7. WW: Please add the word “failing” to the following sentence

    2nd Paragraph, 2nd line,

    I also know that colleges today are ” failing ” its students by allowing the perverts and predators to remain teaching as they are putting young women in harms way.

  8. WW Regarding: It appears that some commenter do not realize the state of “sexual harassment” in academia– it is a corrupt industry where lawyers hold cushy jobs for doing nothing….,”

    I have been to college but I am no lawyer, and I understand there are wonderful professors and there are predators. I also know that colleges today are its students by allowing the perverts and predators to remain teaching as they are putting young women in harms way. Yes it is corrupt as you say and by not being responsible and firing such people, the college should be liable for the harm done to students by professors. It is time Academia cleans up the system. Your reply just goes to show that the whole system is corrupt and that an innocent woman has no rights when she has been violated or harassed by an arrogant man who holds such a high position of power over her….One who cannot keep his pants zipped or his mind clean when dealing with the students. A man may be able to shrug off the violation as it is no violation for him as he is getting pleasure from the act, but for the woman it is a violation of her total being. It certainly is not another notch in her belt like that of the man. Just because he is a “Professor” and she is a lowly student does not give him the right to take advantage of her. His position, automatically puts his peers on his side and it is up to the woman to prove she has been harassed or violated and she is considered guilty until proven innocent.

    You have stated that it is pretty much up to the woman to prove she has been violated without a trial where the perpetrator can be questioned, I remind you that to be put through a trial, such a harrowing court scene, reliving the incident, would be a second violation of the victim and this time done by the court itself. This would be making her relive the horrible incident all over again. In short, the man is not on trial, it is the woman who would be on trial and considered guilty until proven innocent. Rather than endure such humiliation and pain again, yes the girls usually drop the cases and withdraw from school as a matter of protection from having to relieve the incident. This action does not lessens the man’s guilt by any means. It is a known fact that proving his guilt would take too much of a toll on the woman’s life. No wonder there is 100% withdrawal rate. Women are prey to men like that and any man who violates a woman does not only deserve losing his job, he needs to lose a lot more than that. ( I wonder how many they would take advantage of if they knew they would lose an appendage or two for such a deed.) It has the same effect on a woman. Academia has some great professors but they also have perverts and rapists and the arrogance is abundant. If you are wondering why I see the situation differently than you it is because I have walked in that girl’s shoes many years prior. Creeps like that professor know they will have nothing to prove and will have the support of the entire corrupt system. Therefore, they will most definitely take advantage of another young lady. The worst part is that all of the Faculty are as guilty as the perpetrator because they lend support to such actions by not demanding the person be fired.

    Your laws and schools give the man the right to take advantage due to his position in life as a professor and his peers feel sorry for him, take his side and willingly declare that he is not guilty as it is a “witch hunt” and the louse might lose his job. This is a case of one having more political power over the other, the student is just a pawn. Since the professor has more political power than she, no matter what the claim, the student,will always be the victim in this cat and mouse game. If everyone connected to the college thinks the way you described above, and feels sorry for the poor jerk because he might lose all his status, his job and all his hard work, because of just “bad judgment on his part (molesting or sexual harassment) and “a frivolous claim”, then I agree with you, the system is totally corrupt . .

    A female has no chance in Hell of proving she was violated. Just for the record, for the other jerks that believe the way you described, when a woman is raped or violated and has not been consensual it violates her whole being. The damage can be seen in her relationships with any man she marries in fact it affects her whole life. Many times it takes years to get over such an incident. Women are wired differently in case men do not realize it. Many times it takes much therapy to get through the damage. As for as the books you suggest, I really don’t need your books to know about sexual harassment or rape, and let me set you straight, it is not a “witch Hunt” for it is not the women who are the predators normally, the predators are already at school, waiting for the next group of young ladies to fall prey. I am really sorry for you or anyone who could utter the following words. ” My heart goes out to this guy, as his life has been utterly destroyed over a false accusation.”,

    Really! In reality, it was his decision to violate the girl, He had a choice so his life if destroyed is due to the actions he chose to make in taking advantage of a young girl who trusted him as her teacher. Unfortunately for him the girl had the nerve to also make a decision and made it public by bringing suit against him. The Professor can only blame himself as he was not forced to get her drunk and take advantage of her. – his willing actions. From my point of view, it is the girl that has had her life shattered and it will be a long struggle recovering.

  9. what a coincidence! this past couple of days, I was in a philosophical mood so I watched a few youtubes on the philosophy of mind. This time it was Chomsky interviewed by Professor Ludlow (unknown to me until now). I’m not sure how interested y’all are in philosophy but here is the link. It was not Ludlow’s best performance:

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