Letter from Jacques Derrida to Ralph J. Cicerone, then Chancellor of UCI. (English translation as sent to Cicerone)

(Click here to see the original French text.)

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Ralph J. Cicerone, Chancellor
University of California, Irvine
The Chancellor’s Office
510 Administration Building
Irvine, CA  992697-1900
USA

Ris-Orangis, 25 July 2004

 

Chancellor,

          Permit me to write to you directly to tell you the great surprise, worry, and indignation that I felt upon learning of the allegations made against my friend and colleague Dragan Kujundzic and, even more, upon learning of the threatening procedures that the administration seems prepared to use against him.

          If I feel authorized to send you this letter and this testimony, if I find it is even my duty to do so, that is because of my attachment to our university, to its image and its honor.  As you know no doubt, my ties to UCI and my unfailing friendship with so many of its colleagues and students began several decades ago.  Even before being named Professor of Humanities and to the department of philosophy, seventeen years ago (1987), I had ties with UCI going back to the end of the 1970’s.  I had already given quite a few lectures and made several lengthy visits there, notably in 1984 when I delivered the Wellek Lectures.  It is this trusting friendship that led me to respond without hesitation to the request from the department of Special Collections at UCI library.  For years, as you probably know, I have made a gift of all my archives (I emphasize gift because I know that such papers are generally sold and sometimes at a very high price).  For years, in a fine spirit of cooperation, the librarians in charge have received all sorts of papers (including some forty years of my seminars), catalogued them, and made them available to those doing research. If you wish to know more about this process and the content of these archives, the head librarian or the director of Special Collections, Jackie Dooley, could give you all necessary details on the subject.  I underscore the long-standing and deep nature of these ties so as to convince you that everything regarding the future, the reputation, and the worthiness of our university profoundly touches, concerns, and involves me.

          I come back now to the allegations and accusations weighing unjustly on Dragan Kujundzic.  I will begin by making it unequivocally clear that I fully approve the principles of all rules meant to prevent, or even to repress, the kinds of behavior defined in the United States as “sexual harassment.”  In their principle, these laws seem to me just and useful.  But everyone knows that, in practice, they can give rise to applications that are abusive, capricious, or even perverse and deceitful—often devastating for the person, reputation, and career of those who are unjustly victimized by frequently malevolent maneuvers and sometimes by judicial errors.

          Even though I am not qualified to make a judgment concerning a confidential file and although I wish to trust the Senate Committee and yourself, Chancellor, as well as the sense of justice that guides you, I believe it is my duty to bear witness here as what is called in France, but also I believe in the United States, an “amicus curiae.”  My testimony will be of two sorts:  that of probability and that of certitude.

          First, as concerns probability, I can testify on the basis of what I have been told by many colleagues (including Dragan, obviously).  It would seem that the allegations of the plaintiff are unfair and in bad faith (I will not yet say perverse).  When there has been neither any coercion or violence brought to bear on her, nor any attack (moreover very improbable!) on the presumed “innocence” of a 27- or 28-year-old woman, where does she find the grounds, how can she claim to have the right to initiate such a serious procedure and to put in motion such a weighty juridico-academic bureaucracy against a respectable and universally respected professor?  I have also heard said that all the legal procedures were not observed in the conduct of the inquiry, notably in the way in which the administration informed (in fact failed to inform) our colleagues of new aspects of the law.  I have especially heard said that, without even envisaging all sorts of intermediary stages, the provision of a whole range sanctions or warnings, a recommendation has already been made to apply  the worst possible sanction of last resort:  the exclusion of our colleague from UCI.  Why has such a precipitous action been considered?  Why go so quickly and so far?

          But it is especially as concerns the certitude of what is called in French intime conviction (inner conviction) that I protest, with all the force I can muster, against this sinister scenario.  I know Dragan better and longer than anyone at Irvine.  For more than twenty years, since he was a student-researcher and then a young professor, we have been associated in our work and research, at I don’t know how many colloquia and in how many countries (his C.V. can confirm this).  For more than twenty years, I have followed and admired his work, his intelligence, his rigor, and his integrity, his strict sense of ethical, intellectual, and academic responsibility.  (In particular, I know him to be absolutely incapable of using or abusing his power with students, abuse being implied, in the strict sense, by the concept of “sexual harassment”).

          In the disciplinary fields in the United States, Dragan occupies a major and irreplaceable place by reason of his wide and varied competence (Slavic languages, literary theory, political philosophy, traductology, a unique access, in their original language, to Russian, Serbian, French, English, and American literatures).  Since he has been at Irvine, he has worked (more than any other colleague to my knowledge in twenty years!) in an impressive way to organize large international colloquia, on Serbia and the stakes or implications of the “war” in the Balkans, on racisms, on the work of Hillis Miller—and finally, for next fall, on myself and my work.  (I have even been told that if measures were to be taken against him, he would not have the right to attend or participate in this latter colloquium, which he himself organized.  I want not to believe such an ignominious and outrageous idea.)  Dragan has also organized an extraordinary exhibition at the library on my archives around the theme of translation.  He co-organized and for a time was director of the new International Center for Writing and Translation.  As a member of the advisory board of this Center, I have seen him at work there.  Without his work and inspiration, without all of his initiative, I cannot imagine what the Center might have been.  And I am citing here only the finished projects I am aware of.  Every one of the colleagues I know at Irvine share my admiration and gratitude for all the talents he has brought to our university.  One cannot imagine or measure the gravity of the damage that a sanction, no matter how light, would do to our university, to its most interesting and fruitful activities, as well as to its honor and the image it has on the outside.  I am also thinking of the damage that would result to Dragan’s personal reputation and professional career.  Already, the effects of this horrible snare on his health are striking (dramatic weight loss, depression, and so forth), not to mention the financial costs incurred to defend himself, the large attorney fees, etc.  Permit me to tell you as well:  things are so serious that I advised my friend not only to defend his just cause, with the help of an attorney and his colleagues, but also to initiate as quickly as possible a legal procedure against the persons and the institution that have undertaken, in such an unjust, ill-considered, gratuitous, and precipitous manner, to tarnish so gravely his personal and professional reputation.  I dare to think and to hope that he would win this case and the judgment, quite rightly, would be severe and heavy in consequences for the guilty parties.

          I must now, Chancellor, say a few words concerning, in this context, the future of my own relations with a university in whose service I have worked for so long, with pleasure, respect, and gratitude, and with all the friendship and devotion of which I am capable toward many of my colleagues and students.  What I am preparing to say to you, I assure you with a solemn oath, constitutes in no way, in my mind, pressure brought to bear on anyone.  But it is my duty to tell you the truth on this subject, without delay and in all strictness.  The truth is this:  if the scandalous procedure initiated against Dragan Kujundzic were not to be interrupted or cancelled, for all the reasons I have just laid out, if a sanction of whatever sort were allowed to sully both his honor and the honor of the university, I would sadly be obliged to put an end, immediately, to all my relations with UCI.  The somber and tragic hypothesis of such transgressions (which I wish still to exclude) would mean, quite obviously, that I would neither attend nor participate in the widely international conference in October that is devoted to me and was organized, precisely, by Dragan.
         
          Another consequence: since I never take back what I have given, my papers would of course remain the property of UCI and the Special Collections department of the library.  However, it goes without saying that the spirit in which I contributed to the constitution of these archives (which is still underway and growing every year) would have been seriously damaged.  Without renouncing my commitments, I would regret having made them and would reduce their fulfillment to the barest minimum.  I could no longer promise the work, devotion, and good will that I believe I have always demonstrated, wholeheartedly and enthusiastically, toward the operation of these archives meant for researchers who, from Irvine and from elsewhere, are already working there and could be working there more and more in the future—but always, as stipulated in the gift contract, with my authorization and after I have approved their request.  This authorization would become increasingly selective and infrequent.

          Forgive me for this long letter.  It was dictated by the respect I owe you and by my abiding trust in the spirit of justice that guides you as well as in the concern for the major interests of the university to which I have the honor to belong and which is under your charge.  I am far from being the only one who hopes that this spirit and this care will inspire your final decision.

          Please accept, Chancellor, the assurance of my deference and devotion.

 

 

 

Jacques Derrida

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