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The Carletonian

Jay Levi name change shows college protects itself before students

Shortly before course registration opened for fall term 2019, Anthropology professor Jay Levi’s name was changed from “Jay Levi” to “Jerome M. Levi” on the Carleton Student Hub.

Thus, when students went online to register, the classes slated to be taught by Levi were listed under the instructor name “Jerome” for the first time.

A modification made to a professor’s name may seem like an innocuous act, but in Levi’s case the implications are far from anodyne.

Levi was accused of sexual misconduct by eight students in April 2017. The OCS program in Guatemala that he was scheduled to run the following winter was subsequently cancelled. In light of the cancellation, Levi’s previously scheduled fall sabbatical was extended by two terms, rendering him absent from campus for the entirety of the 2017-2018 school year. When he returned in fall 2018, his office was relocated from Leighton to the Weitz, placing him at the periphery of Carleton’s campus.

We cannot know for certain what motivated the administration to change Levi’s name. Some administrators and faculty members, including Levi, pointed to the fact that he uses Jerome in his formal publications, and that changing his name was merely an effort to streamline his digital presence.

The Registrar’s office reported having been unaware of the change. No professor, staff member or administrator contacted by the Carletonian claimed responsibility for changing Levi’s name.

I read the name change as an attempt to rebrand Levi, to cultivate a new, untarnished reputation for him, and to erase students’ associations between him and Title IX.

To be sure, Levi is in need of a rebranding campaign. Of the 25 spots that were available to students in Levi’s course “Anthropology of Humor” this spring, four were filled; of the 25 spots that were available to students in SOAN 400, zero were filled. The irony is that while the administration has sought to validate Levi’s position at Carleton since his return to campus, the decision to alter his name appears more like an admission of guilt than a pledge of support.

Moreover, if improving Levi’s image was the motive for this change, it has only exacerbated an already distrustful student body. Students are now angrier than ever, and of the 30 spots available in Introduction to Anthropology this coming fall, zero students registered.

As students, we possess negligible power when it comes to mediating tenured professors’ trajectories. One of the few mechanisms by which students can exercise agency in this regard is through class registration; if a student doesn’t feel comfortable with a certain professor, they can choose not to register for that professor’s class. This modicum of agency, however, is jeopardized when changes are made to professors’ names and students are consequently misled about the identity of their future instructor.

We can debate the challenges tenure poses to properly handling allegations of sexual misconduct by professors. This is a contentious issue rife with legal jargon and made even more complex by an evasive and nontransparent administration.

But the implications of the issue at present—the decision to change Levi’s name on various webpages and student portals— are not debatable. Regardless of the administration’s intentions, the name change comes across as deceptive, reflecting Carleton’s tendency to deflect attention away from legally onerous issues at the expense of addressing students’ concerns.

The decision to change Levi’s name underscores the way in which this administration has prioritized the need to avoid bad press over the need to ensure students are kept out of harm’s way.

One of the most troubling developments in this saga is that Levi is scheduled to teach an A&I in the fall. A&Is are mandatory, exclusively for first-years, and are randomly assigned to students based on a list of their ranked preferences. This means that Levi will be teaching firstyear students in the fall no matter how few students want to be enrolled in his course, or even know about the allegations against him.

In this way, the administration appears to have once again prioritized the needs of a professor accused of sexual misconduct over those of Carleton’s most vulnerable students.

My hope is that the Carleton administration will recognize how the name change has been perceived on campus. Perhaps this will promote more transparency and clarity in the future, and perhaps this will enable all students to feel safer and more respected by their educators.

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