Avital Ronell, a world-renowned female professor of German and Comparative Literature at New York University, was found responsible for sexually harassing a male former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman.
An 11-month investigation found Professor Ronell, described by a colleague as “one of the very few philosopher-stars of this world,” responsible for sexual harassment, both physical and verbal.
The university has suspended Professor Ronell for the coming academic year.
In the Title IX final report, excerpts of which were obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Reitman said that she had sexually harassed him for three years, and shared dozens of emails in which she referred to him as “my most adored one,” “Sweet cuddly Baby,” “cock-er spaniel,” and “my astounding and beautiful Nimrod.”
Mr. Reitman, who is now 34 and is a visiting fellow at Harvard, says that Professor Ronell kissed and touched him repeatedly, slept in his bed with him, required him to lie in her bed, held his hand, texted, emailed and called him constantly, and refused to work with him if he did not reciprocate. Mr. Reitman is gay and is now married to a man; Professor Ronell is a lesbian.
The problems began, according to Mr. Reitman, in the spring of 2012, before he officially started school. Professor Ronell invited him to stay with her in Paris for a few days. The day he arrived, she asked him to read poetry to her in her bedroom while she took an afternoon nap, he said.
“That was already a red flag to me,” said Mr. Reitman. “But I also thought, O.K., you’re here. Better not make a scene.”
Then, he said, she pulled him into her bed.
“She put my hands onto her breasts, and was pressing herself — her buttocks — onto my crotch,” he said. “She was kissing me, kissing my hands, kissing my torso.” That evening, a similar scene played out again, he said.
Professor Ronell, 66, denied any harassment.She wrote in a statement to The New York Times.
“Our communications — which Reitman now claims constituted sexual harassment — were between two adults, a gay man and a queer woman, who share an Israeli heritage, as well as a penchant for florid and campy communications arising from our common academic backgrounds and sensibilities,” “These communications were repeatedly invited, responded to and encouraged by him over a period of three years.”
Professor Ronell and some who are backing her have tried to discredit her accuser in familiar ways, asking why he took so long to report, and why he seemed so intimate with Professor Ronell if he was, in fact, miserable.
Two years after graduating from N.Y.U. with a Ph.D., Mr. Reitman filed a Title IX complaint against his former adviser, alleging sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking and retaliation. In May, the university found Professor Ronell responsible for sexual harassment and cleared her of the other allegations.