The following piece was written in advance of the Carletonian’s publication of the article “College Finds Prof. Levi guilty of sexually inappropriate conduct.”
Does Professor Levi’s absence signal the delivery of justice? My intention in this piece is not to point fingers, but rather, to make possble an exercise of reflection—to add appropriate nuance to a profoundly complex situation. This is a call to pause—a moment for self-reflection and possible correction.
Activism is extremely valuable. It is how we change the world and make it a better place. But true activism — effective activism —is bolstered by critical examination, reflection, and alteration.
The Levi controversy presents an unsettling mess that I have consistently struggled with—and will continue to struggle with. But the point is that it is a mess. This is not binary, and this is not cut and dry.
I would argue that our campus has not embraced this case for the mess that it is. Instead, we have developed a climate of unadulterated indignation towards Professor Levi—and alongside this resentment—we brandish a curious level of certainty and confidence in our feelings toward the investigation and the parties involved.
The administration has not been transparent about the accusations or the investigation. Because of this, the student body does not know much about what happened. Eight students testified in a case against Professor Levi for sexually inappropriate behavior. His planned sabbatical was extended by two terms. The administration completed a Title IX investigation, and Professor Levi returned to campus in 2018 teaching several classes.
However, our student body’s collective indignation towards Professor Levi has undermined any reasonable person’s belief in the integrity of the investigative process. And that puts students and others in real harm’s way, since it means the only thing one can do if one is wronged is to be on the right side of whichever group is shaping public opinion.
To review: an investigation by our administration was completed, and Professor Levi returned just last year. After the Title IX investigation, we were presented with two options: 1) accept the integrity of the administration’s investigative process and welcome back Professor Levi as a member of our community, or 2) create a campaign/environment to end his career. We chose the second option.
So let us take a moment to consider the punishment that Professor Levi has received since. This is a man who has lost his work—his means of life. He did not return this fall and is not currently teaching. He has had his entire personal, 26 year reputation on our campus utterly destroyed.
There seems to be a lack of imagination on the part of the student body, as to the sort of impact such a punishment can have on an individuals’ life. It is not uncommon for us students to see Professor Levi, and think that a prestigious professor like himself is likely left unscathed in situations like this. But imagination is necessary here—putting oneself in the shoes of the other. And when you do, it certainly is not clear that Professor Levi escaped this controversy unharmed, or even in a salvageable state. We have proven that the students wield an incredible amount of power – literally career-ending power.
Since this punishment was not a formal result of Carleton’s investigation, it seems to have been dealt by the public—a public without much information regarding the investigation. The mismatch between the student body’s knowledge of the case and their certainty about how they should feel is astounding. And their comfort level with Professor Levi’s post-investigation punishment outlined above is equally shocking.
We can consider this a public execution where the defendant was not able to defend or represent himself, and the details of the case were not provided to those making the decision as to what the punishment should be.
In this ‘public court of Carleton,’ we seem to have successfully prosecuted Professor Levi for an unnamed crime—and most importantly—we have sentenced him to a punishment that we can not possibly justify with the information we have.
It is certainly vital to stress that the last thing we want to do is invalidate the experiences of victims. And the effort to spread available details of the case to incoming students is genuinely well-intentioned and altruistic.
If you are someone who directly took part in the Title IX investigation or are somehow privy to information that the rest of us are not, then that is another story. The vast majority of us are left with few details of the investigation.
To acknowledge the fact that an investigation was conducted and completed, yet still personally feel uncomfortable around Professor Levi is one thing. But was has happened here is something else. We have to admit that this is not so black and white. We have to admit that this is a mess—a mess that deserves genuine, honest struggle.
However—together—we created a caustic environment where few were allowed to digest the case themselves—to endure this necessary struggle on their own terms. I have spoken with several students who wanted to take courses with Professor Levi but felt that the social repercussions would not make it worth it. A hegemony of thought reigns, and some students have thus conformed to collective opinion. This could signal a deep problem with our campus climate.
I think we should all feel uneasy about what has occurred here. This outcome should not sit so cozily in our collective conscience. The administration decided one thing. We decided something else.
And now we must face what we have done. As any thoughtful activist would—we must confront our collective action. We must reflect, transform, and correct. We must struggle and deliberate as to whether or not we, Carleton’s student body, have truly served justice.