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Northwestern student sues prof over 'Unwanted Advances' book

Dawn Rhodes, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- A Northwestern University graduate student is suing a professor at the campus for defamation, the latest twist in a long-running controversy that already has involved discrimination and sexual harassment investigations, multiple lawsuits and the exit of a prominent philosophy professor.

The student identified only in court papers as "Jane Doe" alleges professor Laura Kipnis and HarperCollins Publishers invaded her privacy and defamed her by printing false and intimate details about those investigations and her life in Kipnis' new book, "Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus."

Kipnis is a professor in Northwestern's department of radio, television and film.

Jane Doe, a doctoral candidate in Northwestern's philosophy department, was one of two students who accused former Northwestern professor Peter Ludlow of sexual harassment. A Northwestern internal investigation concluded Ludlow indeed had engaged in harassment and moved to fire him. Ludlow resigned in November 2015 before the dismissal proceedings could be completed.

"Unwanted Advances" was published last month. Jane Doe's attorneys allege in the federal lawsuit Kipnis deliberately misrepresented the details of Doe's experiences in her book, published private text messages she obtained through Ludlow, detailed a relationship Doe allegedly had with a married professor at a different school and disclosed information from Northwestern's Title IX investigation records on Ludlow that should have remained confidential.

Doe's attorneys also allege that Kipnis and HarperCollins did little to protect Doe's identity, using an easily decoded pseudonym for her, listing her physical attributes and using Ludlow's real name.


One of Doe's attorneys, Jennifer Salvatore, said her client was "devastated" and "horrified" when she read Kipnis' book. The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Chicago, accuses Kipnis and HarperCollins of publicly disclosing private facts, invasion of privacy, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"This was not a situation in which Defendants made just one or two false statements that incidentally affected Plaintiff," the lawsuit states. "This was no minor insult or annoyance. Rather, (Kipnis) wrote and (HarperCollins) published an entire book that -- page after page -- exposes extremely private and painful parts of Plaintiff's life, makes false statements about her conduct, brands her a vengeful liar, and turns this promising young graduate student's life upside down for the entire world to see."

Kipnis and a representative for HarperCollins declined comment Wednesday. Northwestern University and Ludlow, neither a party to the lawsuit, also declined comment.

The controversy at the center of the lawsuit dates back several years.


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