Thursday, October 22, 2015

Oh God, Not McGinn Again

Via Daily Nous, we have learned that Colin McGinn, Edward Erwin, and the University of Miami are being sued by the former graduate student and research assistant who claims that McGinn sexually harassed her. Justin Weinberg has a copy of the lawsuit at DN. There is a detailed article at the Huffington Post, and less detailed articles at the Telegraph and the Chronicle. The HuffPo article contains a bunch of text messages and emails that I'd never seen reproduced before, which they say they had access to copies of, and which are horrible.

For example, here is the much-discussed "Sex Three Times" email, in its entirety (all quotations are taken from the HuffPo piece, and not just from the lawsuit itself, because HuffPo has reviewed the documents):
Need to avoid the scenario I sketched: you meet someone else, I broken hearted, our relationship over (except formally).  This follows pretty obviously from current policy.  To avoid my heart break I need to prepare myself mentally, which means withdrawing from you emotionally--not good for either of us.  Also no good to just have full-blown relationship--too risky and difficult in the circumstances.  So need compromise.  Many are possible. Here's one (I'm not necessarily advocating it): we have sex 3 times over the summer when no one is around, but stop before next semester begins.  This has many advantages, which I won't spell out, but also disadvantages, ditto.  I am NOT asking you to do this--it is merely one possible compromise solution to a difficult problem, which might suggest others.  It has the FORM of a possible solution.  Try to take this in the spirit in which it is intended.  yours, Colin
Great Scott! I hope it is obvious that this is not the kind of thing you can say to your research assistant. You cannot tell your RA that she needs to help you avoid heart break. You cannot suggest that your RA have sex with you as any sort of compromise. "Hey, let's have sex a few times! It's a happy medium between two unpleasant extremes!" Aristotle would be proud, but only because Aristotle was a sexist asshole.

Although technically, he allegedly says, he is not literally suggesting that they have sex three times over the summer--it's merely a meta-suggestion of the type of suggestion he thinks she should make--he does allegedly point out that doing so has many advantages, and anyways I'm not sure that you can really do this. The other day my wife had a bit of a long day, so after kiddie bedtime I suggested that we watch a movie and relax, and that she should pick the movie. "Whatever you want to watch, that's what we'll watch," I said. "For example," I continued, "if you wanted to pick Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, we could watch that. Not that I'm suggesting that--it's your decision entirely. I was merely suggesting that as a possible suggestion that you might consider suggesting if that was something you wanted to suggest." It was, however, clear to us both that I really was suggesting that we watch Anchorman 2, and that the technique of couching the suggestion in the form of a higher-order meta-suggestion had absolutely no practical effect on what I was doing. It did allow me to pretend that I wasn't really suggesting it, but I was obviously only pretending and nobody was fooled. We watched Snowpiercer.

Another time, according to HuffPo, McGinn sent her the following pair of text messages:
McGinn: I love your essence
McGinn: Plus it gives me a slight erection
Great Scott! No, no, no, no, no. No.

You can't say stuff like that to your RA, either. Also--and I want to make it clear that I have never tried this and that this is just an unscientific conjecture--I feel confident that just telling women straight out when they give you an erection is not an effective seduction technique. I'm not saying that it will never work on anyone; I'm saying that it will never work on almost anyone, and that the conditions have to be exactly right for it to work, and that those conditions are all but guaranteed not to be satisfied between you and your RA. The presence of a direct supervisory relationship messes up the dynamic. Maybe you'd be purposefully abusing your power. Maybe you'd be only accidentally abusing your power. Maybe you'd merely be opening yourself up to a lawsuit based on the fact that, to an outside observer, it would look exactly like you were abusing your power. Whatever it is, it's a bad idea. Very, very bad. Not good.

If you're going to try this--I am not saying you should try this.You should not try this. You should never do anything like this under any circumstances. If you're going to try this, you need to stop it instantly if you do not receive an immediate and overwhelmingly positive response. It is not up to the other person to tell you to knock it off. Sometimes you have to do this with toddlers, but adults can be expected to know that you should not talk about your penis in polite company. The lawsuit alleges that McGinn made numerous and repeated references to his erections in various emails and text messages.

Another time, according to HuffPo, McGinn sent the following series of text messages, which contain an interesting riff on the well-established "hand job" joke:
McGinn: So I expect a hand job when I next see you.
McGinn: Yes.
McGinn: I like to amuse you.
McGinn: Now I've got a slight erection.
McGinn: I'm imagining you.
Great Scott! No! Noooooooooooooooo!

Suppose that you accept McGinn's explanation that 'hand job' means "clipping my fingernails" or whatever, and then you accept that it makes any sense on any level for an advisor to tell his student and research assistant that he expects her to clip his fingernails when he next sees her, and that there's any reason why a person would want to imagine his RA clipping his fingernails. I still find that the fact that he allegedly gets an erection in the middle of all this and allegedly tells her about it substantially undermines the claimed innocence of the "joke." The way he allegedly mentions his penis in the middle of what is supposed to be an admittedly ribald way of referring to clipping one's fingernails makes it seem exactly like he's not really talking about clipping his fingernails after all. The net effect is of a vulgar, ham-handed, extraordinarily inappropriate come-on that absolutely should not be aired in the context of this kind of professional relationship. Unless it's one of those chaste, platonic erections that can exist between friends and which employers can share with their employees. Maybe it's one of these ironic erections that the hipsters of Williamsburg and Silver Lake have recently been attaining. In any case, I've now given the topic of Colin McGinn's privates much more thought than I prefer, and would like to change the subject please.

The lawsuit also alleges that McGinn called her over 30 times during winter break, which seems excessive; that he quoted a passage from Lolita to her that deals with the fire of Humbert's loins; that he invented a ritualized series of hand grips, which he admits to in articles that appeared in Slate and the Chronicle, and which she says made her extremely uncomfortable; that he insisted on holding her foot and then kissed it; that he threatened to harm her career unless she had sex with him; that he suggested sex three times as a compromise when she said no; etc. After she resigned from the RA position in September of 2012, the lawsuit alleges that he wrote, "you are much better off with my support than without it. So please think carefully about your actions." The alleged behavior seems pretty inappropriate, and at least somewhat threatening.

And so, if these allegations are true and the University of Miami had access to these messages, I can see where it would be very distressing that the administration threatened to charge him (or threaten to charge him or whatever they did) only with failure to report a consensual relationship instead of bona fide sexual harassment, and then let him resign rather than be formally investigated, and then let him say publicly that he'd never so much as been accused of sexual harassment, and also let him say publicly (in Slate and the Chronicle) that she lodged her complaint only because she failed to complete her research assignment and was concerned about getting a negative evaluation. If that happened to me, I think I would be extremely distressed by it. I suspect that I'd find it pretty devastating. I'm not sure how I'd be able to cope with it.

I admit to being naive about how these decisions are made, and I would not want to suggest that a complainant should have final approval over any plea-bargain that a University's disciplinarians might consider pursuing. But I do think that a complainant ought to have some say over whether the investigation of her complaint is conducted in a formal or informal manner--particularly if the disciplinarians think the complaint is serious enough that the step of asking for the defendant's resignation is warranted. (The UM faculty manual indicates that it is the complainant's option to end any informal proceeding and initiate a formal one. The lawsuit alleges that she was not granted that right.) I don't know enough to have a legal opinion about what UM's obligations were or whether they lived up to them, but on a non-legal level, if these allegations are true, it seems to me that she's got a real point here.

--Mr. Zero

P.S. I'm going to open comments, but I'm going to moderate with a heavy touch. I don't know what actually happened, and neither do you.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Is this a bad year?

Latest Update: Check out a much more detailed post by Carolyn Dicey Jennings over at NewAPPs!

(Update: See below for a revised graph and a link to CDJ's data [thanks, CDJ!].)

In the permanent thread, there have been some questions about whether or not this is a bad market year. We have some preliminary numbers c/o Carolyn Dicey Jennings:

Looks like jobs are down across the board except for in value theory.

I'm hoping that this is just a function of the market being extended by PhilJobs's publishing schedule (round-the-clock), the declining role of the Eastern APA in the job market, and the move to Skype (or that departments are skipping first-round interviews altogether).

But that's probably just naive optimism.

EDIT, 10/18:

--Jaded, PhD

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The latest development on McGinn

I want to second this post from Feminist Philosophers on the latest news about the McGinn case, particularly this bit:
Those...on the internet know the horrific campaigns directed against women who step out of line and complain against misogynistic behaviour. This is true generally, and it is true specifically in philosophy. She has survived one horrible ordeal–harassment, made worse by being so poorly handled, and now the trolls can easily find her. And she knows all this. I am blown away by the immense bravery shown by her filing this suit [...] 
[She] is doing an immense service to academia with her towering bravery in refusing to accept the way that Miami dealt with the case. We all owe her a tremendous debt. 
I'm going to say one thing below in the comments, but then close them.

--Jaded, PhD

Monday, October 12, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Philosophers' Cocoon Mentoring Project

Helen De Cruz and Marcus Arvan of the Philosophers' Cocoon have started a job-market mentoring program that is open to everyone, in order to help meet the needs of people who aren't eligible for this other awesome mentoring program.

You can find details here.

I think this is pretty cool, and I am grateful to Helen and Marcus for doing this. I've also been pretty impressed by their Job Market Boot Camp series. A lot of good stuff is happening at the PC these days. Get over there and check it out.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sleeping with Your Students is Not Great Pedagogy

I've been struggling to read and digest this recent article in the New Republic by Laura Miller, entitled "Lust for Learning." It's hard to pin down exactly what the thesis is supposed to be, but it appears to go somewhat beyond the claim that total bans on faculty/student romantic involvement, even in the absence of a direct supervisory relationship, are unjustified overreactions that go too far. (If I understand it correctly, I agree that Harvard's new policy is an unjustified overreaction that goes too far.)

Instead, Miller seems to suggest that you can help your students learn by engaging in flirtation with them, and also by pursuing romantic and sexual relationships with them. "Bans on faculty-student relationships amount to an institutional throwing up of the hands when it comes to parsing the difference between an intense pedagogic experience and a manipulative seduction," she says. Administrations don't want to be bothered to distinguish manipulative abuses of power, which would be wrong, from the use of sexuality as pedagogy, which she seems to think is ok, or even to be encouraged. "Perhaps what makes pedagogy so potent also makes it inherently erotic," she says.

That is amazingly silly.

I don't feel like writing an actual essay about this, so instead I'm going to list off some quotes and make fun of them and stuff. Here goes.
  • The first pullquote reads: "Perhaps it’s possible to separate the thrill of encountering a fascinating mind from the fizz of libido, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to."
    • This is just an egregious failure of imagination. I can think of lots of reasons one might have for wanting to separate one's studies from the fizz of one's libido:
      1. I find it easier to concentrate on my work when I'm not experiencing the fizz of libido. I find the fizz of libido to be somewhat distracting, and so I mostly try to avoid it when I'm working.
      2. I am happily married, and I'd like to stay that way. I think it would cause problems for me if I went around openly experiencing the fizz of libido with my students.
      3. I don't really want to fizz my libido at my students, even apart from the fact that doing so would blow up my family. I'm just not interested. They're usually very young, and a lot of them are not the right gender for me, and anyways that's not why I got into this business.
      4. For that matter, I am pretty sure my students don't want me fizzing my libido at them. I'm old, and they're in college, and they have their own shit going on. I think there's a decent chance that any fizzing I might attempt would come off poorly. I think there's a decent chance they'd see it as creepy and weird, rather than an intense but effective way to approach the course material. 
      5. I have many friends and professional acquaintances who I like and respect, and who I think like and respect me. If I went around fizzing my libido at them whenever I bump into them at conferences and in email correspondences and stuff, I think some of them might find it bothersome. I think it might affect the degree to which they like and/or respect me.
  • I found it very weird how little attention Miller paid to the possibility that a professor engaged in a flirtation, even if it were initially welcome, might attempt to take unfair advantage of situation. Or, might do so accidentally. It is, I think, undeniable that professors wield authority over their students, and it is also undeniable that this authority can be abused, and it is similarly undeniable that one purpose to which this abuse of authority can be put is the acquisition of sexual favors from unwilling pupils. But Miller seems awfully sure that the student and the professor will be equally willing to fizz their libidos at one another, and that they will be on the same page about the quantity and manner of the fizzing, as well as the desired commitment level (i.e. level of exclusivity, length of term, etc). Although she acknowledges the possibility that problems might arise, she doesn't seem to be terribly concerned about them.
  • The obvious possibility that professors might abuse their power is at least part of the reason why I share Justin's puzzlement about the use of recent examples from philosophy to support greater levels of permissiveness in this domain. I would have guessed that, at the very least, the two highest-profile philosophy cases of the past few years represent an object lesson in what can go wrong with these kinds of relationships. 
    • Take the McGinn case. Even if you believe everything Colin McGinn says about the relationship and its aftermath (which, to be clear, I do not)--that the relationship was entirely consensual; that it was a strictly "intellectual" romance, whatever that is; that he was only kidding about the sex and the handjob; that she failed to do a bunch of work he'd assigned her; that she only went to the administration after he gave her a deservedly poor performance review; and that she lied to them about the nature of their relationship in order to get revenge--you have to admit that he handed her all the tools she needed to detonate his career. He obliterated his own ability to effectively supervise his research assistant by doing a bunch of the stuff that someone who was abusing his authority would do. 
      • Which is why these kinds of flirtations are unavoidably risky for the professors, too. Administrations must be vigilant against the very real risk that professors will abuse their power (the possibility of which, to emphasize, means that these flirtations are also risky for the students). Obviously this grants power to the students, and this power can also be abused. A student could file a false accusation and destroy one's career. But one makes things much easier for a would-be career destroyer if one send a bunch of libido fizz via email and text message.
      • But this risk does not stem from the fact that feminist ideologues and their Title IX are running amok; it's an inherent byproduct of allowing students to report potential abuses of power. 
      • (And, because he had the authority of a direct supervisory relationship, he also obliterated his ability to know that he wasn't abusing his authority. How did he know that she wasn't just playing along in order to keep him happy? He didn't.)
  • I was not sure what lesson I was supposed to draw from the discussion of the case of Abélard and Héloïse. The penalties for Abélard's alleged misbehaviors have obviously been lightened considerably; it's hard to imagine that Miller wouldn't see this as progress. ;-)
    • Also. I'm no expert on this topic, but Miller's rendition of the story is different from the version I heard. I am somewhat out of my depth here, and I would be happy to hear corrections in comments, but I think Miller's telling of the story is a whitewash. I quote a key passage of Miller's telling of the story below, with my remarks inserted [in square brackets]:
He [Abélard] finagled his way into her [Héloïse’s] uncle’s house by agreeing to instruct Héloïse in exchange for lodging. [Ok. So far, so good.] Their love led to her pregnancy [it's not clear what happened to the baby. Their subsequent correspondence doesn't mention him.] and a secret marriage [it was Abélard’s idea to keep the marriage a secret, because he thought it would hurt his career if it was widely known that he was married. Héloïse didn't want to get married at all at first, but Abélard talked her into it], but Héloïse’s uncle remained angry at Abelard’s betrayal (and perhaps believed he was about to discard her, thereby disgracing their family) [Héloïse’s uncle publicized the marriage in order to hurt Abélard, and then Héloïse denied that they were married. That's when Abélard sent her into hiding at a convent--he said it was because he was worried about her safety--and the fact that he sent her away to the convent is why the uncle thought he was going to dump her], so he [the uncle] had a group of thugs break into Abélard’s room and castrate him. [I honestly can't see this as anything but a bummer.] Abélard became a monk and urged Héloïse to become a nun. [Abélard made her become a nun against her will.] 
    • This is a fucked up story. But, as you can see, Miller's telling omits a bunch of details, and these are mostly events in which one of the men in the story ignores Héloïse’s wishes and forces her to do something against her will, or persuades her to do something she'd rather not--and most of the time it was Abélard, not the uncle, who did this. With one key exception, Abélard got whatever he wanted. They responded to each situation his way, and if Héloïse didn't agree with him he either talked her into it or made her do it anyway. 
    • So, I have trouble seeing this as an example of the good old days, when female students were treated as the competent adults who are capable of making their own decisions that they obviously are. Every time Héloïse makes her wishes known, she is overruled. 
    • And I can't help but feel like Héloïse’s life was substantially derailed by her affair with Abélard. It seems to me that Héloïse’s education might have been a little more of a positive experience for her if she and Abélard had kept their fizzy libidos in check.
    • Also, the great love affair of Abélard and Héloïse was not thwarted by a bunch of overzealous, Title IX-thumping Social Justice Warriors. The people who got in the way were her family. He was castrated by her uncle's goons, not the president of Harvard.
    • (Also, apparently people find this story tragically romantic or something, but I have no idea what's romantic about it. I don't see it at all. These two start a secret affair; her family makes them break up, but they keep having the secret affair anyway; she gets pregnant; they get secret married; her family doesn't keep the secret; he sends her away; her family cuts his balls off; they both join different monasteries and write passionate letters and never discuss their child. The people who think that's romantic probably think Romeo and Juliet is romantic.)
  • Miller says, "One woman’s ordeal is another’s adventure, a chance to flaunt her ability to beguile the teacher whose lectures leave her spellbound." Seems like she's mostly thinking about female students and their male professors. She mentions a couple of cases in which female professors engage in fizzy pedagogy with their female students, but if she thinks male students might benefit from fizzing with their professors, she doesn't seem to say so. I wonder why that is? 
  • The beginning and ending of the final paragraph says: "It is an excess of caution that makes the vulnerabilities of a community’s most fragile members the benchmark for everyone else’s sexual choices, but university administrators are probably not losing any sleep over the chilling effect the new conduct codes will have on their faculties’ love lives. ... One woman’s ordeal is another’s adventure ... It’s up to the faculty to see if they can determine which is which. They’re supposed to be the grown-ups, after all."
    • Wait. I thought the students were supposed to be grown ups, too. Are they, or aren't they?
    • Look. I know lots of people who have dated their students. I know few who ended up marrying a former student--someone they met in a class they were teaching. In several cases I know about, a mutual attraction between a professor and a student that began in the classroom grew into a healthy long-term relationship in which wedding vows were subsequently exchanged. (Of course, a few of these people are now divorced, but not all of them are, and lots of marriages end in divorce, and I have no basis for thinking that the prof/student thing played any role in the divorces.) I think it's possible for these relationships to be healthy and fruitful, and I respect the autonomy of the adults involved to make their own decisions about their own love lives, and so I oppose prohibiting faculty/student altogether. 
    • But Miller is making a much stronger claim than this. Although she's making that claim, she's also making another, much more contentious, much less plausible claim: that you may cultivate your students' academic interest in the material by cultivating (or at least not discouraging) their sexual interest in you, and that this is a legitimate and effective pedagogical approach. I have no idea why anyone would think that this is a good idea. 
      • "How do you cultivate student interest in the material?" "Well, I let them know that I'm hot in a smart kind of way, and that makes the ideas seem kind of hot, too. It's my natural sexual charisma and my fizzy libido. It's like they're having a ménage with me and the ontological argument. It's very effective."
  • So, I can't help but see this as a really bad article whose main point is totally wrong. 
--Mr. Zero

Monday, August 31, 2015

Why I Keep Doing This To Myself

As job market season approaches, I find that it is natural to wonder why I would keep doing this to myself. I'm not from an elite graduate program, and I'm getting old and stale. The odds of success were never all that great, and they're not getting better.

Many years ago, when I first started Smoking, I considered this question. At that time, I said,
I keep doing this to myself because I love my job. Over the summer I snagged a VAP. It's a lot of teaching (only 2 preps, though!), a lot of students, not much money (twice what I made last year, though), and located in a part of the country I would not otherwise have opted for. Nevertheless, I get up in the morning and go to work and it doesn't feel like work. I like being in the classroom. I like introducing people to philosophy and teaching them how to do it. (I do not like grading their initial efforts.) I like thinking about philosophical problems, doing philosophical research, and writing philosophy papers. 
So, one thing I've learned being in this job is that I really like this kind of job. I like being a professor, and I like it when I read a good paper from a student and I can think, I taught this person how to do this. I like the feeling I get when I clearly identify a philosophical problem, work my way through it, and develop a plausible solution. 
All I want is to be able to keep doing this.
I find that this is all still true. Some days feel a little like work, of course. But mostly I feel like the only difference between then and now is that I've learned a lot about teaching, and I've published some stuff I'm proud of, and I've got some other stuff under review that I'm also proud of, and I've attended a bunch of conferences and department colloquia and given a bunch of talks that I've greatly enjoyed, and I've made a lot of friends. And I want to keep doing that.

And, I've discovered that I'm at least a little good at this. And I don't really know how to do anything else. So what else am I going to do? I keep my eyes peeled for other opportunities--non-teaching jobs that I'd be good at and which would make sense in other ways--but nothing has really materialized. One time an opportunity came up in the administration that I think I was well-suited for (though it didn't pay much more), but before I could do anything about it, I had to prep for class and I realized how much I'd miss teaching if I didn't get to do it anymore, so I let it go.

And, I see this as an important job. I see the classes I teach as an important part of a good, well-rounded University education that the students at this institution should have. There's the oft-touted critical thinking skills, of course, but I also address ideas from the past that educated people should know about, and demonstrate how to engage with foundational issues that lie at the bottom of a wide variety of other, otherwise unrelated intellectual endeavors. How to think effectively about weird things.

And it's not like I have absolutely no luck on the job market. I get interviews, and sometimes I get invited to campus. I get no offers, of course. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why not. I don't know why not.

And my current position is pretty okay, as these things go. It's relatively stable, and it's much less exploitative than some of the positions I see advertised. The other members of my family are pretty well-situated. Nothing's ideal, but nothing's terrible.

And my family is supportive. I've known people whose families were not supportive, and it's a difficult bummer. I'm lucky.

And I feel like it would be stupid to sit out, and not go on the job market, even though I hate it and I doubt it will work. It's not that hard for me to go on the market--I've been out here a long time, and I've got it pretty down. Seems like I stand to lose more by not doing it than by doing it.

So, I guess that's why. I feel like I stand to lose more by not doing it.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What to do about the Phylo jobs wiki?

David Morrow, co-founder of the Phylo job wiki with Chris Sula, writes in to ask about whether people would like to continue using the current platform or migrate it elsewhere. He says (emphasis added):
Since someone submitted the first job of the year to the Phylo job wiki, and someone else asked about wikis on the job-info thread, I thought this would be a good time for people to discuss whether they would like to continue using the Phylo wiki or would rather migrate to something else, like I'll continue to maintain the Phylo wiki if people want to use it, but I know that some people would prefer that the community use something else, and such a decision is hard to reverse once the job market is really under way.
What do y'all think?

-- Jaded, Ph.D. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Reluctantly Crouched at the Starting Line Again Already

In comments here, Lost points out that "it has begun"--the first tenure-track job ad of the '15/'16 job-market season has been posted.

I find that with each passing year I have a harder time getting myself motivated to tackle the job market. Not that I was ever excited about it. But I used to feel a sense of anticipation and interest in seeing which were going to advertise and which ads I could apply for. Not this year, though. This year I feel a mix of dread and apathy.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I am not ready.

--Mr. Zero

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A NEW Permanent Thread to Talk or Ask or Post Information about Specific Jobs (6/27/15)

[REDUX] A lot of people in the comments seem interested in having space to discuss or request information about specific jobs. If providing information and if possible, please provide the source of your information.

Here's a permanent thread for this. Perhaps we can use the other open threads for people to trade horror or success or weird stories, any hints that they might think are helpful, strategies for dealing with stress of the job market, etc. [I'll try to get an open thread up soon.]

In the future, after this isn't at the top of the page, you can find this thread in the sidebar. Here's a picture, with the place to find this thread in the future.