About the Ronell/Reitman Case: A Roundtable

Roundtable on Friday, September 28, starting at 15:00 in room F0.21 of the Bushuis/Oost-Indisch Huis (Kloveniersburgwal 48)

June 10th, Brian Leiter published on his blog a leaked letter in support of Avital Ronell, professor in German and comparative literature at New York University, who was apparently under investigation for sexual harassment and assault of a PhD-student. The letter was signed by Judith Butler, Emily Apter, Jean-Luc Nancy,  Geoffrey Bennington, Slavoj Zizek, Cathy Caruth, Jonathan Culler, Hent de Vries, Joan W. Scott, Sam Weber, Shoshana Felman, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and others. Soon The New York Times reported that, after an eleven-month investigation by NYU, Ronell was found guilty of harassing her ex-student, now identified as Nimrod Reitman, and suspended for the academic year.

In a press release, Ronell stated that the “inability of Reitman to find a job … is what this case is about”; reportedly, Reitman has blamed his inability to obtain a tenure-track position on Ronell’s pro forma recommendation letters, if not outright sabotage.

In the field of queer studies, meanwhile, the case has thrown existing generational and political fissures into sharp relief. When Jack Halberstam and Lisa Duggan published reflections on the case, in which they sharply criticised the implications and consequences of sexual harassment proceedings, many accused them of minimising or bracketing the abuse of Reitman. Halberstam and Duggan have since left Twitter.

As these, and no doubt many other, interrelated issues (see below for a provisional listing) bear so strongly on our intellectual community, NICA convenes an open-format roundtable on the Ronell/Reitman case on Friday, September 28, starting at 15:00 in room F0.21 of the Bushuis/Oost-Indisch Huis (Kloveniersburgwal 48), University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam. Everyone is invited. If you’d like to contribute a brief (5 mins.) position statement, please get in touch with Murat Aydemir through m.aydemir@uva.nl.

Selected issues:

  • Sexual, emotional, professional abuse of PhD students
  • The master/apprentice structure of PhD work
  • Institutional and legal forms of complaint and redress
  • Recommendation letters, academic networks, and jobs
  • Decline and insistence of the academic ‘star’ system
  • Solidarity, collegiality, and closing ranks
  • Contraction and ‘adjunctification’ of Humanities jobs
  • Generational and political divides in gender and queer studies
  • Sexual and emotional discipline and surveillance
  • Didacticism, neoliberalism, and corporate culture
  • Queer styles and vocabularies in the academy
  • Independent scholarship and activism challenging the academy
  • Ethics of theory & deconstruction
  • Twitter scholarship, activism, politics

Selected readings: