Female professor suspended after sexually harassing male student

Harriet Alexander
Avital Ronell giving a lecture in 2017. She has been suspended by NYU after the university upheld accusations of sexual harassment

A celebrated female professor at New York University has been found responsible for sexually harassing a male former graduate, prompting a host of leading feminists to spring to her defense. 

Avital Ronell, a world-renowned professor of German and comparative literature, described by a colleague as “one of the very few philosopher-stars of this world,” was suspended by NYU in the spring, at the end of an 11-month investigation

Her former student, Nimrod Reitman, now 34, accused the 66-year-old of physical and verbal harassment, detailing how she kissed and touched him repeatedly, slept in his bed with him, demanded he lie in her bed, held his hand, texted, emailed and called him constantly, and refused to work with him if he did not reciprocate.  

In emails, she referred to him as “my most adored one,” “Sweet cuddly Baby,” “cock-er spaniel,” and “my astounding and beautiful Nimrod.” 

Mr Reitman is gay and is now married to a man; Ms Ronell is a lesbian. 

Avita Ronell is a highly regarded academic Credit: ICA Films

She denied accusations of harassment, telling 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.” 

The university, however, upheld Mr Reitman’s complaints of sexual harassment, although she was cleared of sexual assault, stalking and retaliation. 

The university suspended her for the next academic year, leading a group of scholars from around the world, including influential feminists such as Judith Butler, to send a letter to NYU in defence of Ms Ronell.  

They described Mr Reitman as “the individual who has waged this malicious campaign against her,” in a letter that has been compared to the support shown to prominent men accused of harassment and assault as part of the #MeToo movement

“We testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation,” they wrote.