Monday, August 20, 2018

"Colleagues, if you are the kind of person to whom people you have power over regularly communicate in this way, then you are the problem. Being on the receiving end of such ongoing obsequiousness is substantial evidence that you are a terrible person."

Justin Weinberg comments on the Avital Ronell controversy at NYU. Here's the beginning of his post:

“I only now [received] your beautiful and exquisite message… I thank you for your infinite understanding and sensitivities which are always beyond measure.”

Those are the words of Nimrod Reitman, in an email to his Ph.D. advisor, Avital Ronell, a professor of German and Comparative Literature at New York University. As many now know, Ronell was found by NYU to have sexually harassed Reitman.

I’ve avoided posting about the Ronell case largely because Daily Nous focuses on academic philosophy, and Ronell does not hold a position in academic philosophy, nor is her work especially significant to those who do.

I’ve also wanted to avoid contributing to the opportunistic  “Ah ha! Feminists are such hypocrites!” narrative that arose in the wake of revelations about the case and the horrible letter that certain academics wrote in Ronell’s defense (most feminists I know were outraged by that letter), and other “weaponizing” of the affair.

However, some discussions of the case, and now Ronell’s own defense, raise a matter that I was curious about: the culture of fawning sycophancy that appears to surround certain academics.

Such academic sycophancy is unprofessional, unintellectual, revolting, a danger sign, and ultimately the fault of the professor to whom it is directed and the colleagues who allow it.

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