Were sex and punishment behind feud for archives?
When a vampire expert allegedly seduced a tipsy UC Irvine student four years ago, he inadvertently set off a chain of events that now jeopardizes the school’s control of a dead philosopher’s prized archives.
The story came to light after UCI announced this month that it would drop a lawsuit against the widow and sons of philosopher Jacques Derrida, the acclaimed founder of deconstruction, an influential but bewildering theory that questions the concept of absolute truth.
In 1990, Derrida signed an agreement to donate his scholarly papers to UCI, where he taught part time. But after his death in 2004, Derrida’s heirs began questioning the pact. The university tried to negotiate, then sued three months ago, a maneuver that outraged professors in California and beyond.
Buried in the news that UCI would resume negotiations with Derrida’s family was a mysterious footnote: The feud over his archives was sparked by a letter Derrida sent to UCI shortly before his death.
In it, the pipe-puffing Frenchman threatened to pull the plug on the archives because he was furious about “some things the university was doing,” said Peggy Kamuf, a USC professor and Derrida friend.
Kamuf wouldn’t elaborate, but details have slowly emerged. According to multiple sources, Derrida wanted UCI to halt its investigation of a Russian studies professor, Dragan Kujundzic, who was accused of sexually harassing a 25-year-old female doctoral student. So he tried to use his archives as leverage to derail the case, they said.
UCI officials declined to comment on Derrida’s letter or Kujundzic last week. But court records from a lawsuit filed by the doctoral student might fill in some of the gaps.
The 2004 sexual harassment lawsuit contends that Kujundzic, who taught a popular class on vampires and signed his e-mails with a colon to symbolize Dracula bite marks, used his position as the student’s advisor to manipulate her into a series of sexual encounters.
Thirty minutes after they met at a reception for new students in September 2003, Kujundzic invited the woman to his apartment to view photos of Moscow, court records said.
There, he plied the student with Transylvanian wine and opera music, then kissed and groped her, according to the lawsuit. The woman said she fended off the married professor’s entreaties to have intercourse but performed oral sex on him that night and again the following evening.
They rendezvoused twice more before she filed a formal complaint with school officials. She admitted initiating one of the trysts.
Kujundzic, 47, who left Irvine in 2005 for a job at the University of Florida, told campus investigators the fling was “voluntary and consensual.”
The student said she felt coerced to engage in sex or risk having her academic career ruined.
UCI’s probe sided with neither party. Investigator Gwen Thompson concluded the relationship was consensual but said Kujundzic violated a policy that barred professors from dating students they supervised.
Derrida, who at the time was dying from pancreatic cancer, tried to intervene, but on Aug. 31, school officials demoted Kujundzic, reduced his salary, banned him from campus without pay for two quarters and ordered him into sexual-harassment counseling, according to court records.
Kujundzic and the University of California were later sued in Orange County Superior Court by the student, a case that was settled out of court this month for an undisclosed amount.
Derrida’s archives, caught in the crossfire, remain in limbo. Last fall, after negotiations broke off between UCI and Derrida’s heirs, the school sued his family, which lives in France.
“What’s absurd is that the University of Irvine attacked me at the very moment I was trying to come to an understanding with them,” Derrida’s widow, Marguerite, told Le Monde last week.
Talks resumed when UCI promised to drop the lawsuit, but Derrida’s widow said she still had no intention of handing over his papers.