Ronell Takes Leave of Absence After Contentious Return Last Semester

German and Comparative Literature Professor Avital Ronell, who returned to NYU after being found guilty of sexually harassing her mentee via a Title IX investigation, is taking a leave of absence for the spring semester.

Professor Avital Ronell is returning to teaching in Fall 2020, after a leave of absence during the previous semester. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Professor Avital Ronell — who returned to teach last semester after a year-long suspension for sexually harassing a student — will be taking a leave of absence this spring, NYU Graduate School of Arts and Science Dean Phillip Brian Harper confirmed in an email to WSN.

Ronell was suspended in 2018 after a Title IX investigation found that she sexually harassed her graduate advisee, Nimrod Reitman. Harper said this investigation was not correlated to Ronell’s leave of absence.

“Professor Ronell is not teaching this semester simply because she is on leave for the term,” Harper told WSN. “This is a normal circumstance, and it has nothing to do with the case involving Professor Ronell and Nimrod Reitman.”

It is unclear whether or not she will be paid during her absence. 

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After her suspension, Ronell returned to NYU in the fall of 2019 to teach a graduate course called “Theories of Grievance, Stuckness” on literary themes of violence, sovereignty, trauma and forgiveness. Her return was met by protests and frequent demands by student groups for her termination.

Among these actions was a petition circulated by NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee, the graduate student workers’ union. The petition, which currently yields over 600 signatures, called upon NYU to fire her, a demand that was endorsed by NYU’s Student Government Assembly in a letter last May.

“The decision to allow Ronell to return to the classroom is fundamentally antithetical to the University’s student-centered mission and stated commitment to survivors of sexual violence and abuse,” the letter reads. “Her reinstatement also reaffirms the status quo that survivors are not to be believed.”

In addition to the petition, GSOC held a protest in front of Bobst Library in November, further asserting that NYU’s decision to suspend Ronell was insufficient and condemning the university for allowing a perpetrator of sexual harassment to return to campus.

NYU still has yet to fire Ronell, but ongoing disputes with the student body have brought administrative promises for annual Title IX reports and new guidelines for interactions with graduate students. Additionally, in her time back at NYU, Ronell was prohibited from teaching undergraduate students and she is not allowed to meet with students one-on-one.

Regardless, student groups contest NYU’s continued employment of Ronell and assert that NYU has not properly responded to GSOC’s demands for increased Title IX and Student Health Center funding, self-advocacy training and bystander intervention. 

GSOC declined WSN’s request for comment on this story.

Email Lisa Cochran at [email protected]

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