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Northwestern Prof Laura Kipnis Doesn’t Think Student-Teacher Romances Are Wrong

Kipnis caused a minor campus scandal when she argued against college rules that prohibit teachers from dating students earlier this year.

Photo: Ryan Pfluger

It should come as no surprise that the woman who wrote the book How to Become a Scandal (2010) found herself embroiled in one. Earlier this year, Northwestern University radio, television, and film professor Laura Kipnis, 58, published an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education arguing against college rules that prohibit student-teacher romances. In response, Northwestern students held a protest, and two filed a Title IX complaint, alleging that the essay created a chilling atmosphere.

Northwestern cleared you of wrongdoing in May. What was the reaction?

People seem supportive of the position I took and also stunned at the Title IX process being used in this way. It was ultimately an issue of free speech and academic freedom, and the response I’ve gotten shows that people are onboard with that idea.

Why do you think students and teachers should be allowed to date?

People over the age of consent should be able to make such decisions. The [college] codes seem to presuppose that professors are sexual predators that need to be held in place against their nefarious desires. It creates this melodramatic situation. But I don’t support professors dating students in their classes. And there’s no way I was supporting sexual harassment.

Did you expect pushback?

Of course I’m a provocateur and knew that it would ruffle some feathers, but I don’t think anybody expects a protest march. I never knew students read The Chronicle of Higher Education.

You decided to write about the investigation for the Chronicle, too. Why?

The process was so shrouded in secrecy that I thought it should be made public. I hope the articles open up the possibility for more conversation. There is a stifling atmosphere at universities in terms of discussing these issues. When Northwestern’s consensual relations policy [banning such romances] went into effect in January 2014, I heard no discussion of it at all—just an email announcing it. It would be hard to say the tide is turning, but there’s certainly been a lot of discussion now.

Conservatives have used the investigation as an example of political correctness gone awry. How do you feel about that?

It doesn’t give me any great joy to be a comfort to the right. And some of the responses have been annoying: “Oh, you feminists had it coming.” I actually wrote back “Drop dead” to someone yesterday. I’m usually more temperate than that.

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