E-mail message of 3 January 2005 from Akira Mizuta Lippit.

Dear Peggy and Geoffrey,


Thank you for your message and for your efforts to ensure that the Derrida Archives at UCI are maintained according to Jacques’s wishes. [...]  Thank you also for the opportunity to speak to this issue, which has been troubling for many of us at Irvine and which caused Jacques unnecessary concern during the past year.
        I first learned of the charges brought against our colleague in May 2004.  He asked me at the time to read the entire file concerning his case—which included the complaint, testimonies by the accuser and accused, other witness testimonies, findings of a University investigation into the matter, and the recommendation of the Executive Vice Chancellor (EVC) to terminate the employment of the accused—so I could reach my own conclusions about it.  He asked that I serve as an intermediary between himself and [the] academic community: having seen the contents of the file, I could represent impartially the case to others.  Since only those who were authorized to do so could in fact read the redacted file, I undertook this task, along with several other colleagues at Irvine.  In short, the case consisted of a consensual sexual affair that had ended badly, leading the accuser to file a complaint of harassment against our colleague.  I immediately saw that the behavior of my colleague was ill-advised and inappropriate, however, the investigative body found no evidence of criminal misconduct, only the violation of a recently instituted code of faculty conduct, which essentially forbids all sexual and romantic relationships between professors and students, or any other supervisors and subordinates at the University.
        Because the case constituted a violation of a faculty code and not that of a criminal statute, those of us who read the file found the recommendation to terminate the employment of our colleague excessive, cruel, and unusual.  Before the case was eventually settled, I had prepared, along with three other colleagues, a statement of protest against the severity of the sanction, which we planned to circulate among faculty in the form of a petition and then forward to the Chancellor, who was to have decided the outcome of the case.  It was to the Chancellor that Jacques addressed his letter.
        The settlement between the University and our colleague in August 2004 rendered the petition unnecessary, since he was not terminated by the University.  But it also sealed the case and the terms of its settlement from the public, making any further discussion of this case and the statute it invoked impossible.  Many of were relieved that the punishment did not reach the level sought by the EVC, but like Jacques we were deeply disturbed by the secretive nature of the proceedings and its sealed resolution.
        As you know, I spoke with Jacques about this matter in the mid-September 2004 by telephone.  It was a lengthy conversation of approximately 45 minutes, an indication of the extent of Jacques’s unhappiness and concern.  As your citation below indicates, Jacques was deeply disturbed by the charges brought against our colleague at Irvine.  But he was also unhappy with the behavior of the University in this matter, which is apparent in the section of his letter you have cited.  Jacques felt, and told me on the phone, that our colleague should have received a warning: “a minimum sanction,” he said, a “warning” not to engage in any behavior of this nature in the future.  Jacques felt this was fair, and I agree completely.  Jacques was very serious both about the future of the archive and his continued presence as a member of the Irvine faculty.
        Since the settlement had already been reached at the time I spoke with him, I asked Jacques what he would like to see done with regard to this case.  Jacques told me that he felt that “someone important at the University”those were his words, and he mentioned specifically Professor Hillis Miller and Dean Karen Lawrence—should approach the Chancellor about reducing the sanction against our colleague to the above-mentioned warning.  He felt that a warning was the appropriate sanction, and that [the] Chancellor should be able to achieve this.
        Jacques did not, in the course of my conversation with him, demand this result.  He did, however, make clear that any relaxation of his position vis-à-vis the Archives which he addressed in his letter, would be conditional on the attempt to achieve his objective.  That is, he told me that unless there was a serious effort on the part of his colleagues at Irvine to reduce the penalty against our colleague, he would not change the position he had conveyed in his letter to the Chancellor.  I confirmed this with Jacques before promising to contact members of the Irvine community.
        After speaking with Jacques, I spoke with Dean Lawrence and conveyed to her Jacques’s concern.  I pointed out, as Jacques had to me, that this not only a question of friendship, but of principle.  Jacques likened the proceedings to a secret, military tribunal, and felt, as I do, that it has no place in the University.  I also conveyed Jacques’s position to members of an ad hoc committee that had formed to address this issue. [...]
        The activities of the group and of individuals since then are best summarized by [other responses received].  At present, I am not sure that the conditions Jacques set forth have been met.  A large obstacle lies with the nature of the settlement itself, which prohibits public discussion of its terms.  Many of us [...] are still involved in the case and are committed to honoring Jacques’s wishes in this matter as best we can.  We have continued to raise the issue of the faculty code and hope to force its revision if not retraction.  Any revision of the code would, we believe, affect the settlement and perhaps make some form of restitution possible.  I think that a strong sign of protest, expressed publicly by members of the Humanities community may be another way to address Jacques’s concerns.  This is, of course, only my interpretation.  Since Jacques did not make it a condition that the sanction against our colleague be reduced, but rather that a concerted and serious effort be made in this direction, a further form of public protest may also be an appropriate course of action.  I am willing to re-word our earlier letter, which protests the severity of the proposed punishment as well as the secrecy of the proceeding, and to circulate it among faculty for signatures.  It would have to be re-worded without specific mention of the terms of the settlement, however, since those are bound by the secrecy agreed to by our colleague and the University.
        I would like to add, in conclusion, that many members of the faculty are outraged by the way in which this case was handled.  We believe that the minimal form of sanction that Jacques sought is appropriate for a case that is, in the end, a violation of the faculty code and not a criminal matter.  All of us at Irvine are also deeply hopeful that the Derrida Archives will remain at Irvine and continue to grow there.  They are a critical piece of the University’s identity, and a poignant reminder of the time Jacques spent there.  However, for the Archives to remain at Irvine, I also believe that every effort should be made to meet the conditions that Jacques clearly and unequivocally set forth.
        Please let me know if I can help in any further way, and again, thank you for your efforts in this matter.

Sincerely,
Aki

Akira Mizuta Lippit
Professor and Chair
Department of Film and Media Studies
235 Humanities Instructional Building
University of California
Irvine, CA
92697-2435