NYU Professor and Feminist Scholar Found Responsible for Inappropriate Physical Contact, Sexual Texting
August 13, 2018
An 11-month Title IX investigation headed by NYU’s Office of Equal Opportunity found Professor of German and Comparative Literature Avital Ronell responsible for “inappropriate physical contact” and sending sexual texts to former graduate student Nimrod Reitman. Ronell has been suspended for the upcoming academic year for the policy violations.
Ronell — a leading feminist scholar — was Reitman’s doctoral advisor. In the report, he alleges that over the course of three years, starting in the spring of 2012, the professor nonconsensually touched his body and kissed his cheeks and lips on many occasions. On one occasion before he officially began his doctorate program, Reitman alleged that in Ronell’s apartment in Paris, she “… touched his crotch over his clothes, with her buttocks, by pushing her body into his.” Among descriptions of similar encounters, he said Ronell made him lie in her bed, refused to work with him if he did not reciprocate and emailed and called him constantly.
Reitman also alleged that Ronell stalked him, sexually assaulted him and retaliated against Reitman by negatively impacting his professional career. NYU’s report did not find sufficient evidence to deem Professor Ronell guilty of those claims, according to the investigation report that follows the complaint Reitman filed in 2017, two years after graduating.
However, the investigation did find sufficient evidence for inappropriate verbal contact, such as “inappropriate” texts to Reitman over the three-year period that called him her “baby love angel” and said “I wish I could kidnap you,” through dozens of emails and some voicemails from Ronell.
The report lists 44 other similar statements sent by Ronell to Reitmen, including “now let’s cuddle like cubs,” and “time for your midday kiss. My image during meditation: we’re on the sofa, your head on my lap, stroking your forehead, playing softly with your hair, soothing you, headache gone. Yes?”
Ronell denies the allegations of inappropriate physical and verbal contact, claiming that her language was simply “flamboyant.” As reported by The New York Times, Ronell was not aware that her actions were making Reitman so uncomfortable until she read the investigators’ report.
Reitman, who has a husband, and Ronell, who identifies as queer, did not have a straightforward relationship. “I am your best friend, and I intend to be that person as long as you will accept it,” Reitman said in a text to Ronell.
Reitman told investigators that Ronell would require him to take her to the opera, out to dinner, to visit her mother and have his nails painted.
After hearing about the allegations in June, a group of scholars from around the world — including prominent feminist Judith Butler and fellow NYU Professor Slavoj Zizek, wrote a letter to President Andrew Hamilton and Provost Katherine Fleming defending Ronell’s character. The reputation of the academics who signed the letter foisted the allegations against Ronell into the limelight.
NYU Spokesperson John Beckman told The New York Times that the university was “sympathetic” to Reitman’s experience, and has responded promptly.
“Given the promptness, seriousness and thoroughness with which we responded to his charges, we do not believe that his filing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the university would be warranted or just,” Beckman said.
Email Sayer Devlin, Jemima McEvoy and Kristina Hayhurst at [email protected]