Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Avital Ronell story

Avital Ronell, professor of German and comp lit at New York University, has been found responsible for sexually harassing a student and has been suspended for the 2018–2019 academic year. Reading the newly available details of this story makes clear (at least to me) that Ronell’s behavior toward her student Nimrod Reitman was an abuse of power — utterly, wildly inappropriate. Says one of Ronell’s defenders, “Avital definitely is a type of her own.” Yep, that’s true.

Read more from The Advocate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The New York Times.

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August 18: Reitman is suing Ronell and NYU. There’s now a press release on behalf on Ronell. And there’s more reportage from the Chronicle (1, 2), Salon, and the Times.

A thought after reading Reitman’s complaint: Ronell’s conduct warrants more than a suspension. NYU should have fired Ronell for conduct unbecoming. Unbelievably, appallingly unbecoming.

A thought after reading the press release: it’s surprising to see Ronell identified as an “educator.” See Paul Fussell’s Class (1983):

The next time you meet a distinguished university professor, especially one who fancies himself well known nationally for his ideas and writings, tell him it’s an honor to meet such a famous educator, and watch: first he will look down for a while, then up, but not at you, then away. And very soon he will detach himself from your company. He will be smiling all the time, but inside he will be in torment.
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August 31: Andrea Long Chu, a graduate student at NYU, writes about working with Avital Ronell. An excerpt:
A culture of critics in name only, where genuine criticism is undertaken at the risk of ostracism, marginalization, retribution — this is where abuses like Avital’s grow like moss, or mold. Graduate students know this intuitively; it is written on their bones.
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September 9: Bernd Hüppauf, former chair of the NYU German department, has written an account of department life under Avital Ronell. It’s now available in English translation at Salon. Hüppauf returned from a semester abroad to find that Ronell had displaced him as department chair:
She pursued one goal: The work of Avital Ronell and Jacques Derrida must be at the center of all teaching and research. Instead of an academic program, we were left with boundless narcissism. Once she’d become the head of the German department, she had her secretary announce in a departmental meeting that in the German department no student’s written work would any longer be acceptable unless it cited Derrida and Ronell.
There are, of course, elements of the Avital Ronell story — cult of personality, abuse of power, anointed ones and exiles — everywhere in academia. But I think it’s rare that those elements come together as horribly as they have in the NYU German department.

One especially useful minor aspect of Hüppauf’s account: its response to characterizations of Ronell as a feminist and leftist. No, and no.

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comments: 3

The Crow said...

Wow.

The Crow said...

8/18: I didn't think I could be any more stunned than when I last commented, but I was wrong.

This borders on the surreal, I think; all of it.

Michael Leddy said...

It really does. While I’m no professional, I think it’s pretty clear that Ronell needs some sort of help with understanding personal boundaries. Then again, I’m not sure that such people can change.