Editor’s Note: This letter to the editor is in response to The Maroon’s recent coverage of a lawsuit by a faculty member against an alumna. Maroon reporter Kate Mabus emailed Gary Tubb asking whether soliciting feedback from a professor's former students is normal practice when the professor is being considered for promotion. He did not respond. As Department Chair of Cinema and Media studies and South Asian Languages and Civilization respectively, Professors Daniel Morgan and Gary Tubb are colleagues of Professor Rochona Majumdar. The article this letter is concerned with has since been updated to include the outcome of the Department of Education’s investigation and the standard procedure for academic promotions at the University.
We are writing with regard to the article published on November 7, “Amid Promotion Prospect, SALC Professor Accused of Sexual Assault Sues Alum for Defamation.”
The news reported in the story is actually quite straightforward. Rochona Majumdar, associate professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations (SALC) and the Department of Cinema and Media Studies (CMS), has sued C. Christine Fair, professor in the security studies program at Georgetown University, charging that Fair made a series of derogatory, abusive, and harassing accusations against her that constitute defamation. Recently, a judge denied Fair’s motion to dismiss the case, noting that, as alleged in the complaint, it is “reasonable to infer that [Fair] was directing or aiming her tweets not only at [Majumdar], but also at the University of Chicago and its community” and that these comments were meant to cause reputational harm in our community. The forthcoming legal process will tell us whether Fair’s many derogatory comments rise to the level of defamation.
The article, however, presents this news in several ways that are deeply misleading and shockingly omits to include important parts of the story. The first omission is in the article’s very headline: the description of Majumdar as a “Professor Accused of Sexual Assault,” a phrase repeated in the first paragraph, then echoed again in the second paragraph. The phrasing is damning: This person is accused of assault. Yet, as The Maroon had itself reported—in an article to which this piece links—the charges against Majumdar were dismissed. Why not include that information? It is not a mere detail but a fact deeply relevant to a story that is, after all, ostensibly about defamation related to those very charges. Throughout the past 20 months, as The Maroon has reported, there have been repeated charges made against Majumdar as well as allegations of malfeasance against other faculty in the departments to which she belongs. In each case, the charges were thoroughly investigated—not only by the University’s Title IX process but also by the U.S. Department of Education. In each case, as The Maroon has also reported, the investigating body has found that the charges were not supported by the weight of the evidence and thus were unfounded. The repeated evaluation of this series of allegations, and the exoneration that has resulted from every one of the processes, is the necessary context for any reporting related to these events.
The second issue has to do with Majumdar’s promotion to full professor, a proceeding that has no relevance to the suit that she has brought against Fair. The promotion process begins when a faculty member has achieved significant distinction beyond the initial tenure process, something that Majumdar achieved with the publication of her recent book. It involves strict and established procedures and criteria of evaluation. To say that the suit is brought “Amid [a] Promotion Prospect” not only gets the chronology wrong—the suit was filed in February 2021, long before a promotion review began—but implies a causal relation between two utterly unconnected events.
Third, the article reproduces a letter that was sent by the chair of the SALC department to Majumdar’s former students asking for input in the review process. The article insinuates that this letter might reflect an irregularity in the procedures of promotion or a tacit recognition of the validity of the charges against Majumdar. This is simply wrong. Some quick research would have shown that such a request for student input is standard for promotion procedures at any level and that it is a requirement spelled out in the University’s published guidelines. A Google search for “UChicago faculty promotion,” for example, would have turned up this link in the top results, which provides the provost’s guidelines for promotion—including “evidence of teaching and mentoring.” And any department chair can attest that such letters are standard, along with their wording for each department.
As we said at the outset, the actual “news” here is straightforward. Without anything else to go on, The Maroon has done its best to manufacture news; in doing so, it has failed to adhere to basic standards of accuracy and journalistic integrity, standards that we would hope and expect The Maroon to defend and uphold.
Professor and Department Chair, Department of Cinema and Media Studies
Anupama and Guru Ramakrishnan Professor and Department Chair, Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations