We want truth, Sara

There is a nasty, Kafkaesque, McCarthyite, and cruel tendency at work within academia in general and Goldsmiths in particular. It is dangerous in its stupidity. It is sociopathic in its willingness to turn language on its head. It perverts critical theory to make bullying intellectually justified. It fails to take account of the material, the embodied, or the real. It’s utter bollocks, and people who should know better are taking it seriously and giving it weight, no matter who suffers along the way. It is profoundly regressive, misogynist, racist, and inhuman. It is alienated and alienating. It is credulous and sycophantic towards the phallic power of the academy, even as it pretends to undermine such power; rather it wields it with the rapacious joy it pretends to oppose. It wears radical clothes, appropriates suffering, and claims solidarity even as it brings down its jackboot onto your face.

 We are a group of former and current students at Goldsmiths who have been paying attention for a number of years. We openly oppose this tendency, in the form of Professor Sara Ahmed and her acolytes, the self­-proclaimed ‘killjoys’. They have been actively stalking Professor John Hutnyk. We are writing to her, and everyone who has joined in with this online and institutional persecution, hosted it, allowed it, failed to challenge it, retweeted it, or in other ways lent their agency to hounding and vilification.

 It is unlikely that we will succeed in convincing Sara or her adherents with our statement. Her conceptual framing neatly (but idiotically) pre­empts criticism (“of course you think I’m wrong: I’m a killjoy and you are a perpetrator”). Her aphorisms have a clumsy poetry, but they are often empty. Combined with celebrity and a devout following, this allows every accusation and allegation made to be considered the final truth. Quite a power to wield. In any case, given the relentless and unwarranted vilification of John we find it necessary to resist.

John is not a predator, an abuser, a sexual harasser or a guru. He is a thinker, writer, and activist who has contributed to the struggles against oppression. He deserves your support and solidarity.

The blog wewanttruthgoldsmiths.wordpress.com pretends to be an archive of evidence. It contains no solid accusation, no testimony, no complaint ­- just voluble repetition, under the hood of anonymity, to reignite a simple story that overwhelms a complicated and contested set of issues in the welfare of students at Goldsmiths and the Centre for Cultural Studies in particular. Goldsmiths as an institution acted badly and failed students and staff on all ‘sides’ of this clusterfuck. We share the call for transparency. Confidentiality agreements and settlements with the university were used to attempt a compromise when an impasse was reached. Some signed such agreements, some did not. We attempt to respect the spirit of them, and assume good faith from them, even as they are misused by Sara and her lynch mob to have every argument every which way. They are a clumsy tool, and they are currently serving no­one. We call on Goldsmiths to release everyone who signed them from the requirements of confidentiality, given that they are now failing to protect complainants, accused, and any seeker of ‘truth’ or anyone who struggles against oppression, in all its complex plurality.

Someone writing something inside a library book, and then pretending to find it does not make what they have written true. John was not found by Goldsmiths College to be guilty of sexual harassment. More importantly, John did not sexually harass anyone, but the college laid quite different charges.

So, truth seekers, there is your answer: the reason Goldsmiths College didn’t publicly issue a statement saying that John was guilty of sexual harassment was because after exhaustive investigation John was not charged with sexual harassment because John didn’t sexually harass anyone. That this absence of harassment is routinely held up by Sara as evidence of harassment should alarm anyone who cares about thought, language, truth, or people.

 Non­disclosure agreements and the protection of anonymity of complainants is a reasonably mundane feature of institutional complaint. It is disingenuous to use the lack of publicly available information to spread outright lies. Likewise, it is unfair to call John a coward when he has refrained from speaking publicly out of respect for the process that exists to protect complainants. Had he spoken, you would have accused him of betrayal. When he is silent, you accuse him of cowardice. You can’t make his respectful silence the pretext for a lynching.

The damning piece of evidence used by Goldsmiths against John after years of investigation was that he attended a postgrad student party, in the early evening, where drugs were later taken. A postgrad student party where drugs were taken. We will leave it to readers to decide for themselves on how singular this is. It is easy to compile an extensive list of current and former members of Goldsmiths staff who have been witnessed taking drugs themselves at student events. Is this the kind of truth that you are seeking? To name them here – to name you here – would be to turn your monstrous logic against you. It would be a harassment, and an abuse of power, of the sort you have been ‘wilfully’ delighting in.

Why, given the various cases and dismissals and resignations, is it John that you are singularly determined to destroy? Does Sara’s resignation condemn her too? John has lost his Goldsmiths job and you have written to colleagues and employers to try to guarantee that he is not able to undertake any further work. You have contacted others to undermine his non­academic, personal, and activist life. The supposedly confidential fact of his being under investigation at Goldsmiths has been manipulated to stop him seeing his son. Quite severe consequences given the paucity of the case you were able to marshal against him. What is your hope? What is your aim? Will you claim your authoritarian means and ends?

While you have repeatedly claimed on twitter and your blog to be concerned with calling your academic institution to account, this seems not to extend to those within your own department. Why, for example, have colleagues and former colleagues in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths not been subject to the same critique and scrutiny you have insisted on elsewhere? Why have sexual relationships conducted by lecturers in the Department of Media and Communications with their undergraduate and PhD students not been subject to disciplinary action and why have you not called for such action? It would be consistent with your own claims and justifications for harassment. It would also be wrong.

Many people will be convinced that you are right because you are the feminists. We are also feminists and have questions about your particular brand of feminism:

   When you are struggling to find evidence to make your case against John and you wanted a woman to testify with what you wanted her to say, and she refused, is it feminist to lie about her mental health so you can speak on her behalf? We reel from it, and name it as misogyny.

  Sara, your campaign against staff at Goldsmiths has largely been at the instigation of white, middle class students. You have ignored the struggles faced by some women of colour among your own students. You have refused to engage with their more nuanced reading of race and gender. In your action, silences, and inactions, you have participated in their ostracization and vilification by your cohort and by Goldsmiths more generally. As a result they have suffered serious illness, financial difficulty, and threat of exclusion from the UK. This is on you.

  Further, in the case of the investigation and eventual departure of a South Asian professor, we are appalled by the intersectional calculus behind a white PhD student losing a brown man his job because she doesn’t like his style of discussion and engagement. Should it be her decision whether or not he is in the university? A huge number of students of colour seemed to think he was great and wrote statements testifying to this. You enact and borrow white privilege to remove someone from the university because they are brown and difficult.

  Sara, you rely on the very forms of power, authority and privilege you claim to be dismantling with your wall metaphors and big house participation. We wonder why your idea of justice involves such extreme forms of retribution given your frequent citation of Angela Davis for example (see her desire for forgiveness in Are Prisons Obsolete?, which you seem never to read or cite).

  When you claim the names ‘survivor’ and ‘victim’ for those with the agency to harass and sexually bully online, what contribution do you imagine you make to the dignity of those with experience of sexual violence? The authors of this letter include people with such tragic histories, and we reject the discourse of the survivor, and the rejection of any challenge. Challenge us! Our words are not testimony, or witnessing, or evidence. We reject your violent reverence for our supposed ‘survival’. We exist, and we ask for the rigour of which you are capable.

   What sort of feminism sanctions, supports and engages in the harassment of female academics because of their work with John? What misogyny allows you to vilify and erase them, as though their association with a man you dislike was their primary feature?

   The way that you and your cohort have conducted this campaign against John has been to publicly ‘call him out for sexual harassment’ to inflict social and financial violence. It is disturbing that neither you, nor any of the allegers seem interested in anything resembling transformative justice (preferring social media and anonymous blogs as process of trial). We can all do better. Will you call for, and be, better?

 We welcome the changes to Goldsmiths complaints procedures outlined on your blog. We agree that Goldsmiths sought only to silence those involved and this has allowed the situation to fester. This has been extremely damaging to all involved. We agree on this. However, we condemn the personal vendetta against John. Why has he been singled out for such vehement pursuit and slander? It seems strange to us that so much energy is being spent trying to destroy a single person when they have already faced losses of such severity. Your motivations have nothing at all to do with transformative justice or the transformation of Goldsmiths. Was it his politics? His care for his students, and for struggle? His capacity for joy? We want your comradeship in world building, and we want to overcome this waste with joy. 

Stop pursuing John. Read him. Talk to him. Argue with him. See his statement where he recognises his role in sustaining structures which silence ­- do you recognise yours? He works to undermine and overcome them. This is not harassment, but the sometimes clumsy negotiation of power in which we are all engaged. Struggle with him. Redirect your energies against oppression, harassment, and power.

Misappropriation

More context, a letter from 2013

We are not seeking careers here, but our commitment to critique and truth obliges us to point out that the 1752 group’s inaugural action was ill-informed and libellous personal attack website. This site remains up anonymously as testimony to their unprofessional methods. We would warn against anyone ‘consulting’ with these self-appointed experts who have no legal perspective, who want to consult and advise the administration but have no administrative credentials and who would insist you to support the most austere temperance. We decry their willingness to work to repair the administration on the basis of such duplicitous origins. Their strategy is mobbing, self quotation and a parody of seriousness. The lie at the origin – the blog wewanttruthgoldsmiths – makes us all poorer with its disregard of due process and its vigilante moralism. However much we would support a progressive version of such work, this version has no concept of power and lines up exactly with the bleak neoliberalism of the times.

They were told this early on and may need to be told again. We can now share two comments from the midst of this clusterfuck the first a response to their initial attempt at a pogrom, the second a recent comment added insightfully as an intro to our first post. Both deserve widespread attention by anyone interested in grown up debate on these matters.

“I would like to react to the open letter posted on “Goldsmiths Feminist Voices.”[now deleted] I am appalled that its authors are using the discourses of radical feminism and anti-oppression to convey their point- I consider that misappropriation politically dishonest and ethically obscene.

The author(s?) claim that the defences which have circulated on behalf of the suspended professors in question have closed down the pathways to the healthy questioning of practices of men in positions of power  and have had the effect of shutting down dissenting voices. This argument is fallacious for several reasons.

First, the main agent inhibiting open discussion about this subject is the administration itself, who imposed a gag order on all those concerned. This superimposed veil of confidentiality shrouding these affairs is what primarily prevents thesaid “considerations of how knowledge is constructed and disseminated and by whom, and debate on acceptable practices within academia” from happening.

This is a direct result of the way in which the students with grievances chose to air these complaints. If they were as concerned as the open letter affirms about the possibility for every side to openly speak up and justify themselves, and about keeping power relationships in check, they would not have sought out solutions which included administrative top down intervention, with the result of the imperilment of people’s means of subsistence. They would instead have sought out solutions more weary of the unbalances of power which they so readily decry.

Whether the complainants are co-authors of the open letter is unknown to me, but I believe that lending them support by using the rhetoric of anti-oppression is a hypocritical act considering that the method they chose showed complete disregard of labour solidarity, of the precariousness of bastions of de-instrumentalized learning, and of the oppressive nature of acts of denunciation by delation.

The authors of the open letter go further in their misappropriation by instrumentalizing the text of the petition in support of one the professor’s reinstatement. By arguing that a broad statement of support, or character recommendation, should not invalidate individuals’ experiences of oppression, the authors are clearly illegitimately borrowing from a radical feminist discourse about rape culture. Personally, as someone who considers herself a radical feminist and aims to consistently denounce rape culture in every way it manifests itself, I am particularly shocked by this misappropriation. Because the analogy doesn’t stand here, and by misusing it, it diminishes its impact and legitimacy where it actually should stand. We are not talking here about a phenomenon of victim-shaming, where the supposed perpetrators’ allies stand up in his defence to claim that “he would never…”. Nowhere in the petition is it stated that the signatories refute the possibility of a legitimate grievance that the complainants might have, nor the possibility of they having endured a wrong- for the simple reason that we do not in fact know the facts of the suspension. This is not a petition which is about the actual events which are being investigated and it was never meant to reflect the signatories’ opinion on what may or may not have happened. What the signatories know is that their former professor has been suspended and is undergoing investigation. A petition is a strategic move, aimed at putting pressure on a decision-maker which might be swayed by public opinion. This is what we are talking about here- former students putting forward a strong statement of support in the hopes that it will be considered as part of the decision-maker’s puzzle. To paint it as a patriarchal attempt at silencing victims’ voices is, I reiterate, at best intellectually short, at worst ethically indecent.

I would conclude that the open letter’s general argument that students’ statements of support for their professors constitute an expression of patriarchal oppression which aims to silence and intimidate victims and prevent critical examination of relationships of power and privilege is preposterous and offensive. It fails to recognize the foundational violence that an act of delation constitutes– in such cases, the game of power relationships is rigged from the start.

Patriarchy is practiced in a variety of complex ways- and fighting it implies looking at relationships of power and oppression in all their manifold manifestations- it is not simply about denouncing the fuckups of individuals with penises and hoping for the new institutional “daddy” to do the dirty job for us.

Comment

https://wewanttruthsara.wordpress.com

Many of you will have come across a version of this story on the front page of The Guardian a couple of weeks ago (‘Sexual harassment of students by university staff hidden by non-disclosure agreements’, Friday August 29th). I wrote to the authors at the time and have been in contact with other national newspapers to ask whether they might be interested in the flipside of events, ie., in the way NDAs are being used to dispose of and silence ‘undesirable’ academics, denying them the chance to defend themselves against accusations of misconduct. For whatever reason, none of them got back to me. But I would have told them what has now been put into writing here, on a ‘McCarthyite and cruel tendency within academia’ (and doubtless beyond academia, too). And I’d have added the following on the well established tactical use of NDAs, which we have seen on multiple occasions across multiple institutions, and runs much as follows:

1) Mount an internal disciplinary procedure so you can suspend someone for as long as it takes to find dirt on them;

2) Bind them with an egregiously constrictive insistence on confidentiality, including clauses that mean they can’t even know what you are accusing them of doing;

3) Sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that when your dirt-digging doesn’t turn up enough evidence to get rid of them, or even justify a trial, you can rely on them having to breach confidentiality at some point, whereupon you can go ahead and force them out anyway.

We might add an extra point, here, whether it’s deliberate or a mere unintended consequence:

4) Watch as the vigilante mob leaps in to exploit the enforced silence of the accused, using social media to orchestrate a witch hunt on those they have the temerity to accuse of having ducked the judicial process. Since confidentiality means that the mob doesn’t know the accusations in question either, they’ll mostly just have to speculate and will therefore inevitably come up with all kinds of assumptions about rapists and murderers being on the loose, but you needn’t worry about that, either.

Many of us working in the field of philosophy and critical theory are instinctively inclined to take the side of anyone pushing the causes of feminism and justice. But claims to be doing so cannot be taken as given, and without applying the same levels of critical scrutiny we’d expect to apply to every other statement we come across. Established fora for trial and conviction aren’t perfect, but they are a lot better than public shaming on the basis of whipped up rumour and suspicion.

Wewanttruthgoldsmiths and justice too.

We can now share a document that was related to the many travesties of process at Goldsmiths. We have removed names, though it is likely some will be able to identify who is who – we ask them not to personalise this, but recognise that deep injustices were perpetrated and in ways that relied upon untruths and fictions.

______

London, October 13th 2014

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

Dear Warden,

I am writing to you in order to make an official complaint as to the ways in which I have been treated and my name has been used, while an employee of Goldsmiths, in the College’s dealings with the case against Prof X and the circumstances surrounding the non-renewal of my Associate Lecturer contract in the Media and Communications department at Goldsmiths.

I am appalled to now discover that these two processes are apparently connected due to some kind of collusion, intentional or not. Over the course of the past year the actions of the college, management, and colleagues in CCS and in Media and Comms have caused me significant distress, affected my mental health, made me the subject of demeaning gossip and recrimination and ultimately led me to losing my Associate Lecturer job. I expect a thorough investigation into why and how the situation explained below was allowed to happen, as well as an apology and disciplining of those who have perpetrated these attacks in their own interest.

The existing ‘fair’ process/procedure of dealing with complaints at Goldsmiths meant that though my name has been dragged through the mud to further a complaint against Prof X (whom I have absolutely no reason to complain about) by my supposedly ‘feminist’ colleagues, I was not able to address these concerns until now. Having sought legal advice, I now seek explanation, an official apology and renewal of my contract / compensation from the college. Although I would like to continue in my role as AL in Media and Comms, it is now evident that a number of staff and colleagues there – such as Prof Y, Prof Z, Prof A and AssocLect/Student B – were authors of or were privy to the information included in the report against Prof X, and have been involved in the process in the first place. I am aware that other complainants have kept their jobs and/or received compensation for distress, while I have not. Instead I am denigrated, humiliated and have been used as collateral by staff and colleagues in their campaign against Prof X.

As a former student of CCS I was not a direct participant in the initial case against Prof X, the subsequent actions of support towards him, nor the subsequent complaint about the treatment of CCS’ PhDs made by Student C et al, the details of which you are aware of. However, since colleagues decided to use a misrepresentation of my person, I was equally affected by the bullying, ostracising and stigmatizing actions of those who initiated the campaign against Prof X, including the subsequent online and offline bullying by the complainants and the virtual exclusion – up to and including the non-renewal of my contract – from university life at Goldsmiths. This has had a negative effect on my own PhD / academic work, mental health and general confidence. The sheer fact of being associated with Prof X in this way caused me months of upset, during which I was unable to speak out.

At the time of the initial complaint against Prof X, I was distraught to hear from other students and AL’s in Media and Comms that I had sexual relations with Prof X while still an MA student, in order to secure higher grades, and that I was mentally unstable. Among others, I heard this from one of the main complainants – AssocLect/Stud B, now a Media and Comms student and employee who has managed to keep her job. Subsequently I was contacted by a member of CCS staff, Dr. D, via Facebook. Dr. D stated that if I wanted to make a complaint about Prof X it was the time to do so.

This was at the time when the ‘story-gathering’ process against Prof X began. This was deeply hurtful and damaging, and I replied to the message stating clearly that I had no interest in making a complaint. Despite this, it appears that the complainants still felt it necessary to use me their complaint – against my wishes and in a bullying manner – justified by the fact that I was supposedly unstable mentally.

I realise now that supposedly ‘feminist’ colleagues were using me and exploiting an invented version of my supposed involvement with Prof X as a way of furthering their complaint. While claiming that I was a ‘victim’ of Prof X in the report, they were simultaneously spreading malicious gossip about me on and beyond Goldsmiths campus.

The report and individual accusations against Prof X were at the time confidential, but as you are now well aware the complainants have distributed their side of the story widely, and in gossip far and beyond their Goldsmiths-based ‘feminist community.’ This was one of the bases of the complaint by C et al, but I could not sign it, as I was not registered at CCS anymore (although I was employed by Goldsmiths). During the long period in which this process was ‘confidential’ I was not able to see in full or protest the contents of the report pertaining to me, nor was I able to address the malicious gossip distributed about me. I was made a victim of this ridiculous witch-hunt by association, while those accusing Prof X continue to claim they aim to safeguard women from abuse at Goldsmiths, which in itself is appalling and only adds insult to injury.

Being involved into this situation against my will has damaged my relationship with colleagues at Goldsmiths and elsewhere, as well my supervisors. It put me in an impossible and humiliating position of having to defend/explain my relationship history to employers, colleagues and near strangers at conferences in order to refute claims of insanity. I was forced to defend my having received a distinction for my MA dissertation, which was completed before I got to know Prof X (I had never been taught by him). The implication was that I could not have gained this distinction based on academic merit alone.

As an aside: the dissertation, interestingly, has been supervised by Prof E and Dr D. Dr D has had an official relationship with one of E’s and Dr F’s PhD students, and previous to that Dr D had been involved with Prof E himself, while all three were working at CCS. The fact that it was Dr D who subsequently contacted me privately about my supposed relationship with Prof X is offensive to me. I do not bring all this up in order to add to the harmful gossip already in circulation, I do not wish that. Rather, I want to show the hypocrisy involved in this situation, whereby staff members can encourage complaints about supposed types of behaviour that they themselves are engaged in. It demonstrates that CCS staff were actively involved in soliciting this complaint for their mutual benefit.

It is unacceptable that the College has not contacted me officially in this matter, while I was in employment and in and around the campus / area. I am appalled that I can only now refute the claims put forth about me by colleagues. Surely the college has a duty of care to their own employees and/or supposed victims in a situation like this? I feel wronged, and I feel the college has failed me here.

I now can only conclude that several members of staff – including Prof E and Dr D – were actively involved in furthering the complaint, in which they were happy to implicate me (although no testimony has been officially sought from me,) whilst benefitting directly from the outcome. Of course, since then Prof E has been promoted, and he and Dr D remain close. I, on the other hand, by being associated with X, am being recriminated and have lost my job.

Following months of this apparently confidential campaign against Prof X, into which I have been unwillingly entangled, and which has made me by association a victim of an ongoing campaign of lies, rumours and slander on the part of my peers and colleagues in both Media and Comms and the CCS, I have now also lost my job in Media and Comms. Prof Y informed me my contract would not be renewed, citing the fact she has had to ‘draw a line in the sand’ when asked for reason for redundancy. This was said in a meeting attended by a UCU rep. No other concrete reasons were given.

Simultaneously, other Media and Comms employees in circumstances identical to mine have kept their jobs, including for example AssocLect G, who herself told me of her circumstances when I asked. Other Media and Comms employees, with arguably fewer years of service and less experience and expertise than me, have kept their jobs. AssocLect/Stud B, who was one of the complainants against Prof X, who was one source of these malicious rumours about me, and who has fewer years of service than me, has kept her job. B, and others who kept their contracts in Media and Comms and beyond, were as it turns out already involved in the group gathered around Prof A – who facilitated the complaint against Prof X – a group that continues to spread information regarding the complaint on social media and in their meetings, at times publicly naming those involved, which only adds to my distress.

Finally, as if the above were not enough, it appears that Prof Z., the head of department who made the decision not to renew my contract of employment, was party to the complaint against Prof X – alongside, in one way or another, A, Y, E, D, B, H etc. She was also involved in the case of C, my closest friend from whom I sought advice when the rumours first started surfacing and the process against X had begun.

It is now clear that several days before termination of my contract, and you can consult C’s account on this, Y was forwarded C’s confidential testimony. (She should not have received that testimony, and the college admitted and compensated for this appalling act of bullying already). I am referenced in that testimony, and it is now clear to me that this mis-handling of confidential material has lead to my termination. The fact that the college could allow someone with an active interest in this complaint to also have responsibility for the employment or those involved is extremely worrying. The fact that I wound up on the ‘wrong’ side of this appallingly mishandled process against Prof X was made clear to Prof Y days before the termination, which makes me strongly believe that all of the above factors have been at play in the college’s treatment of me.

I have not only been stigmatized and recriminated as X’s associate and excluded from the intellectual life of the university as a direct result of management and the college’s actions, but also had my contract terminated by one of the persons central to the actions against Prof X. The information and concerns I shared with my colleague C, and which he had submitted to you in utmost confidence and in concern for my situation, has been shared with Prof Y, who was responsible for my contract negotiations and is close to the original complainants. All these colleagues have now gathered in a clique around the Feminist Research Centre founded by Prof A, and are known to blog and live-tweet information about the process. I now also fear that I have been/will be misrepresented elsewhere by the complainants, and in their at times public discussions of the case against Prof X. I am concerned that the college also might have distributed this kind of information to others without my knowledge.

To sum up: I have been involved, by the College, management and colleagues, in the case against Prof X without my knowledge and against my wishes; I was contacted informally by a member of staff based purely on gossip, and no official contact, nor any steps to ensure my well-being on the part of the College followed. This resulted in me becoming the subject of more (and on-going) malicious gossip and slander, causing me significant distress and negatively affecting my health and work, and resulting with a virtual exclusion from university community. Finally, I have been made redundant, lost my job and good name, as well as having had (and continue to have) my competences and mental health questioned. All this based purely on gossip, and the fact that my person appeared inconvenient to those involved in the initial proceedings against Prof X. Prof Y, who was involved in dealing with the other case, was allowed to also make decisions regarding my employment contract.

Now that all of the above has come to light – no doubt because of the College’s own confidentiality clause/policy and mishandling of the situation – I demand a thorough investigation into why and how the situation explained above was allowed to take place. Further, I think there should be disciplinary proceedings initiated against all those who have misused my name in proceedings against Prof X. As resolution, I would expect at minimum an apology for the distress caused, as well as reinstating my contract / compensation for the neglect, discrimination and bullying I have faced at Goldsmiths College.

Sincerely,

AssocLect I