These Web pages aim to help correct misleading and inaccurate press reports as well as unfounded speculations in the wake of the lawsuit filed by the Regents of the University of California against the Estate of Jacques Derrida. The
lawsuit, now withdrawn, concerned the archive of Derrida's papers held at UC Irvine. Made public here are some of the documents relevant to the events that gave rise to the lawsuit and to the reports and rumors it spawned.
The initiative for these pages was taken by Geoffrey Bennington and Peggy Kamuf and they are the sole authors of all unsigned materials posted here.
The site is still under construction, and additions will be made from time to time.
The following documents have been made available in the interest of shedding light on events that took place at the University of California, Irvine beginning in 2003, events that have continued “arriving” since then and in several different venues: that university, several courtrooms, several organs of the press, and on the Web.
The principal document is a long letter written by Jacques Derrida to then-Chancellor of UCI, Ralph Cicerone, in July 2004. It is reproduced here in its entirety, the only omissions being the address and phone numbers of the letter’s author, which were appended to his signature. The letter is reproduced in the original as well as in the English version that Chancellor Cicerone received.
As for the circumstances that prompted Derrida to write what and when he did: Shortly before the date on the letter, he had learned of the threatening situation in which had been placed his long-time friend and then colleague at UCI, Professor Dragan Kujundzić. This threat was the result of a chain of events that had been taking place entirely outside Derrida’s awareness over the preceding months.
Here is a succinct review of this chain of events leading up to Derrida’s letter:
- The triggering event was a brief involvement between Professor Kujundzić and a woman graduate student in his department.
- In the wake of this involvement, an official charge of sexual harassment had been filed by the student against Professor Kujundzić.
- As required by state law, this charge was investigated without delay by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at UCI and conducted by the state-appointed investigator.
- In March 2004, the investigator found the charge of sexual harassment was without merit given the consensual and voluntary nature of the relationship in question.
- Shortly before the unfolding of the above events, the Regents of the University of California had approved a revision to the Faculty Code of Conduct prohibiting all “sexual” or “romantic” [sic] relationships between a member of the faculty and a student whenever such relationships could be construed as in conflict with professional and/or supervisory duties, even if these duties were not actual but only possible at some point in the future; against whomever might be found to have infringed its provisions, the disciplinary authority of each campus had discretion to choose from a wide range of punitive sanctions, from reprimand to dismissal from the university.
- This revision to the Faculty Code of Conduct was highly controversial, provoking faculty protests at several campuses in the UC system.
- Having been exonerated both under California law and by the internal campus investigator of the charge of sexual harassment, Professor Kujundzić now found himself charged with infringing this new UC policy, despite his having recused himself from any advisory or supervisory role in the relationship in question.
- Although the final decision on any disciplinary action under the policy would be made by University Chancellor Cicerone, he would receive recommendations from then-Executive Vice Chancellor Michael Gottfredson as well as from a panel appointed by the UCI Faculty Senate.
- In the spring of 2004, Executive Vice Chancellor Gottfredson recommended that the most severe sanction be applied and that Professor Kujundzić be dismissed for cause from UCI.
- The faculty panel’s deliberations were scheduled to take place over the course of the summer, 2004.
Thus, when Jacques Derrida sent his letter to Chancellor Cicerone, a decision was still pending as to whether or not to punish Professor Kujundzić under the provisions of UC’s new Code of Conduct, and if so how and to what degree.
In August 2004, before the Senate Panel issued its recommendation and Chancellor Cicerone made his decision, Professor Kujundzić, on advice of his lawyer, accepted a private settlement offered by the lawyers of the UC. Although one of the provisions was that all the terms of the settlement were to be kept confidential by both parties, the sanctions against Professor Kujundzić were known to be severe and to entail, among other conditions, that he not be allowed on UCI’s campus during the Fall and Winter quarters of the coming academic year. He was not, however, dismissed from UCI. Jacques Derrida was informed of this outcome.
In 2002, Dragan Kujundzić had begun organizing an international conference entitled “‘Who?’ or ‘What?’—Jacques Derrida”, to be held at UCI in October 2004. In August 2004, invited participants received notice from the conference organizing committee that the conference had to be postponed due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’. To shed light on those circumstances, Jacques Derrida approved circulation of his letter to Chancellor Cicerone to all scheduled participants (see message to conference participants). He also wrote again to then Dean of Humanities Karen Lawrence (French and English versions are posted here) reiterating points of his letter to Chancellor Cicerone, of which Dean Lawrence had received a copy, and pointing out that the phrase ‘unforeseen circumstances’ allowed one to conclude, wrongly, that the postponement was due to his own ill health. In response to this objection, the organizing committee sent a revised message to the participants.
After Jacques Derrida’s death in October 2004, his widow, Marguerite Derrida, was concerned to respect his expressed wishes concerning the UCI archive. Geoffrey Bennington and Peggy Kamuf, whom Derrida had named as the two academic advisors to serve on the archive’s advisory committee, circulated a letter requesting any information tending to confirm that UC faculty had indeed protested the policy under which Dragan Kujundzić had been incriminated. This appeal was made in response to Derrida’s having indicated in phone conversations with UCI colleagues that evidence of such protest would be a sine qua non for his continued cooperation with the archive. The responses received (one included here from Judith Butler) detailed a variety of actions undertaken at Irvine or other UC campuses aimed at having the Code of Conduct amended. J. Hillis Miller reported that he met with Chancellor Cicerone to convey Derrida’s and his own concerns about the policy and to urge its revision. A further letter from Akira Mizuta Lippit indicated that, while the protests undertaken to that point would perhaps not have been enough to change Jacques Derrida’s determination to suspend his cooperation with the archive, these efforts were continuing and a number of UCI faculty remained committed to working toward the amendment of the Code of Conduct.
Shortly after Derrida’s death, discussions had begun between Marguerite Derrida and UCI concerning the future of the archive (which remained open for normal consultation throughout this process). This discussion halted abruptly after the Regents of the UC, in November of 2006, filed a lawsuit against Derrida’s heirs. After some months of negotiation, an agreement between the parties was signed and the lawsuit was withdrawn in May 2007.
In October 2006, an international conference entitled “‘Who?’ or ‘What?’—Jacques Derrida”, organized by Dragan Kujundzić, and with many of the original participants, took place at the University of Florida, Gainesville.