I’m never going to be a fan of a story of a hearing that is titled Eyewitness to a Title IX Witch Trial — it’s loaded with language that is prejudicial and ignores the facts, from the title onward. “Witch trial,” really? It’s the story of a philosophy professor, Peter Ludlow, who was accused of taking advantage of a student. The story states the facts quite clearly, but then goes on to assume the professor was innocent. Here’s what we absolutely know, because both sides agree to this account.
Ludlow and the student, whom I’ll call Eunice Cho, spent the evening going to gallery openings and bars, then ended up sleeping together, clothed, on top of the comforter, in a bed at his apartment. They agree that they didn’t have sex, but Cho would charge that Ludlow had forced her to drink liquor she didn’t want and had then groped her, both at a bar and at his apartment, which led to her trying to kill herself a few days later. Cho filed a Title IX complaint; then hired a lawyer and sued both Ludlow and the university for monetary damages. Ludlow countersued for defamation.
I’m going to say right there that Ludlow was in the wrong. Getting drunk with a student? Bringing her back to your home? Sharing a bed, even if sex didn’t happen? Damned poor judgment on Ludlow’s part. I cannot imagine ever doing anything like that — a student, at an event on my invitation, who was getting drunk…that’s where you stop the situation cold, not hours later when you’re both passed out in bed. This is an action by a professor that warrants discipline.
Then more problems are exposed.
When Cho’s lawsuits went public, a graduate student I’ll call Nola Hartley came forward. Ludlow and Hartley had had what was, at the time, a consensual three-month relationship some two years earlier. Hartley now charged that Ludlow had raped her on one occasion when she was asleep in his bed after drinking too much, though she didn’t actually remember it happening. (They had sex on another occasion, she acknowledged, but that was consensual.) Hartley had also decided, in retrospect, that the entire relationship with Ludlow had never been consensual. She was 25 at the time, well over the age of consent.
Good grief. He had a sexual relationship with a grad student in his department? This faculty member spells trouble all around. This author is also trouble. The fact that the accuser was over the age of consent says nothing about whether the relationship was consensual — when a woman turns 21 it does not mean she has suddenly agreed to everything. You can be 25, 50, or 80 and still refuse consent to sex.
A surprisingly large chunk of this story is also focused on a character witness who was brought in to testify about how wonderful and charming Ludlow is, sentiments the author clearly shares.
Wilson had known Ludlow for 15 years, she said, first as his student and then in two departments as a colleague, and spoke movingly about him as a mentor and a person. Being around him had been a sort of “effervescent philosophical situation” for Wilson and her then-boyfriend, also a philosopher, when they were all in the same department. When she and her boyfriend decided to get married, they chose Ludlow as the officiant “because he was the most erudite, witty, wonderful person that I knew.”
Yes? So? A psychopath can be witty and charming, that doesn’t mean they are innocent of ever committing any wickedness. I can well believe that Ludlow had a perfectly appropriate, reasonable professional relationship with this witness, and even that the witness had never heard a word of complaint about Ludlow — I’ve been in that same position where I’d been stunned to learn people I thought well of were perfidious scumbags in other relationships. It happens. It also actually supports the complaint by Hartley that she hadn’t been in a consensual relationship: she’d been snowed by a charismatic charmer, as Ludlow apparently is.
The story takes a weird turn with the author’s response to the witnesses testimony.
It probably sounds bizarre to say, given the circumstances, but it felt as if there was an erotic current in the room. It reminded me of my own student days, when the excitement of learning made me feel alive in such profoundly creative, intellectual, erotically messy ways — which were indistinguishable from one another, and no one thought it should be otherwise.
WTF? This is a hearing, which she already characterized as a witch trial, and now she’s talking about an “erotic current”? Jesus. I guarantee you the lawyers didn’t feel that way on either side, nor did the defendant who was trying to protect his career, nor would any of his accusers. This was a hearing, a terrible tedious committee meeting with significant consequences. It sounds like someone was enamored with Ludlow.
By the way, this was serious business. The hearing stretched over a month, with lawyers and peers reviewing the evidence. Here’s how it’s characterized:
It was the campus equivalent of a purification ritual, and purifying communities is no small-scale operation these days: In addition to the five-person faculty panel, there were three outside lawyers, at least two in-house lawyers, another lawyer hired by the university to advise the faculty panel, a rotating cast of staff and administrators, and a court reporter taking everything down on a little machine. Ludlow had his lawyer (and on one occasion, two).
How would the author prefer this be handled? The accusations were serious, the impact on the defendant substantial, and there was a massive investment in addressing them formally and seriously. It was not the kind of thing where it would be appropriate to flippantly dismiss either side — the young woman was distressed enough to have attempted suicide, the professor was at risk of losing his tenured position and his career. Damn right it was going to be handled with due attention to all the details. It was actually overkill in giving due process to a faculty member who had essentially admitted to gross impropriety with at least a couple of students, and the conclusion was essentially foregone once he’d admitted to the behavior, even if he does believe that he has sexual privileges with students because he’s erudite and scholarly. That’s not a “purification ritual”, that’s granting the professor full opportunity to justify his actions.
He lost, too. The author even admits, in a roundabout way, that he’s guilty.
Yes, Ludlow was guilty — though not of what the university charged him with. His crime was thinking that women over the age of consent have sexual agency, which has lately become a heretical view on campus, despite once being a crucial feminist position. Of course the community had to expel him. That’s what you do with heretics.
Goddamn. This is not about the age of consent. It’s not about a 60 year old man having having consensual relationships with younger women. It’s about a power differential, and how someone in a position of greater power can abuse it. He was not a heretic, just a professor who took advantage of students. That’s an already difficult situation, and he made it worse by stupidly getting a student drunk and traumatizing them.
He got a fair and perhaps even too deferential hearing, and his poorly thought-out behavior led to his own resignation.