NYU Is Protecting Abusers

By rehiring Professor Avital Ronell and keeping Michael Steinhardt on the Board of Trustees, the university has sided with perpetrators of sexual misconduct.

WSN Editorial Board

After an investigation that lasted less than five months found billionaire and NYU trustee Michael Steinhardt made inappropriate comments to students, NYU’s Board of Trustees has decided against changing the name of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. This comes after the university’s decision to reinstate Professor Avital Ronell despite finding her guilty of sexually harassing an NYU graduate student. Instead of pursuing justice for those affected by their actions, the university has consistently decided to support the abusers, going so far as to provide them with protection in anticipation of their return to campus. This is obviously problematic and, as a community, we must question the motivations behind the university’s decision to protect these predatory individuals. The university’s administration has shown it does not care about community safety; in response, we must listen to the concerns of those who NYU refuses to consider.

After Steinhardt was accused of sexual harassment by seven women in May, the university launched an investigation into his interactions with members of the NYU community. In an email to the Steinhardt school community on Thursday, Board of Trustees Chair William Berkley said that not only did the investigation find “several instances of unacceptable remarks containing offensive language used by Mr. Steinhardt in front of or in talking to members of the NYU community,” but that Steinhardt also failed to meet the standards set by the university’s mandatory sexual misconduct training.

According to university bylaws, Steinhardt can be removed from his seat on NYU’s Board of Trustees “with or without cause at any time” by a vote of the Board. But despite the investigation’s findings, no changes have been made: Steinhardt still holds his seat on the Board.

After the allegations against Steinhardt broke, the college’s dean wrote in an email to the school’s students that “the kind of remarks and behavior recounted in the news story are out-of-step with our school’s values.” But if Steinhardt’s behavior is misaligned with the school’s values — not to mention actively harming members of NYU’s community, as the investigation concluded — why does he still sit on its Board of Trustees?

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NYU’s lax treatment of Steinhardt isn’t the only time the university has chosen to protect abusers over their survivors. After a Title IX investigation conducted by NYU found Professor Avital Ronell guilty of sexually harassing her graduate advisee, she was suspended for one year without pay. Ronell’s suspension has since ended and she has returned to campus — accompanied by a Public Safety Officer. Though many students, including the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, called on the university to fire her, NYU retaliated with a letter to student organizers in Ronell’s defense, saying that her “interactions with students will be monitored to ensure that she has absorbed the lessons of her misconduct.” NYU also noted that all university employees are required by New York State law to complete online sexual harassment training. They did not mention whether or not Ronell had completed her training before the semester, as training is not due until Oct. 9; they also did not note what would happen to Ronell if she failed her training course — as Steinhardt did.

Steinhardt’s continued presence on the Board speaks to a larger problem. What is the point in NYU requiring its faculty to partake in sexual misconduct training if nothing happens when they fail? Furthermore, what is the point in NYU conducting Title IX investigations if those found guilty are not removed from campus? It seems that these measures are not in place to protect members of the NYU community, but rather to simply satisfy legal requirements. Students deserve to feel safe on campus. The university’s continued protection of perpetrators of sexual misconduct shows that the administration disagrees.

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]

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