NYU defended its response to Avital Ronell’s harassment of a graduate student in an open letter to the graduate student union on Thursday. The union had called for the professor’s firing at the start of the summer.
The university suspended Ronell for the 2018-2019 academic year after a nearly year-long Title IX investigation into her interactions with graduate student Nimrod Reitman. Reitman alleged that the Comparative Literature and German professor had kissed and touched him without his consent, and he produced emails and voicemails during the investigation in which Ronell called him “baby love angel” and said “I wish I could kidnap you.”
In May, the Student Government Assembly asked that Ronell not be allowed to return and over the summer the Graduate Student Organizing Committee released a petition that demanded NYU fire her. It also called on the university to increase resources for the Title IX Office and add additional features, including anonymous reporting of offenses and a restorative justice option for victims to pursue. GSOC did not think Ronell’s suspension was enough and called her return an attack on survivors that creates an unsafe environment for students.
In the statement, university spokesperson John Beckman maintained that NYU had responded adequately through its investigation, the one-year suspension and requiring Ronell be supervised upon returning.
“If we believed that she — or any other faculty member — could not conduct her classroom duties professionally, we would not permit him or her to be in a classroom,” Beckman said in the statement. “In this case, Professor Ronell’s interactions with students will be monitored to ensure that she has absorbed the lessons of her misconduct.”
GSOC’s petition also touched on the innate and potentially problematic power imbalance that exists between graduate students and their mentors and asked for NYU to be leaders in addressing the issue.
Beckman addressed this in his statement by referencing new guidelines written by the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Phil Harper, which clarifies that mentor and mentee relationships should operate under mutual respect and are strictly for the student to progress in their field of interest.
Email Victor Porcelli at [email protected].