Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Few Words on the McGinn Imbroglio

As I guess we all know, Colin McGinn has chosen to resign from the University of Miami rather than allow the University to proceed with an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct involving a research assistant. The article at the Chronicle of Higher Ed is here (paywalled); Sally Haslanger has posted a PDF of the whole thing here. Discussion at NewApps hereherehere, and here; discussion at Feminist Philosophers here; discussion at Leiter here and here.

Briefly, what seems to have happened is this: McGinn had a Research Assistant who was a female graduate student. Last spring, the RA started feeling uncomfortable with McGinn. Then, last April, McGinn allegedly started sending her sexually explicit email messages, including one in which, according to the RA's boyfriend and two unnamed faculty members, “McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating.”* Wowza.

The RA then contacted the Office of Equality Administration. According to CHE, “after the university's Office of Equality Administration and the vice provost for faculty affairs conducted an investigation, Mr. McGinn was given the option of agreeing to resign or having an investigation into the allegations against him continue in a public setting, several of the philosopher's colleagues said.”

It's hard to know exactly what to make of this. On one obvious interpretation, there's a clearly implied threat: if you don't resign, we're going to publicly drag your name through the mud. And I'm not sure how normal the prospect of a “public” investigation is in this kind of circumstance. For example, if I recall correctly, the Oregon case from a couple of years ago involved an investigation that was supposed to have been kept private, and was made public only in violation of the University's procedures. But procedures vary from institution to institution, and I don't have any expertise here. I don't really have any idea whether this is unusual or not, although my suspicion is that it is at least a little unusual.

It therefore seems reasonable to worry about whether the procedures Miami followed here were respectful of McGinn's right to due process. But it's worth emphasizing that the CHE article is not very clear about precisely what happened—for example, Leiter says that McGinn had legal representation and was acting on his lawyer's advice, but the CHE doesn't mention it. It is also worth emphasizing that the account in the CHE comes from unnamed “colleagues,” not McGinn or his representatives or any official source at the University. And this comment at Feminist Philosophers, the veracity of which I am not in a position to verify, makes the meeting seem at least a little less troubling. On that account, it was more like, we've got some pretty compelling, well-documented evidence of misconduct, which we are duty-bound to pursue; but we'd like to give you the opportunity to resign now and save us both a big headache.

Additionally—and here I want to emphasize that I don't know what happened, I haven't seen the emails, and I don't have any special insight into the matter—my other suspicion is that the allegations are at least somewhat likely to be at least a little true. Again, I don't know anything, but my evidence for this suspicion is how the University has behaved. It seems to me—and it could be that I am being very naive and trusting and totally wrong about this—that if it really is just a “he-said/she-said” type deal, the allegations don't go anywhere. It seems to me that if an RA accuses her supervisor of sending her sexually inappropriate emails and then cannot produce the emails, or the emails don't say what she said they say, the allegations don't go anywhere. Particularly, it seems unlikely that the university would ask the single most prominent scholar in a given department to resign like that in the absence of pretty solid corroborating evidence. But that's not dispositive, and I haven't seen the emails, and I don't know what really happened.

The CHE article also contains this noteworthy passage:
Advocates of Mr. McGinn, however, say that the correspondence may have been misinterpreted when taken out of context.  
Edward Erwin, a supporter of Mr. McGinn who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, said Mr. McGinn was working on a book about human evolution and the hand. Part of the reason Mr. McGinn was sending messages that could be interpreted as sexually explicit, Mr. Erwin said, was probably because of communication about that research.
I'm reading between the lines here, but this explanation—that the discussion of masturbation was an innocent byproduct of research related to human evolution and the hand—makes sense only if McGinn's idea is that masturbation played some non-negligible role in the evolution of the human hand. Now, I'm not a biologist and I'm not competent to evaluate that idea, so I'm not going to tell you how stupid I think it sounds. It doesn't matter how stupid I think this idea is. And I don't really want to speculate about the plausibility of genuinely research-related emails, even on this topic, being misinterpreted in the manner described in the CHE article. I don't want to speculate about how someone might misinterpret a research-related message that innocently discusses the role masturbation played in the evolution of the human hand as saying that he, McGinn, “had been thinking about the student while masturbating.” Or how this alleged misinterpretation might come to be shared by what seems to be at least four different readers, including the RA, her boyfriend, and the two unnamed faculty members. The fact that all this seems totally preposterous is of no interest to anyone whatsoever; I haven't seen the emails and I don't know what they say. For all I know, this preposterous thing is exactly what happened. All I really want to say about this passage is, with friends like this who needs friends?

Professor Erwin goes on:
“There was some sexual talk, banter, puns, and jokes made between the two,”  Mr. Erwin said. “The written records, I believe, show that this was an entirely consensual relationship.” 
No, no. That is not how it works. It is remarkable how profoundly this misunderstands the student/professor relationship. A professor's relationships with his or her students are not “entirely consensual” like that. Student/professor relationships inherently have a highly unequal balance of power. That includes students in one's undergraduate and graduate classes, obviously, but it also includes teaching- and research assistants; academic advisees; people whose thesis or dissertation committees one sits on; exam proctors; everyone. Everyone. Anything a student says or writes to a professor has to be seen in that light. Suppose the professor engages in sexual banter and the student banters back. Maybe that's because she consented and wanted to banter, but maybe it's because the power differential inherent in the relationship placed her in a position of duress, in which she felt like she had to banter or face unpleasant consequences. If the return banter was performed unwillingly or under duress, there is no reason to think that the written records will reveal it.

But the larger point—and on a certain level this is so obvious that it is not worth saying, but on another level it clearly needs to be emphasized—is that when you are dealing with other people, it is not all about you. It is also about the other person. You have to be careful with other people. You have to go out of your way to ensure that they feel comfortable and respected. This is your responsibility if you want to go into the world and deal with the other people there, and it is especially your responsibility if you are a prominent scholar in a highly-respected research university who oversees graduate students who do work for your academic department.

And so it seems to me that there's no scenario in which McGinn is blameless, even if Professor Erwin's story is literally the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The student was a research assistant working for McGinn's department, and he was a prominent scholar serving as her supervisor. He had a responsibility in that capacity to ensure that she felt comfortable and respected. Obviously, given the sexual nature of the research topic, a certain level of sexual content is to be expected, and an RA for such a research topic needs to either be comfortable with that content or ask to be reassigned. (And the researcher needs to make it clear that it is okay to ask to be reassigned.) But Professor Erwin's remarks make clear that McGinn's conduct with this RA went beyond mere discussion of the research material and into “sexual talk, banter, puns, and jokes.” This sexual stuff seems to have made the RA deeply and extremely uncomfortable, and it had a similar effect on her boyfriend and several other faculty members. And McGinn seems to have kept it up for kind of a long time.

You can't do that. It therefore seems to me that the best-case scenario for McGinn is that his behavior warrants disciplinary action, and from there the possibilities only get worse.

--Mr. Zero

*All quotes are from the CHE article.

163 comments:

Hermocrates said...

Just to get this out of the way: I agree with Zero that it's pretty hard to see how McGinn could be blameless, no matter how you fill in the gaps.

Okay. Still, I think there are scenarios in which he doesn't come off too badly. Mr. Zero says, "If the return banter was performed unwillingly or under duress, there is no reason to think that the written records will reveal it." Absolutely. And if it wasn't, the written record may very well not show that it wasn't. (Wasn't under any kind of duress, that is.)

It's possible that McGinn reasonably interpreted his interactions with the student as quite harmless, that he reasonably understood her to be okay with the crude banter. I mean, given that she wasn't, it's still possible that he reasonably thought she she was.

I don't say this is likely, and, I reiterate, even in this best-for-McGinn-case scenario, he is certainly not blameless. But he doesn't turn out to be an absolute schmuck.



(My bet is on absolute schmuck, for what it's worth.)

ShineBright said...

I hope that the graduate student went to Dr. McGinn first to express her discomfort before running this up the flagpole.

Yes, flirting and sexual innuendo is always inappropriate between teachers and students. That is the boilerplate, and that is fine. But it remains a fact that we are all adults, and what one person finds inappropriate another might not. Moreover, it's easy to misunderstand another's motives, especially over an impersonal medium like e-mail.

If she told him that she was uncomfortable and he persisted, then his dismissal was justified. That's just being an asshole to another human being, and there's no excuse for it. But: If he honestly misread the relationship and she did nothing to correct this misperception, then in my judgment the majority of the moral blame falls upon her shoulders.

I do not defend Dr. McGinn here. I have no idea what happened. But I point out a frequent (and to my mind deeply anti-feminist) tendency to regard young women in academia as somehow morally weak or incapable of defending themselves.

We're not kids anymore; Big Boy Rules apply.

Anonymous said...

What McGinn has done, as well as what he's accused of, is simply disappointing and beyond stupid. The issue on its own is disturbing enough, but when lumped in with the broader gender disparity, and laundry list of sexual and harassment misconduct in higher education (and lamentably philosophy) becomes downright hard to wrap one's head around fully. It is no surprise, nor does it come as a shock to many, that this kind of thing happens in academia. With McGinn as well known as he is makes the whole thing deserving of public scrutiny, and rightly so probably. It's just sad and pathetic really, at the end of the day.

Anonymous said...

For example, if I recall correctly, the Oregon case from a couple of years ago involved an investigation that was supposed to have been kept private, and was made public only in violation of the University's procedures.

Speaking as the former Oregon graduate student who went public regarding out departmental harasser, may I ask what you mean by "supposed to"?

I had no role in the official investigation and contacted Leiter as a private individual after the department leadership had spent literally years making sure this professor's predatory activities were, as you say, "kept private". Am I to feel ashamed for this transgression of the University's "procedures" and not keeping quiet as I was—apparently—"supposed to"?

That said, I am quite happy to see just how much things are changing in our field as regards sexual harassment. Why in a few more years academic philosophy might finally take the matter as seriously as it is taken in the capitalist business world!

Also, "due process" refers to the requirement that the State respect the legal rights of citizens. The due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment make explicit that it's prohibitions apply only to state actors. As the University of Miami is a private institution, such concerns are a red herring.

zombie said...

I suppose some of McGinn's defenders might be thinking, if he was doing something improper, he wouldn't have been dumb enough to leave a digital trail, and wouldn't have let it go on and on. Two words: Anthony Weiner.

Seems clear that it's not just the student's say-so here. That there is email evidence compelling enough to get more than a few people het up about the whole thing. Good on the student for keeping the evidence, and for having the nerve to do something about it. When the alleged culprit is the guy who is apparently single-handedly (I would say no pun intended, but I can't) responsible for the department's reputation, that's no small thing.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a student at Miami, so I have no idea if this is what the CHE article is referring to--but that said, in a situation like this where a Title IX violation is in question, it's quite common for a university to begin with an "informal" or "private" investigation because they tend to be less painful for everyone involved. At the conclusion of this kind of investigation, the university will propose a resolution or sanctions if the allegations are found to be true. The perpetrator would then have the option of accepting the proposed resolution or sanctions, or they could demand a formal investigation instead. This usually ends with a hearing.

If the emails themselves were sufficient for those involved to believe that termination would be likely in the case of a formal investigation, it wouldn't be surprising at all if they stopped collecting evidence and proposed separation as a resolution.

I don't know--but I very much suspect that the reference to a "public" investigation is actually a reference to the formal investigation that a faculty member usually has the right to demand take place.

Point being, I think this part of the whole mess is a red herring.

Anonymous said...

"But: If he honestly misread the relationship and she did nothing to correct this misperception, then in my judgment the majority of the moral blame falls upon her shoulders."

Yeah. If only more women would just tell more men exactly what makes them uncomfortable. Unless I am explicitly told by women otherwise, I feel fully justified in telling them that I think about them while masturbating. If they don't want to know, it's really on them to say so up front. I mean, that's just being polite and shit.

Anonymous said...

"If he honestly misread the relationship and she did nothing to correct this misperception, then in my judgment the majority of the moral blame falls upon her shoulders."

Misread the relationship? He was a professor and she was a graduate student working as his RA. That was their relationship.

It is always misconduct for a professor to pursue something sexual in such circumstances. This is widely appreciated in the business world, but somehow academia remains an utterly hypocritical good-old-boys-with-tenure club.

Whether she said anything or not is utterly irrelevant.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi ShineBright,

I hope that the graduate student went to Dr. McGinn first to express her discomfort before running this up the flagpole.

I'm not sure I agree. As I say, I haven't read the emails. But if they say what CHE says they say, he should know it was inappropriate without having to be told. He's an adult, after all.

I think of it like this: unless he's a fucking moron, he had to know that a lot of people would absolutely be bothered by a frank discussion of his [ahem] habits. An adult who is being appropriately considerate of other people, particularly one who is in a position of authority over those people, is not going to put them in a position in which they have to either put up with his bullshit or tell him to cut it out.

Put another way: I don't think being an adult is a license to do whatever creepy shit you want and in so doing force other people to take on the responsibility of letting you know when you're out of line. ("Hey man, I was just telling her what I think about when I masturbate. If she had a problem with it, she should have said so.") I think being an adult signals an ability to anticipate what kind of creepy shit is out of line, to refrain from subjecting other people to the creepy shit, and to err on the side of caution if there's any doubt.

Yes, flirting and sexual innuendo is always inappropriate between teachers and students.

It wasn't flirting or innuendo. It was way beyond that. Astronomical. It was outside of flirting's light cone.

If she told him that she was uncomfortable and he persisted, then his dismissal was justified.

He wasn't dismissed. He resigned. It's a big difference. There were no formal charges; he did not face disciplinary action. He was offered a chance to avoid that stuff by resigning, and he took it.

If he honestly misread the relationship and she did nothing to correct this misperception, then in my judgment the majority of the moral blame falls upon her shoulders.

I don't agree. Although they're both adults, they're not equals. He has the lion's share of the power. And as Uncle Ben says, with great power comes great responsibility.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 5:32,

may I ask what you mean by "supposed to"?

I mean, the University of Oregon's procedures (so far as I understand them--as I say in the original post, I am going by memory and have no special expertise here) specify that the investigation itself and any findings of the investigation are to remain private and confidential until the investigation has concluded. I was talking about the University's official procedures. I thought I was being clear about that; I apologize if I wasn't.

Am I to feel ashamed for this transgression of the University's "procedures" and not keeping quiet as I was—apparently—"supposed to"?

No.

Also, "due process" refers to the requirement that the State respect the legal rights of citizens. ... As the University of Miami is a private institution, such concerns are a red herring.

That's one of the things "due process" can refer to, but I don't think it's the only thing. I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that the standard tenure contract guarantees certain rights that it makes sense to describe as rights to due process. Unlike me, Brian Leiter is a lawyer, and he seems more than comfortable using the expression 'due process' in this way, and to be honest I was kind of just following his lead. So it seems to me that it's a legitimate concern, not a red herring, but I'd be happy to defer to someone who knows what he or she is talking about.

Anonymous said...

I mean, the University of Oregon's procedures...specify that the investigation itself and any findings of the investigation are to remain private and confidential until the investigation has concluded.

I wasn't involved in the investigation and it was moreover concluded by the time I contacted Leiter.

Anyway, I apologize for misreading your comment and getting testy.

ShineBright said...

The problem is that it's a matter of context. What McGinn did isn't per se "creepy". Dirty e-mails aren't creepy between husband and wife, for example. And they're not always creepy between professor and student; what if the professor and student are in love with each other?

If there was a flirty relationship between McGinn and the student, and if McGinn went too far but had no idea that he did (let's face it, academics are not the best judges of what is socially appropriate), and the student did not inform McGinn that she was uncomfortable, then in my judgment she is morally culpable. Of course, the fact of culpability in this case rests on all sorts of assumptions (which I've made clear). It's highly possible that McGinn was just a jerk and thus deserving of no exoneration.

One need only turn things around to illuminate the point. Imagine I'm working with a distinguished female faculty member (I'm a guy). We do a little flirting, a little sexual innuendo here and there. We get our work done and to my mind it's all harmless. One day she sends me an e-mail telling me that she masturbated while thinking about me. And this revelation disturbs me; I feel like she's "crossed the line" with this conduct.

It seems to me that I do a great moral injustice by immediately turning the matter over to the administration and getting her (de facto) fired without first acknowledging to her my discomfort and providing the opportunity for her to make things right. A person is owed that courtesy, and I can well imagine a response like this: "ShineBright, I'm so very sorry that what I said in that e-mail made you uncomfortable. As you know, we have been rather flirty together, and within that context I misread the intimacy of our relationship. It was my fault, not yours, and I apologize. In the future I will scrupulously avoid any conduct that is, or could even be construed as, inappropriate. If I made that commitment to you, could you forgive me and do you think that we could work together productively?"

That seems intuitively like the just resolution between two independent moral agents. The fact that people think that women in academia are, for whatever reason, incapable of adopting such a response is disturbing and betrays a deeply anti-feminist bias.

Again, this whole argument is moot if McGinn was an asshole, or was harassing her, or whatever. Quite possible. But if he just *made a mistake* and was not given the opportunity to understand his error and correct it, then in my judgment he was treated unjustly.

Anonymous said...

ShineBright, I wanted to take your arguments about who might bear the moral guilt in this situation seriously, I really did. But then you followed up your declaration about what is "anti-feminist" by saying this: "We're not kids anymore; Big Boy Rules apply." I do appreciate the laugh. At least you didn't say she should put her "big girl panties on". (But consider that line for next time.)

Anonymous said...

@shinebright

Without saying anything about the actual case, i think I can sa 'no, just no' to your example.You must be young, male, and inexperienced.

Anonymous said...

"Dirty e-mails aren't creepy between husband and wife, for example."

Nor are they creepy between a sex worker and a client. We can list a host of relationships that are not the relationship between the faculty member and the graduate student.

"And they're not always creepy between professor and student; what if the professor and student are in love with each other?"

That's not relevant. The professor is *always* in a position of power over a student. It is *always* inappropriate for the professor to engage in sexually-explicit behavior with a student. Always. It doesn't matter what's in his heart, or even what she might feel. If they love each other, then maybe it's not "creepy." But it's still inappropriate. It's still unprofessional. It's still an abuse of he power dynamic. And as a professional, the faculty member should know that.

"But if he just *made a mistake* and was not given the opportunity to understand his error and correct it, then in my judgment he was treated unjustly."

Boys will be boys?

It's infuriating to watch people in my field bend over backwards to try and find ways to allow men to behave like sexist pigs - including such nonsense like "let's face it, academics are not the best judges of what is socially appropriate," as if being well-educated and thoughtful for a living is an excuse not to be so when in the presence of other people (especially when in the presence of women) - and to accuse women of moral failings for refusing to be subjected to sexual harassment.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi ShineBright,

Dirty e-mails aren't creepy between husband and wife, for example.

I am willing to stipulate to this if you are willing to stipulate to the fact that McGinn is not married to the RA.

what if the professor and student are in love with each other?

I am willing to stipulate to this if you are willing to stipulate to the fact that the RA does not seem to have been in love with McGinn.

If there was a flirty relationship between McGinn and the student...

Is there any reason to suspect that there was a "flirty relationship"? That McGinn was flirty? That this flirtatiousness, if it existed, was not unwelcome? That the RA flirted back? Perhaps the version of the CHE article you read differed from mine. I couldn't find any indication of any "flirty relationship" whatsoever.

...and if McGinn went too far but had no idea that he did...

Then he was involved in the commonplace situation of doing something seriously wrong without realizing it.

One need only turn things around to illuminate the point... One day she sends me an e-mail telling me that she masturbated while thinking about me. And this revelation disturbs me; I feel like she's "crossed the line" with this conduct. It seems to me that I do a great moral injustice by immediately turning the matter over to the administration and getting her (de facto) fired without first acknowledging to her my discomfort and providing the opportunity for her to make things right.

I'm sorry, but I don't agree. To me, it seems like she has done you an injustice, abused her authority, and (probably) violated the terms of her employment. To me, it seems like she should be subject to a fair and impartial investigation and then subject to appropriate disciplinary measures.

I can well imagine a response like this:...

Come on. You must realize that the fact that you can imagine it doesn't mean that's what would happen. You must realize that there is an excellent probability that she wouldn't respond like that. You must realize that there is an excellent probability that Colin McGinn would not have responded like that. You must realize that people who report sexual harassment do so at substantial risk of retaliation by the accused and hostility by the public at large. You must realize that going through private, unofficial channels drastically increases these risks. You must realize that when the victim is an RA and the accused is a prominent scholar, s/he is particularly vulnerable. You must realize that colleges and universities have offices like UM's Office of Equality Administration specifically to protect vulnerable victims from these negative effects.

Anonymous said...

"You must realize that people who report sexual harassment do so at substantial risk of retaliation by the accused and hostility by the public at large. You must realize that going through private, unofficial channels drastically increases these risks. You must realize that when the victim is an RA and the accused is a prominent scholar, s/he is particularly vulnerable."

Thank you. This. Yes.

ShineBright said...

Heh heh, 8:33, I wondered about that. Very perspicuous.

People seem to be struggling with the notion of conditionality here. I concede that it is quite possible, perhaps likely, that Dr. McGinn acted unjustly. I don't know the man at all, I don't know if he's a nice guy, or an asshole, or whatever. What I mean to point out is that there is band of inappropriate activity, perhaps narrow, in response to which it is morally impermissible to "tattle". Whether this case falls within that band I do not know. And neither do you. I think we agree: probably not.

Just as an intuitive matter, I do not agree that it's always morally impermissible for a faculty member to engage in sexual conduct with a student. I understand that it is always contrary to university regulations, but the two can come apart. The salient case in my mind is when the two are in love. Surely love trumps university regulations. Then again, maybe I'm just a romantic.

Men (and women) are never justified in "behav[ing] like sexist pigs. Never. The question is whether Dr. McGinn's conduct fell under that description. Quite possible that it did. But I point out a possible interpretation of the known facts under which Dr. McGinn is not a sexist pig, but in which he simply made a mistake and misread the social interaction. I am not saying that it is likely, but it is (non-trivially) possible.

Were something like this to happen to me, I would respond in the manner I described above. Mr. Zero says that there is an "excellent probability" that Dr. McGinn would not have replied to me in a rational, compassionate way, but I don't really know how he can know that, unless Dr. McGinn has a reputation that I'm not aware of (which is the sense that I'm getting).

Underlying my arguments along these lines is a worry, which I've articulated, that we undermine the feminist cause with the implication that women can't stand up for themselves; that they suffer harm when they meet inappropriateness head-on.

I fail to see the harm that can arise from blunt reply (we are talking about borderline cases). It's best for one's personal dignity, and (in some narrow cases) best in terms of justice. The idea that men are capable of such comportment but women are not is hogwash.

Anonymous said...

"Surely love trumps university regulations. Then again, maybe I'm just a romantic."

Or, more likely, maybe you refuse to accept that positions of power come with the potential for abuse. The university regulations exist to help ensure that such power is not abused. The professor *always* has power over the student. No matter how much love is in the air.

Let's concede that they were in love (which seems unlikely). So what? Are you suggested that two people in love always exist on equal terms with respect to power dynamics? That somehow love really does conquer all? That's not being a romantic; that's being a simpleton.

"The question is whether Dr. McGinn's conduct fell under that description. Quite possible that it did."

"Quite possible"? Perhaps I haven't read my faculty handbook as closely as you have read yours, but in what professional situations *is* it appropriate for a faculty member to tell a student that he thinks about her while masturbating? Have I been under-utilizing my RA because I don't think about him while masturbating? Should I start doing so, and then email him?

Also, go back and really look through the language that you use. In addition to your "Big Boy Rules" comment, you then characterize the student's actions as "tattling," which is language commonly used when speaking about children. Additionally, you seem to willfully ignore the systemic and pervasive mistreatment of women in the workplace (including academia), not to mention years of covert and overt sexism, by suggesting that reversing the roles demonstrates how the student should have acted. (By that same logic, we might as well suggest that whites being called "cracker" is no different from blacks being called "nigger," and if whites don't get outraged, then clearly the blacks shouldn't either. Because, you know, justice and shit.)

-9:05

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised to see individuals claiming that, for example:

"It is *always* inappropriate for the professor to engage in sexually-explicit behavior with a student. Always. It doesn't matter what's in his heart, or even what she might feel."

Some Universities prohibit romantic relationships between faculty and students, but many do not. Most merely require disclosure of such relationships. Some of these relationships that started between faculty and student are now relationships of marriage and long term partnership between faculty. There are readily identified examples of these relationships at many of the top philosophy departments. Are people really wanting to call these relationships "inappropriate"?

Surely we can criticize McGinn based on the facts available about this case without challenging the legitimacy of various long term consensual relationships that began without any violations of university policies.

Anonymous said...

It is always misconduct for a professor to pursue something sexual in such circumstances. This is widely appreciated in the business world, but somehow academia remains an utterly hypocritical good-old-boys-with-tenure club.

Uh, no. That's utterly false. In the business world, it is perfectly acceptable, in many contexts, for a subordinate to have a romantic relationship with his or her superior.

Could we have a real discussion about this without people just making shit up?




If there was a flirty relationship between McGinn and the student...
Is there any reason to suspect that there was a "flirty relationship"? That McGinn was flirty? That this flirtatiousness, if it existed, was not unwelcome? That the RA flirted back? Perhaps the version of the CHE article you read differed from mine. I couldn't find any indication of any "flirty relationship" whatsoever.

Hermocrates said...

In reply to shinebright's "If there was a flirty relationship between McGinn and the student..."

Mr. Zero asks,

"Is there any reason to suspect that there was a "flirty relationship"? That McGinn was flirty? That this flirtatiousness, if it existed, was not unwelcome?..."

There isn't any particular reason, but that is presumably why shinebright said "if". We don't know whether there was that sort of relationship, and I guess most of us think there probably wasn't and that McGinn had no very good reason to think there was. But, we don't know. That's what "if" is for.

Anonymous said...

This has no bearing on the McGinn case whatsoever, and I have to say that from the facts we know, it's extremely likely McGinn was harassing his RA.

It is not the case the sexual relationships between professors and students are banned at all universities. Several institutions with which I have been affiliated are explicit that such relationships are not prohibited. This will vary from institution to institution.

Again, this is irrelevant for the McGinn case because no matter what a university's policy about professor/student relationships happens to be, that's all off the table when the sexual aspect of the relationship is unwanted--which from what we know applies to the McGinn case.

It just seems to me that whether consensual (in some sense of the term that accounts for the differing power relationship) relationships are appropriate is a separate matter from what happened at Miami. This is because the RA initiated a complaint, and that complaint is really really really good evidence that it was not a consensual sexual relationship.

Anonymous said...

ShineBright: Your ending with "We're not kids anymore; Big Boy Rules apply." is really telling. You claim that the student ought to have said something to McGinn first, and if she didn't, she's blameworthy. But now you're totally ignoring the power imbalance between her and McGinn. There are all sorts of good reasons for her *not* to engage with McGinn directly.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi ShineBright,

But I point out a possible interpretation of the known facts under which Dr. McGinn is not a sexist pig, but in which he simply made a mistake and misread the social interaction.

First, the question is not whether McGinn is a sexist pig. I have not speculated about McGinn's character or what kind of person he is.

Second, you don't have an interpretation under which he didn't do anything wrong. On your hypothetical interpretation of the facts, McGinn is too thoughtless and incompetent to have realized that a person ought not tell a graduate student who is employed by one's department and assigned to serve as a research assistant under one's supervision that one had thought about her while one masturbated. This is not exculpatory. He is, as you point out, an adult, and when an adult is this thoughtless and incompetent, he has done something wrong.

Nor does this (hypothetical?) incompetence create an obligation on the part of the RA to accommodate his thoughtlessness, or to assume the responsibility of teaching him how to behave in civil society. On the contrary, it is his responsibility to treat other people with respect. If he's not capable of that, he probably shouldn't be placed in positions of unsupervised authority over graduate students.

Mr. Zero says that there is an "excellent probability" that Dr. McGinn would not have replied to me in a rational, compassionate way, but I don't really know how he can know that

Well, for one thing, we're talking about a situation in which a prominent scholar told an RA that had been thinking about her when he masturbated. To me, that seems to be pretty unmistakably inappropriate, but apparently this person is not capable of anticipating that this might be unwelcome, or disturbing, or harmful to the RA, or that it might damage their relationship. As a result, I'm just not confident that the next thing he said would suddenly start to display high levels of sensitivity and compassion. It seems at least as likely that someone like that might get upset or angry at the suggestion that he'd done something wrong, or that the RA didn't appreciate the disclosure.

Can you really not think of this on your own?

Underlying my arguments along these lines is a worry, which I've articulated, that we undermine the feminist cause with the implication that women can't stand up for themselves

I have no idea why you think that availing herself of the protections and resources the University of Miami has put in place for exactly this kind of situation doesn't count as "standing up for herself." I guess you really haven't realized that people who report sexual harassment risk various negative consequences. Or that this is why universities and other responsible employers have created mechanisms to help employees who are victims of sexual harassment mitigate these risks, by protecting their privacy and shielding them from attempts at retaliation. Or that there's nothing wrong with availing oneself of those resources. It doesn't undermine feminism.

Finally, I have a general question about what you're doing here. Because it seems to me that you're contorting the facts into barely recognizable shapes in order to expose shreds of doubt that you can then say McGinn ought to have the benefit of. Why haven't you subjected the RA to the same treatment? Why doesn't she get the benefit of the same doubts? Why couldn't she have had no idea that justice requires the victim to confront the harasser face-to-face before alerting the authorities? (I wouldn't have, after all.) Why couldn't she have misread the relationship? Why wouldn't this be exculpatory by your lights? Why does McGinn get to be the sole beneficiary of your excuse-making?

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Hemocrates,

That's what "if" is for.

This is why people dislike philosophers. Philosophers will see a pretty straightforward point about how this talk of what happens if McGinn is flirty, or has a flirty relationship with his RA, is totally irrelevant because there's no indication that these conditions are remotely satisfied, and then respond to that point with a lecture on the meaning of the word 'if'.

tangerine said...

I applaud Mr Zero's comment @ 6:33 AM. It's interesting to me to see how people simply do not take women's word for it, but nitpick in all sorts of ways to undermine them. The student's reporting of McGinn's actions to the University is in itself evidence of non-consensuality. We need not speculate about this. We need not find hidden subtext. We need not find "if" scenarios. She says it's non-consensual, it's non-consensual.

Also, as many have noted, the Chroncle's reporting simply skims the surface. Giving the benefit of the doubt in a rightful manner here is not to assume that "maybe McGinn [fill in exculpatory blank]." It is to assume that there is a lot more evidence of improper behavior than the Chronicle told us.

This thread alone is evidence of the tremendous forces stacked against a woman who wants to speak up. She is doubted. She is dismissed. She is made light of. The lightest, least offensive behavior is assumed on the part of the abuser. Anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault knows that sexual assault paralyzes, terrifies, humiliates, and diminishes. It is never light. It devastates and it is always a big deal. Sexual assault can happen with words, gestures, and other forms of behavior. The victim knows when she is being sexually assaulted. Sometimes he/she doesn't know it rationally (the power of shame is very big) but he/she knows it in the gut. Sexual assault leads to sleepless nights and terror. When the victim says he/she has been sexually assault we'll do right to simply believe them.

Instead of wondering what exculpatory evidence we can find (in our minds, elsewhere) in favor of McGinn, we should think of what it took for the student to come forward, what she must have gone through, what she must be going through right now. She plans to have a career in philosophy. What a great way for this career to start.

I wish the student all the very best.

Charles Pigden said...

I hate to ruin Zombie's joke, but McGinn is not 'single-handedly' responsible for Miami's reputation. Michael Slote, Keith Lehrer, Risto Hilpinnen and, above all, the great Susan Haack are all in my view bigger stars (especially Susan Haack whose work I have admired since I was an undergraduate) Moreover Mark Rowlands and Amie Thomason are not to be sneezed at either. There may be some falling off but the department is likely to remain fairly Leiteriffic even in the absence of Colin McGinn.

Anonymous said...

"Uh, no. That's utterly false. In the business world, it is perfectly acceptable, in many contexts, for a subordinate to have a romantic relationship with his or her superior."

I'm sorry but this is plain wrong. During my time I said world I saw several people get canned for less than what McGinn did. Moreover, both companies I worked for had blanket policies against romantic relationships between supervisors and the people who worked under them.

Academics talk a big game and puff their political plumage like no other, but when it comes to the culture of academia, they're frankly regressive.

They also loathe having this pointed out, which, I think, explains your dismissive comment well.

Anonymous said...

I was a graduate student at Miami for 2.5 years before leaving (for reasons unrelated to this particular situation). I happen to know all of the people involved. I guess no one is really in a position to verify any of this (thans, anonymity), but in case anyone actually gives a shit, here are my 2 cents.

In my observation, this is man who generally beleives that rules, codes of conduct, professionalism, etc. simply do not apply to him. The man walks around like the light of heaven shines out of his ass. He is the philosopher-man equivalent of Miranda Priestly. People are taking great care in all this to avoid casting aspersions on his character, something I am more than happy to do. Colin McGinn is a humongous, unapologetic, narcisstic jerk. For him, there are two classes of others: people -- a category which includes male scholars of comparable reputation and pedigree, and very pretty young women. Everyone else barely exists, and has no right to demand anything of him like "compliance with rules or professional standards." During my time at UM, the list of McGinn's minor-to-moderate infractions -- which include sexual harassment -- could fill a very long and heavy book.

As far as this particular case goes, please rest assured people that this is EXACTLY what it seems -- a famous scholar who thinks he is beyond reproach using his position of power to behave in pervy and grossly inappropriate ways towards a student, who happens to be an astoundingly decent person and who is made of some pretty strong stuff, who had ZERO interest in him.

As far as Miami goes, that department is a nest of snakes -- fair warning to anyone who wants to undertake graduate studies there. (Though having been in three different departments, I don't think its particularly worse than any of the other philosophy departments I've had occasion to participate in -- the problem is really discipline-wide.) The things I witnessed and experienced while I was there are a testament to the general administrative and professional incompetence that seems to be an essential feature of high academic pedigree. I'm pleased and surprised that McGinn is being ousted, and I'm very pleased and surprised that some members of the department are acting in direct violation of a gag order to out this whole situation to CHE, but this department is so in the red as far as I am concerned this is a drop in the bucket when it comes being competent professionals.

Hemocrates said...

Hi Mr. Zero,

This is why people dislike philosophers. Philosophers will see a pretty straightforward point about how this talk of what happens if McGinn is flirty, or has a flirty relationship with his RA, is totally irrelevant because there's no indication that these conditions are remotely satisfied, and then respond to that point with a lecture on the meaning of the word 'if'.

We don't know whether there was that sort of relationship. That’s why talk of what’s true if there was is not irrelevant.

As a general rule, the fact that there is no indication that P does not show that questions of what else is true if P is true are irrelevant questions. If we know that P is false, then often the conditional question will be irrelevant (I mean in practical terms -- obviously in some contexts it will be relevant). But in this case we don't know.

(And “this is why people dislike philosophers” is unworthy of you, I think.)

ShineBright said...

"Instead of wondering what exculpatory evidence we can find (in our minds, elsewhere) in favor of McGinn, we should think of what it took for the student to come forward, what she must have gone through, what she must be going through right now. She plans to have a career in philosophy. What a great way for this career to start."

Why do we have to assume that the student is "going through" anything? Why was it a great effort for her to "come forward"? Why is she facing a derailed career by revealing to her university administration the bad behavior of a faculty member?

I do not understand why we constantly have to stereotype women as weak in this way, or impressionable, or incapable of standing up for themselves in the way that a man can. I think it's sexist, and I think it's also just factually false.

Assuming the accusations against Dr. MrGinn are true, the student did what she had to do, and that's all there is to it. She's going to face a lot worse over the course of her life. We all are. We're all going to be the targets of bad behavior on the part of others throughout our lives. And part of being an adult and not a whiny little _____ (insert non-sexually overtoned pejorative of your choice) is dealing with tough situations head-on. Seems to me like she did just that.

I hope that she is working away in quiet confidence, satisfied that she did the just thing, and happy that her moral character stood up during this, one of life's many little hiccups.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but this is plain wrong. During my time I said world I saw several people get canned for less than what McGinn did. Moreover, both companies I worked for had blanket policies against romantic relationships between supervisors and the people who worked under them.

Just to add my two cents, in the company I worked for before I started grad school (a large, well-known IT company), there was no blanket policy against romantic relationships between supervisor and supervisee. There was a strict rule that such relationships have to be disclosed.

Anonymous said...

Why do we have to assume that the student is "going through" anything? Why was it a great effort for her to "come forward"? Why is she facing a derailed career by revealing to her university administration the bad behavior of a faculty member?

I do not understand why we constantly have to stereotype women as weak in this way, or impressionable, or incapable of standing up for themselves in the way that a man can. I think it's sexist, and I think it's also just factually false.


Good lord. I would have thought the sound drubbing Zero delivered earlier would have send you packing. But apparently not.

The questions you ask in your first paragraph continue the trend of revealing that you are woefully naive about the patterns exhibited in cases of sexual harassment. The inference you draw in the second paragraph -- namely, that we are treating the victim as "weak" in assuming that being the object of harassment is painful, stressful, and demoralizing -- is similarly revealing.

This isn't about infantilizing women. It's simply appreciating that being victimized really really sucks.

Anonymous said...

McGinn has "replied" to the student's allegations.

I'd encourage the moderators of the Smoker to consider beginning a thread about his reply. I found it infuriating and think he really needs a public shaming for having written it.

Anonymous said...

And then there's this.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Hemocrates,

We don't know whether there was that sort of relationship. That’s why talk of what’s true if there was is not irrelevant.

I kind of agree, but I kind of don't. As I read the CHE piece, there is a strong suggestion, possibly false, that the relationship could not accurately be described as "flirty." It seems to me that the piece is largely silent on McGinn's flirtiness--whether he was flirting, or trying unsuccessfully to flirt, or what. But it seems to me that whatever McGinn was doing or trying to do, the RA's response was to experience deep and escalating levels of discomfort with his behavior.

Again, I recognize that I wasn't there, and I don't know what happened, and it's possible that this impression I have gotten is false, and that it's possible that there's material in the CHE piece that I missed and that bears on the issue.

But I think that the available evidence does not really suggest that the problem resulted from a mutual or otherwise innocent flirtation that went to far. I could be wrong, but that's the way it seems to me. And so I don't totally see the relevance of this possibility, or why it should play an important role in the discussion.

(And I also think it's extremely important to be very careful to avoid any victim-blaming BS here, and introducing issues of flirtatiousness is a clear way down that path--not to say it's on purpose. But there is clearly an element of that in ShineBright's line of thought: What if he was just flirting? What if she was flirting back? What if it was a mutually flirtatious relationship? Maybe he just misread the situation. Maybe he took their mutual flirtation too far without realizing it. Maybe it was just an honest mistake. Maybe she's the one who failed to live up to her obligations to him. And there we are.)

Anyways, all this discussion presupposes that the relevance of the "what if" claim depends on the likelihood that the antecedent is true. You say, it's relevant because the antecedent cannot be ruled out on the available evidence. I can point out that I think it's actually pretty unlikely, and ask why ShineBright disagrees, without thereby failing to comprehend the meaning of the word 'if.'

There are structural problems said...

"I do not understand why we constantly have to stereotype women as weak in this way, or impressionable, or incapable of standing up for themselves in the way that a man can. I think it's sexist, and I think it's also just factually false."

That is not a characterization of women. It is a characterization of a system that nearly always starts with the assumption that the woman is lying, wrong about the facts or a "whiny little _____." It is a characterization of what typically happens when a person in a powerless position (like an RA) makes allegations against a powerful person (like a world-famous philosopher). It is a characterization of a field in which women are pretty regularly taken as less capable or less serious than men.

Seriously: YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND SEXISM AND MIGHT WANT TO SIT BACK AND LISTEN.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi ShineBright,

Why do we have to assume that the student is "going through" anything? Why was it a great effort for her to "come forward"? Why is she facing a derailed career by revealing to her university administration the bad behavior of a faculty member?

I find it hard to believe that an informed person could ask these questions in good faith.

I do not understand why we constantly have to stereotype women as weak in this way, or impressionable, or incapable of standing up for themselves in the way that a man can.

I don't understand why, when a person finds something difficult to do and does it anyway, you would think that this demonstrates weakness. I don't understand why you think men would find it any easier.

Anonymous said...

ShineBright writes, "Why do we have to assume that the student is "going through" anything? Why was it a great effort for her to "come forward"? Why is she facing a derailed career by revealing to her university administration the bad behavior of a faculty member?"

I was once a relatively famous professor's RA. Working for him was enormously helpful to my intellectual and professional development. If that relationship had suddenly ended because he decided he was hot for me, that would have been seriously unfortunate for my life as a student and my career. I would have felt quite betrayed, or even guilty. None of his allies in the dept. would have wanted to take me on as an assistant, especially if my complaint resulted in getting him fired. If the Chronicle of Higher Ed had reported it, everyone would have known I was the student in question. A lot of people in our profession - and if you don't know this know, you had best learn it - seriously dislike "tattlers". Indeed, you might be one such person yourself. They will be very reluctant to hire someone they consider might be a "troublemaker". A lot of people will think she bore moral responsibility for the loss of his job, and they will be all-too-willing to assume that it was a misunderstanding blown out of proportion. So yeah, she's probably going to be dealing with some stuff, even if the experience of having the RA arrangement go so very wrong was not unpleasant enough. She stood up for herself, yes, but please don't patronizingly assume that her role in this is trivial or has a minimal impact on her life. Don't you lecture to me or anyone else about what is or isn't appropriately "feminist", when your remarks have otherwise illustrated rather deep ignorance about sexual harassment, equity issues, and what counts as juvenile.

ShineBrightLikeADiamond said...

"I don't understand why, when a person finds something difficult to do and does it anyway, you would think that this demonstrates weakness. I don't understand why you think men would find it any easier."

I don't think either of those things at all. Have you read my posts? I think precisely the opposite, which I believe I've made clear multiple times.

I don't think there's much value in writing more on this issue. I believe that I've given a clear argument for my views, but few here seem inclined to respond in kind. Instead, I got talk about a "cracker"/"nigger" distinction (11:21am), which makes no sense to me at all; a claim that I don't understand sexism, which is factually false (you know NOTHING about me!); and the accusation that I'm not providing my views in good faith.

But really what is going on is that I DON'T AGREE WITH YOU. I am a well-educated, thoughtful, experienced, and kind person whose views on a moral issue differ from yours. I believe that my views are validly deduced and based on true empirical premises. As an example, 60 million Americans voted for Romney last year. I don't think that those are 60 million idiots, or that they were all evil, or acting in bad faith, or were naive. I think that they just MADE A MISTAKE. Which we all do. All the motherfucking time.

Whenever I consider participating in Internet "culture" (this blog, Leiter's, whatever), I almost immediately regret it, turned off by the stupidity, and the self-certainty, and the intolerance.

(Paraphrasing Searle here) One of the depressing things about American culture is how few people, even among the educated, even among philosophers, can engage in dispassionate, reasoned argument with people who happen to disagree with them.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that 11:52 AM's views have illustrated his or her own "rather deep ignorance about sexual harassment, equity issues, and what counts as juvenile."

11:52's view of feminism is superficial, it fails to give women their due as independent moral agents, and it smacks of paternalism, connoting as it does that women are too weak, or independent, or self-assured to confront injustice on their own.

I think the naivete rather is on those who assume out of hand that this woman will have suffered for McGinn's conduct. But when I think of her, I don't think of a weak woman, upset for having received a dirty e-mail and distressed about the effect this event could have on her career.

I think of a woman who was the victim of injustice (as we all have been and will be), who took the necessary steps to right it, and perhaps (if the account provided by the ex-Miami student here is accurate) prevented future students from being harassed by a "humongous . . . jerk".

This is not a point about standards for men vs. women. This is a point about standards for people who take personal responsibilities for their lives vs standards for those who are perennial whiners. The evidence suggests to me that this student is the former.

-SB

Hemocrates said...

Mr. Zero,

Anyways, all this discussion presupposes that the relevance of the "what if" claim depends on the likelihood that the antecedent is true. You say, it's relevant because the antecedent cannot be ruled out on the available evidence. I can point out that I think it's actually pretty unlikely, and ask why ShineBright disagrees, without thereby failing to comprehend the meaning of the word 'if.'

Your thinking the antecedent pretty unlikely doesn’t make the conditional “totally irrelevant”. There’s obviously plenty of room for disagreement about how unlikely it is. That’s why it made sense to discuss the conditional; people who don’t agree on how likely the antecedent is can still have an intelligent and useful discussion of the conditional itself.

As to the evidence: I completely agree that the CHE article had no suggestion of flirtation (which would be a two-way street). But it certainly didn’t foreclose the possibility. It’s hard to make a confident probability judgment under the circumstances, I hope you’ll agree. I admit that if a Bayesian thug came by to strong-arm me into betting, I would give pretty good odds that the events were properly described as ‘harassment’ and not ‘flirtation’. But that’s not a robust judgment, so I don’t think the conditional can be reasonably described as ‘irrelevant’.

Anonymous said...

tangerine, it would be irresponsible simply to “take women’s word for it.” We should never simply take someone’s word for it when they accuse another of wrongful acts. Of course it is evidence, but it’s not conclusive, dispositive, indefeasible evidence.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi ShineBright,

I don't think either of those things at all. Have you read my posts? I think precisely the opposite

Yeah, I read your post. Did you? You say there are three things you can't understand why we assume (that the RA is "going through" something; that coming forward required effort; and that she faced significant professional risks (derailed career). You then immediately ask why we stereotype women as being weak in this way. (And then you contrast this with how a man would be.)

This pretty clearly expresses the view that finding it difficult to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct, finding the aftermath of coming forward to be also difficult, and that facing professional risks as a result of coming forward are forms of weakness. (And unmanly.)

I guess I agree with what seems to be your current view, that this is a pretty messed up thing to think. But if that wasn't what you were trying to say, I suggest you take it up with yourself.

the accusation that I'm not providing my views in good faith.

Did you read my post? I didn't say you weren't arguing in good faith. I said that was one possibility. I was careful to point out that it is also possible that you are uninformed.

Whatever the cause, almost everything you've posted in this thread had demonstrated a striking lack of empathy with and understanding of what victims of sexual harassment go through and what risks in their personal and professional lives are involved with coming forward. You have consistently ignored my several attempts to explain this, and so I am inclined to agree with you that there's not much point in continuing the discussion.

Anonymous said...

I spent two years as a research assistant to the chair of my department at a R1 public institution. I can tell you (1) I am grateful in hindsight that my research director was a stand-up individual who never in the slightest made me feel uncomfortable in any of the many, many, conversations and email exchanges we had in that time; and (2) if there had been any untoward comments made, I would have felt ENORMOUS pressure to keep my mouth shut and go along with it. And my research director was not a "superstar" like Mcginn. I cannot fathom the terror and the anxiety this person must have felt going forward with these concerns. All I can say is they must have been VERY well documented and likely far more disturbing than the "defenders" of McGinn would have us think. I applaud the courage of this person, and stand in awe of their fortitude, even as i count my lucky stars.

Anonymous said...

turned off by the stupidity, and the self-certainty, and the intolerance.

I mean this kindly, but I strongly suggest you seriously consider, for a moment, that it's you who has been advocating some very naive, simplistic attitudes about sexual harassment. I'm sure you are decent person. But a little intellectual modesty and doubt is probably in order.

Anonymous said...

ShineBright, maybe you are the kindest and most moral person who ever lived, but that wouldn't change the fact that the things you wrote here demonstrate ignorance about sexual harassment et al.

I'm the same anonymous person you're replying to above. I have offered no "view of feminism" at all; I merely explained that I was once an RA, and it would have been a big deal to experience what happened (allegedly) to this student. You claim otherwise. On the basis of what evidence, exactly?

Absolutely nothing I have said suggests that women cannot confront injustice on their own as independent moral agents. Indeed, that's precisely what this student seems to have done. You seem not to grasp that she might suffer various likely consequences from having done so. I hope she won't, and maybe it will turn out that way. However, if you can't understand why this kind of incident would be damaging to someone's career, you need to check yourself.

Your language continues to reveal your total misunderstanding of these issues. You say you don't think of her as so "weak" as to be "upset" about receiving an inappropriate email or "distressed" about her career. First, being upset when your professor messes up a perfectly good, helpful RA opportunity is not a sign of weakness, any more than it would be "weak" to be upset if your professor made frequent rude remarks about your idiocy or otherwise turned out to be a lousy person to assist in research. The issue is not whether she's "distressed" about her career; the issue is whether the career will indeed suffer. McGinn has supporters in the department. Will they all treat this student no differently than before, even if they blame her for causing their friend's resignation? Do you doubt that many philosophy professors would refuse to hire someone who was known to make that sort of complaint? It doesn't matter how she "feels" about it; the point is that her CV might be passed over because of this very issue. I'm glad she stepped forward regardless. I'm sorry you don't grasp that it's a realistic concern.

Your concerns about "whiners" have come up repeatedly now. Who are these whiners? The first thing you said in this thread was, "I hope that the graduate student went to Dr. McGinn first to express her discomfort before running this up the flagpole." Then you suggested that if she didn't correct his potential misperception of the "relationship", "the majority of the moral blame falls upon her shoulders." So don't try now to walk that back and speak as if you're some staunch supporter of her actions. Apparently she's not a whiner, now, so who is? Who are all these women who fail to take personal responsibility? Who are the people assuming women are too weak to stand up for themselves? I don't assume that. I said that if someone does report an action like this, she probably has some serious stuff to deal with. Do you suppose I am wrong about that? If so, give some evidence as to why, instead of accusing me of having the wrong notions about feminism. I don't need to know anything about you besides what you've written on this page to see that you are ill-qualified to judge that matter.

Anonymous said...

It seems like if someone had a sound reply to SB then they would provide it. Whenever I see just personal attacks being leveled in response to someone's controversial view, I tend to suspect that they are on to something.

Anonymous said...

"One of the depressing things about American culture is how few people, even among the educated, even among philosophers, can engage in dispassionate, reasoned argument with people who happen to disagree with them."

Oh come on, "Big Boy Rules apply". Don't be a whiner.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Hermocrates,

Your thinking the antecedent pretty unlikely doesn’t make the conditional “totally irrelevant”. There’s obviously plenty of room for disagreement about how unlikely it is.

That's true. I realize that I was being snarky about it, but that's why I asked ShineBright where he got the idea that there was something flirty going on. What reason is there for thinking that flirting might have played an important role here? I realize that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but as I read the CHE article, it seems unlikely that the relationship was genuinely flirtatious--at least not in a clearly mutually voluntary way. But I could be wrong, and if I'm wrong, I hope someone will let me know.

That’s why it made sense to discuss the conditional; people who don’t agree on how likely the antecedent is can still have an intelligent and useful discussion of the conditional itself.

But it's not as though I dismissed the antecedent and then refused to discuss the conditional itself. I addressed the substance of the conditional itself in the very next sentence, when I pointed out that McGinn's conduct might well have been seriously wrong even if he didn't know it. The fact is that he had a professional obligation to refrain from engaging in unwelcome sexual conduct. He seems to have failed to live up to this obligation in an extraordinary way. It makes no difference if, hypothetically speaking, he approached this obligation with a clueless or cavalier attitude. Doesn't change anything. He also has a professional obligation to understand his professional obligations.

Anonymous said...

McGinn's logic-chopping "defense" of his actions is as risible as Prof. Erwin's hamfisted attempt at a defense.

Apparently, he's done nothing wrong, it's just that grad students nowadays are too stupid to grasp his highbrow jack off humor.

One might suggest Dr. McGinn draw a more parsimonious conclusion from the incident: that grad students nowadays are beginning to realize that we, and the undergrads we're farmed out to teach, no longer have to submit to the lecherous indulgences of senior faculty as a condition of degree/departmental support/employment.

SBDiamondsInTheSky! said...

"You say there are three things you can't understand why we assume (that the RA is "going through" something; that coming forward required effort; and that she faced significant professional risks (derailed career). You then immediately ask why we stereotype women as being weak in this way. (And then you contrast this with how a man would be.)"

No. I do not contrast that with "how a man would be". I contrast that with how a man would be *perceived* to be. My contention is that the man and the woman would *be* the same; that is, (roughly) equally capable of dealing with adversity; of pursuing the just remedy in the fact of injustice; and overcoming any professional ramifications by the lights of his or her personal character. This is an absolutely crucial distinction. I thought I had made it clear, but perhaps not. If I did not I apologize, although it is not really my fault, as I am incapable of writing any more clearly than I have been. I just do not have the skill.

You are wrong to make any assumptions about my history, or my personal character, or my thoughts on women in academia, or what have you. You know NOTHING about me. (I assume here that we do not know each other.) I do not "demonstrate a striking lack of empathy with and understanding of what victims of sexual harassment go through". I do not have "naive, simplistic attitudes about sexual harassment". I just DO NOT AGREE with your analysis of this matter.

That is all. Just like I DO NOT AGREE with people who voted for Mitt Romney, I DO NOT AGREE with you on this issue.

Let me give you an example of what I'm not doing to you because it would do you an injustice and anyway would have no bearing on the discussion.

I might say something like this: MrZero, you are the child of privilege. (The fact that you are a philosophy student probably means, given our current demographics, that you came from wealth, and were probably born in a privileged country like the United States.) You might even have privilege within privilege; for example, your parents may have paid for your undergraduate education. This being the case, you are unsuited to comment on issues of adversity, and you cannot possibly fathom what a young, female, philosophy graduate student faced with this situation is going through.

I would not ascribe such a background to you for several reasons. First, it might well be false. For all I know you're a total fucking badass. I don't know the first thing about you and I like to assume the best. Second, it is not relevant to the discussion. As you doubtless know, good debate consists of rigorous argument. If I'm wrong then you should be able to tell me why and not impugn my motives nor attack my character. Third, it is always possible that background ascriptions can backfire. What if I told you that I spent 6 years working on behalf of the victims of sexual harassment and thus DO have empathy for them and AM familiar with the latest research. Then you would look pretty silly. (I did not do this.)

I have provided my views. To my mind they are well-thought out, grounded in fact, and validly deduced. If I am wrong then you should be able to explain why.

In brief, I believe that there is an undercurrent of anti-feminism throughout this debate, and, as a proponent of female equality, this disturbs me. Most of you do not agree with me but some of you do.

I am happy to engage in vigorous debate with people with whom I do not agree. But once it devolves into us calling each other "naive" or "stupid" or "unempathic" or whatever then I tune out, both because progress is unlikely to be made, and because, given the lack of logical argument to the contrary, my view is likely to be sound.

Anonymous said...

"Oh come on, 'Big Boy Rules apply'. Don't be a whiner."

If a plea for kind, rational, calm debate qualifies as "whining" these days, then we are in a very sorry state.

-SB

Hermocrates said...

Well, I've already said that I agree that it's unlikely. (That the antecedent is true.) And I added that it's a very non-robust judgment, and what I meant by that is that it could change drastically with some new evidence. Although I must say that McGinn's new posting on the subject does not make any significant different to my credence...

So, I don't think we have any (or much) substantive disagreement. It just strikes me as bad conversational technique to reply to that sort of conditional by asking what reason there is to believe the antecedent. (In this case, the only reason is that that kind of thing sometimes happens, and not anything specific to the case.) I don't want to belabor the point any further.

Anonymous said...

ShineBright, several people have offered rational, calm arguments explaining your errors and the implicit assumptions revealed by your unfortunate choice of words. That you choose not to respond to these arguments is not anyone else's fault.

I'll concentrate on one of the many odd things you've said. "tangerine" remarked, what a great way for this student's career to start. You then asked why she was "facing a derailed career", among other things (which was a strange distortion of tangerine's remark). Do you not understand why reporting this incident might harm the student's career or prospects? Some philosophy professors now believe she is responsible for the loss of his position, and think she should have pursued some other course of action even if McGinn was in the wrong. Some even believe McGinn did nothing wrong. They would not want to have this student as a colleague, as a result, and are likely never to hire her. Her job prospects could be damaged by what she has done. Do you deny this? If so, why?

Furthermore, you have repeatedly suggested that such concerns are anti-feminist and take women to be weak. Why? What is your argument for this assertion? You are the one who is failing to supply rational argument in defense of your position. You merely keep asserting that people don't know you or your views. Yes, we do know your views; you are stating them right now. They lack evidentiary or rational support.

Anonymous said...

"McGinn's logic-chopping "defense" of his actions is as risible as Prof. Erwin's hamfisted attempt at a defense.

Apparently, he's done nothing wrong, it's just that grad students nowadays are too stupid to grasp his highbrow jack off humor.

One might suggest Dr. McGinn draw a more parsimonious conclusion from the incident: that grad students nowadays are beginning to realize that we, and the undergrads we're farmed out to teach, no longer have to submit to the lecherous indulgences of senior faculty as a condition of degree/departmental support/employment."

Yes, thank you!

Mr. Zero said...

No. I do not contrast that with "how a man would be". I contrast that with how a man would be *perceived* to be. My contention is that the man and the woman would *be* the same; that is, (roughly) equally capable of dealing with adversity; of pursuing the just remedy in the fact of injustice; and overcoming any professional ramifications by the lights of his or her personal character.

I could be wrong--I could be stupidly misinterpreting a really clear piece of writing. But as I read it, your comment at 10:17 AM absolutely does not express those ideas. As I read it, that comment begins by denying three things: that victims of sexual harassment generally "go through" anything as a result of coming forward; that it takes any "great effort" to come forward; and that it makes sense for victims of sexual harassment to be worried about professional consequences. Then it claims that those of us who affirm these things are guilty of stereotyping women as weak, unlike men, who would not experience these difficulties. Maybe this other interpretation is in the text, but I don't see it at all. For example, I don't see you mention the distinction between how the man would be and how he would be perceived.

You are wrong to make any assumptions about my history, or my personal character, or my thoughts on women in academia, or what have you.

Did I make any such assumptions? I don't think I did. If I did, I apologize. But I'm pretty sure I didn't.

I do not "demonstrate a striking lack of empathy with and understanding of what victims of sexual harassment go through".

I respectfully disagree. I think you do, in fact, demonstrate a pretty striking lack of understanding of what victims of sexual harassment go through. But that's not an assumption about your history, character, or thoughts on women in academia. It might be covered under "what have you," but I don't think so. And it's not an assumption at all; it's a considered judgment based on the things you say.

For example, it seems not to have occurred to you that someone who comes forward with an allegation of sexual harassment might face retaliation from the accused, hostility from his colleagues and from the public, negative professional consequences, and other undeserved negative effects; or that the accuser would have to take seriously the possibility that the accused would not be nice about it; or that the purpose of offices like Miami's Office of Equality Administration is to help shield accusers from these and other negative effects; or that, in light of these facts, it might make perfect sense for an accuser to decline to face the harasser mano a mano, and instead avail himself of the mechanism that has been set up specifically to assist people like him in situations like this. You seem not to have picked up on these facts even after I repeatedly pointed them out.

Accusing you of not knowing something is not an ad hominem. It's not an attack on your character or your person. It's an attack on your views, in that they are informed by a lack of information.

I believe that there is an undercurrent of anti-feminism throughout this debate

You keep saying that, but I'm afraid I am still unsure what you mean. Apparently you think that there's a "tendency to regard young women in academia as somehow morally weak or incapable of defending themselves." [from your first comment in this thread, at 6/5@4:50.] Would you mind citing what you take to be the clearest example of someone in this discussion exhibiting this tendency?

given the lack of logical argument to the contrary, my view is likely to be sound.

Come on. One of us has it wrong and maybe it's me. But don't pretend like nobody has engaged "logically" with the substance of your views. This thread is crawling with attempts at substantive engagement with you. To pretend otherwise actually is an ad hominem.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else think that ShineBright is McGinn's new RA? :)

LikeADiamond said...

"You then asked why she was "facing a derailed career", among other things (which was a strange distortion of tangerine's remark). Do you not understand why reporting this incident might harm the student's career or prospects? Some philosophy professors now believe she is responsible for the loss of his position, and think she should have pursued some other course of action even if McGinn was in the wrong. Some even believe McGinn did nothing wrong. They would not want to have this student as a colleague, as a result, and are likely never to hire her. Her job prospects could be damaged by what she has done."

1) Not a strange distortion of tangerine's remark. 2) I do not believe that reporting this incident will harm the student's career. I do not believe that it will have much of an effect at all, and if it does have an effect, it will be in her favor. The philosophy professors who believe that she was responsible for McGinn's de facto firing are RIGHT. She IS responsible. As Derek Jeter is sometimes responsible for a game-winning homerun.

Given that the consensus seems to be that McGinn was an asshole, and given that few of us sanction sexual harassment, then those in positions of power and influence are likely to view this incident in the student's favor, and rightly so. I do not see a disconnect between senior philosophers and the rest of us on these obvious moral issues. I do not believe that there is a secret McGinn-supporting cabal that will move in secret to work against her. Most of us approve of her action, and thus it is a (small) point in her favor. I do not dispute that a minority might disagree, but there are no grounds to believe that she will face discrimination based on this. I tend to think that her job prospects will be (mildly) enhanced for what she's done, but that's just conjecture.

"Furthermore, you have repeatedly suggested that such concerns are anti-feminist and take women to be weak. Why? What is your argument for this assertion? You are the one who is failing to supply rational argument in defense of your position. You merely keep asserting that people don't know you or your views. Yes, we do know your views; you are stating them right now. They lack evidentiary or rational support."

1) False; I have repeatedly stated my grounds. I don't have time to restate them again. I recommend reading my 8:03pm if you want to respond from that.

SBIsMyName said...

"I think you do, in fact, demonstrate a pretty striking lack of understanding of what victims of sexual harassment go through. . . . And it's not an assumption at all; it's a considered judgment based on the things you say."

Here you make a fundamental mistake. To say that I lack an understanding of "what victims of sexual harassment go through" is to say that I don't understand it, I have no experience with it, I have never been aware of cases of it, nor given support to its victims, and so on. But you draw that conclusion not because of information you have about me and my past, but because I have an analysis that does not square with what you FIGURE would be the analysis of someone with experience of this sort.

But in fact, I might (and probably do) have average experience in these matters (or perhaps even more than most). I simply have an analysis that does not square with yours. It is not because I lack understanding any more than you lack understanding. We just disagree.

"Accusing you of not knowing something is not an ad hominem. It's not an attack on your character or your person. It's an attack on your views, in that they are informed by a lack of information."

Right. And I have repeatedly told you that this is incorrect; I do not lack experience or information. You know nothing about me so: fair mistake to make. Now you know the truth. But if you continue along these lines, then you are saying that I am lying. And that surely is ad hominem.

I see very little logical engagement. It's hard to believe that people want to engage rationally when they connect your views with the utterance of "nigger", or impugn your motives, or say that you don't care about the victims of sexual harassment.

To recapitulate:

(1) It is sometimes morally wrong to "tattle". Call these non-T cases.
(2) One non-T case is when a graduate student and a professor have a flirty relationship and the latter goes too far and, in the student's eyes, crosses the line (e.g. a dirty e-mail). The professor does this not to be mean, nor knowing that it would make the student uncomfortable, but because he erred about the intimacy of their relationship.
3) In such a case the proper remedy is for both parties to "act like adults". The student's moral responsibility is to confront the professor so that he/she knows that he/she erred. The professor's moral responsibility is to, upon learning this, immediately stop with the offending actions.
4)If the student in this case (with those basic facts) were to go--without giving any opportunity to the offender to change his/her ways--immediately to the administration, then the student has acted unjustly. Not a question of whether the student is ENTITLED to such a remedy; he/she is. But it's an unjust remedy.

The justificatory grounds for believing this is are myriad. Here are just a few: (1) the reasonable harm to the student is not great (she received a dirty e-mail); (2) the expected punishment (firing) is disproportionate to the offense; (3) good-faith errors should not be punished in such a way; (4) the offender may already be engaging in self-punishment (I know I'd feel awful if I did something that I had no idea was hurting another person but was then told that it was); (5) there are reasons of community to prefer an internal remedy. These are just some justificatory grounds, off the top of my head.

Happy to debate this view but if there's going to be any more talk that I don't care about victims of sexual harassment, or am naive, or am "blaming the victim", then I'm not going to stick around while people act like dicks because we have different opinions. I think we can all agree that there has been too much bad conduct in this whole situation already.

Us treating each other with respect, and debating rationally, is part of what I mean by "Big Boy Rules".

The UnDude said...

ShineBright,

Look, I think I learned everything I need to know about you when you ended your post with "Big Boy Rules apply." I may not know much about you but only a crappy feminist would use such a ridiculously gendered claim against a woman. Still, you seem to think that folks are misunderstanding you, that the facts back up your case, and that you are deducing things validly. Fine. Let's back up to the beginning then.

You claim,
1. ALL instances of sexual innuendo from professor to student ARE inappropriate.
“flirting and sexual innuendo is always inappropriate between teachers and students”
2. SOME instances of sexual innuendo from professor to student ARE NOT inappropriate.
“what one person finds inappropriate another might not”
Far be it for me to point out the obvious here but contradictory statements must always have different truth values. So, forgive me if I think your argument sucks - it has two claims that can't both be true at the same time.

You say,
"If she told him that she was uncomfortable and he persisted, then his dismissal was justified."
As you point out, this is a conditional claim. Fun thing about conditionals: if the antecedent condition is FALSE and the consequent is TRUE the conditional is still TRUE. That is, if she did NOT tell him that she was uncomfortable, then it could still be true that his dismissal was justified and the conditional would still work. But you explicitly state that if "she did nothing to correct this misperception" then she is morally blameworthy. It is implied that if she did not tell him to stop then the dismissal is not justified - this is called "denying the antecedent" and it is logically invalid.

It might be a fact that it is “easy to misunderstand another's motives” but there is no "fact" in evidence that there was a misunderstanding, there is only the supposition that there could be a misunderstanding. And, anyway, McGinn's recent defense admits that there was sexual innuendo - his "hand-job" jokes only work because of the innuendo, which means that it is a FACT that there was innuendo and the antecedent is satisfied: if there was flirting or sexual innuendo then it was inappropriate behavior. And, if you engage in inappropriate behavior then you ought to be dismissed.

So, let me recap:
Your facts are wrong
Your argument is invalid

ps. hoping that she "ran it up the flagpole" is a hilariously phallic way to start your defense and support of women.

Anonymous said...

Seriously -- just stop engaging with Shinebright. S-/he is the epitome of an Internet troll. Several of you have clearly and persuasive pointed out how SB is an obtuse P.O.S. Apparently this is a person who is so morally obtuse that s-/he cannot grasp the simply fact that the question, "How do we know the grad student has her career on the line?" is one of the most ridiculous questions ever asked by a human being. Seriously? You're a *philosopher* and you can't understand how pressing harassment charges against a famous figure puts one's own ass on the line. My lord. Seriously, just stop. Btw, I am new to this thread. I, like all of you, am shocked at this person's remarks. On too of it all, this person refuses to see that, yes, everyone here *has* engaged substantively with the arguments given. Substantively and decisively.

tangerine said...

To 12:37 Anonymous.

You say:
tangerine, it would be irresponsible simply to “take women’s word for it.” We should never simply take someone’s word for it when they accuse another of wrongful acts. Of course it is evidence, but it’s not conclusive, dispositive, indefeasible evidence.

Of course, as a broad and general rule. But truth finding is never done in a vacuum. There are circumstances in which the word of another is enough. This, in fact, is often the case. We take the word of those we love and respect on its face quite routinely. If my husband comes home and says he's been hit by a car, I don't go to the parking lot to check if it's true. If he tells me the other person was at fault and tells me how, I don't doubt him for a second.

If a woman comes to me saying that she was sexually harassed, I believe her. It would take a lot for me not to believe her. And if a woman's statement that she was sexually harassed is something from which she profits exactly nothing but which causes instead to risk to lose a lot, I'll take her word for it in a heartbeat.

Anonymous said...

*Us treating each other with respect, and debating rationally, is part of what I mean by "Big Boy Rules".*

The other part appears to be unapologetic sexism.

Anonymous said...

Can we get back to the main topic, which I take to be the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in academic philosophy? For instance, supposing the allegations to be true, and supposing there are other philosophers relevantly like McGinn (by which I don't necessarily mean famous British philosophers of mind, though that might be one relevant similarity), what are some things those of us in the trenches can be doing to encourage them to be accountable for continued, egregious sexual harassment?

Anonymous said...

SB's comment at 4:39 is astounding.

Perhaps SOMETIMES the appropriate thing to do in the situation described in (2) would be for the offending student to take up the matter directly with his or her professor.

But this would be the case ONLY if the student could be confident that the professor would "act like an adult", to use SB's phrase. If not -- if, e.g., the student had reason to worry that the professor would react badly, perhaps retaliating somehow -- then clearly it would be appropriate for the student to avoid such a confrontation. And certainly McGinn's recent post on his blog (insulting the student's intelligence?!) reveals that he may not be the kind to deal very maturely with this kind of matter.

Moreover, even on the assumption that the professor WOULD have reacted appropriately to a direct confrontation (and that the student could have known this), still it is far from clear that it would be unjust to pursue the matter through other channels. For if the matter was as (relatively) unserious as SB supposes it may have been, then probably it would be reasonable for the student to assume that the administrative response would not be too severe. (If the student had reason to believe that the administration at his or her university had a history of firing faculty for offhand remarks, then things might be different. But come on.) So even if it turned out that the student went directly to the administration even when he or she could have handled the matter sufficiently and at no personal cost by going directly to the professor, still the student bears only a VERY limited responsibility (far less than the responsibility that Derek Jeter has for his home runs -- and note that in this case the ball CHOSE to go over the fence, as McGinn resigned of his own accord) if it turns out that the professor is treated unfairly by the administration: it would be the ADMINISTRATION (not to mention the professor) who deserved the bulk of the blame; the student would be guilty only of a non-maliciously bad decision that had unpredictably bad consequences. Certainly this would not justify claiming, to use SB's phrase in his/her original comment, that "the majority of the moral blame falls upon [the student's] shoulders". Sorry, but anyone who thinks this could have been the case is a complete moral idiot.

RRocks! said...

4:51, You're being intellectual dishonest. Quote people correctly. In full: "Yes, flirting and sexual innuendo is always inappropriate between teachers and students. That is the boilerplate, and that is fine. But it remains a fact that we are all adults, and what one person finds inappropriate another might not." That is quite different from the ascription you give.

Also, you make a logical error with your analysis of the conditional. It is correct that a (material) conditional is true whenever it has a false antecedent. But we are wrong to infer that the consequent is true. Obviously we cannot conclude from 1) the fact that there are no flying monkey pirates and 2) if there are no flying monkey pirates then it is okay to kill babies that 3) it is okay to kill babies. Yet both premises are true and it is a valid deduction. I leave it as an exercise to figure out why this is the case.

bSB said...

"How do we know the grad student has her career on the line?" is one of the most ridiculous questions ever asked by a human being. Seriously? You're a *philosopher* and you can't understand how pressing harassment charges against a famous figure puts one's own ass on the line."

Correct. I do not see how showing moral courage against a man who has an (apparently) well-known reputation for bad behavior, and who has now been publicly disgraced, and who wields no power within the philosophical community, will harm this student.

Again, in my judgment (I could be wrong), the graduate student will likely be unaffected by this incident in terms of her career. It might even redound slightly to her benefit. That's just my analysis of the situation; I could be wrong. Notice that I have said this in a calm fashion and given reasons, above, for why I think that it is the case.

You have been hysteric, and now called me a "piece of shit", and "morally obtuse" for the judgment that I have made. But it is just based it on the facts as I know them and my best analysis of the situation. Should I lie because you find my opinion disagreeable?

I note that we again see the the anti-feminist undercurrent that I note. The student has doomed herself by standing up! What of the effect on her fragile career? How did she ever manage to do the right thing in the face of the famous male philosopher?

I imagine she managed to do the right thing because she is an adult and she comports herself accordingly. When faced with injustice she did not roll over but rather stood up for herself and responded appropriately. That is what we expect from men and that is what we expect from women. (Again, we assume the facts are as they've been accepted to be.)

I do believe the rhetoric of people like 5:20PM is anti-feminist and to be avoided.

Mr. Zero said...

Here you make a fundamental mistake. To say that I lack an understanding of "what victims of sexual harassment go through" is to say that I don't understand it, I have no experience with it, I have never been aware of cases of it, nor given support to its victims, and so on.

No. It's not to say any of that extra stuff. It's simply to say that there's something you don't understand. I don't have an opinion about why you don't understand it. I know what your experiences are or what you're aware of, and I don't care. It's just that if you had the understanding it would be reflected in what you say, and it isn't.

Right. And I have repeatedly told you that this is incorrect; I do not lack experience or information.

I know you don't think you lack information, but that doesn't mean you don't. From where I sit, it is crystal clear that you lack lots of information.

I see very little logical engagement...

I guess. But I don't think any of your examples of extreme non-engagement came from me.

To recapitulate:

Your line (2) is under-described and is false in a wide range of possible completions.

The professor has a professional duty not to engage in unwanted sexual conduct with the student. Depending on how far over the line the professor's remarks are, what the professor's temperament is like, how s/he deals with criticism, among other factors, it is quite possible that the "tattling," as you say, would be warranted. When someone is committing a crime against you, the criminal is not generally entitled to a face-to-face discussion with you before you call the cops. Sexual harassment is a crime.

The justificatory grounds for believing this is are myriad...

This section is highly erroneous, and represents another case in which you know less than you think you do and have failed to seriously engage with your interlocutors. To wit:

(1) Why do you get to decide how great the harm is?

(2) First, he was not fired. We have been over this. He resigned. He was not subject to disciplinary action, or a formal investigation, or formal charges. There was a preliminary investigation the results of which suggested that further action was warranted. He was offered a chance to resign rather than face a formal investigation, and, acting on the advice of his lawyer, he accepted.

Second, firing is not the "expected punishment." There are a bunch of available disciplinary measures short of termination. A stern talking to; formal censure; restrictions on access to students; suspension with pay; suspension without pay; etc.

Third, you don't know what McGinn did, or whether he would have been disciplined, or what the punishment would have been. You therefore don't know whether the punishment would have been disproportionate or not.

Fourth, it is not the victim's responsibility to protect the harasser from the consequences of the harasser's own bad behavior. If the harasser is such an adult, she is capable of facing the consequences of her behavior for herself.

(3) Nor is it is the victim's responsibility to determine whether the harasser was acting in "good faith."

(4) Nor is it the victim's responsibility to assess or accommodate the harasser's state of mental health.

Finally, I don't understand why you continue to be so insistent that being an adult involves an obligation to confront one's harasser face-to-face, and so nonchalant about the obligation not to be a harasser, and not to put other people in the uncomfortable position of having to regulate your behavior for you.

DiamondsAreForever said...

6:09PM: I will not call you a "moral idiot", as I have no grounds to believe that you are that, but I do believe that you are mistaken. And this is why:

"But this would be the case ONLY if the student could be confident that the professor would "act like an adult", to use SB's phrase. If not -- if, e.g., the student had reason to worry that the professor would react badly, perhaps retaliating somehow -- then clearly it would be appropriate for the student to avoid such a confrontation."

I do not agree here, except in the extreme case in which the professor's reaction was expected to be very bad--violent, say. One cannot predict how these things turn out. Either good or bad. If they are good--if the professor curbs the behavior, then problem solved, best for all. If not, if it continues or worsens, then the student has moral justification to go to the administration, has revealed something deeply disagreeable about the professor, and we have obtained a better, more extensive remedy.

"And certainly McGinn's recent post on his blog (insulting the student's intelligence?!) reveals that he may not be the kind to deal very maturely with this kind of matter."

It certainly does, although that comment seemed more aimed at the third-party graduate student than the woman, no?

"So even if it turned out that the student went directly to the administration even when he or she could have handled the matter sufficiently and at no personal cost by going directly to the professor, still the student bears only a VERY limited responsibility (far less than the responsibility that Derek Jeter has for his home runs -- and note that in this case the ball CHOSE to go over the fence, as McGinn resigned of his own accord) if it turns out that the professor is treated unfairly by the administration. it would be the ADMINISTRATION (not to mention the professor) who deserved the bulk of the blame; the student would be guilty only of a non-maliciously bad decision that had unpredictably bad consequences. Certainly this would not justify claiming, to use SB's phrase in his/her original comment, that "the majority of the moral blame falls upon [the student's] shoulders"."

This may be right. In such a case the administration may well bear the brunt of the moral blame. I do not think, pace this commenter though, that being fired given the stipulated facts is such an unlikely result. Nevertheless, even if the administration bears the blame for reading the situation wrong and responding too forcefully, it seems that the student wronged the professor by not first confronting her with the fact of discomfort. That is my intuition, anyway.

Anonymous said...

What evidence do we have that the student never went to McGinn with her concerns?

Sb! said...

ZERO:

1) "I know what your experiences are or what you're aware of, and I don't care. It's just that if you had the understanding it would be reflected in what you say, and it isn't."

Right, and this is your error. You say that everyone with experience X subsequently produces analysis Y. But that is not the case. I've had experience X and I produce analysis Z. Yet you say: "Whoa! To my mind everyone who has been through X believes Y! This dude believes something else, his analysis isn't in accord with mine! So he must not have experience of X!"

Yet that is false. I do have X. Now, you seem to think that you know more about my life than I do, because we happen to disagree on a moral issue. That does not seem like it can be correct. Perhaps, as I've noted, we just disagree on a moral issue.

2) "Depending on how far over the line the professor's remarks are, what the professor's temperament is like, how s/he deals with criticism, among other factors, it is quite possible that the "tattling," as you say, would be warranted. When someone is committing a crime against you, the criminal is not generally entitled to a face-to-face discussion with you before you call the cops. Sexual harassment is a crime."

Yep, this is correct. I have argued this all along. Depending on how far over the line the professor is, "tattling" can be warranted.

3) "Why do you get to decide how great the harm is?"

I can only reckon the harm from my point-of-view, but I think we can all concede that receiving an unwanted e-mail of sexual nature is not a terribly serious thing. Each person would respond in a different way, but some reactions would be inappropriate given the offense.

4) "firing is not the "expected punishment." There are a bunch of available disciplinary measures short of termination. A stern talking to; formal censure; restrictions on access to students; suspension with pay; suspension without pay; etc. "

Correct.

5) "you don't know what McGinn did, or whether he would have been disciplined, or what the punishment would have been. You therefore don't know whether the punishment would have been disproportionate or not."

We are not talking about McGinn, we are talking about a hypothetical case. By all accounts things went correctly in the McGinn case.

6) "Nor is it is the victim's responsibility to determine whether the harasser was acting in "good faith.""

In some cases it is the victim's responsibility. For example, let's imagine one of my teachers uses the phrase "to call a spade a spade" in class. Maybe I find this offensive. It would be wrong for me to go to the administration and accuse the teacher of being a racist. It would be right of me to tell the teacher that he/she is doing something offensive.

7) Nor is it the victim's responsibility to assess or accommodate the harasser's state of mental health.

Correct.

8) "I don't understand why you continue to be so insistent that being an adult involves an obligation to confront one's harasser face-to-face, and so nonchalant about the obligation not to be a harasser, and not to put other people in the uncomfortable position of having to regulate your behavior for you"

Briefly, because part of being an adult is maintaining dignity. There is dignity in having the courage to look another person eye-to-eye and tell him or her that he/she's wrong, acting badly, hurting you. There is dignity is allowing people who harm you by mistake to correct their behavior and carry on with their lives. There is dignity in being part of community that is willing to be honest and forthright with each other.

SB said...

"What evidence do we have that the student never went to McGinn with her concerns?"

None; she well might have. If so, she goes up even higher in my estimation.

iffy said...

6:17,
Are you sure your second premise is true?

People commenting on this blog have a lot of trouble with conditionals.

m, abd said...

" Here are just a few: (1) the reasonable harm to the student is not great (she received a dirty e-mail)"

I'm not sure that it's fair to assume that the reasonable harm from receiving a dirty e-mail is not great. Receiving an e-mail like that can be triggering for some. Not to mention that one can't just unlearn that one's superior probably views her as a sexual object. There are a whole range of harms that can come from overstepping one's boundaries in a position of authority, and there are a whole range of actions that can create a hostile, stressful environment for grad students, including the receipt of dirty emails from a boss and prominent scholar. Let's just please not minimize the effects that this experience may have had on this student.

12:37 said...

tangerine,

If my husband comes home and says he's been hit by a car, I don't go to the parking lot to check if it's true. If he tells me the other person was at fault and tells me how, I don't doubt him for a second.

Yes. Because, he’s your husband. When the other guy stands up in court and says your husband was at fault, you still believe your husband. Because, he's your husband.

If a woman comes to me saying that she was sexually harassed, I believe her.

Unless there is some evidence I don't know about (that women's allegations of sexual harassment are always true), that is irresponsibly credulous.

SB said...

Seems like with the flying monkeys the antecedent of the conditional is true, no?

Anonymous said...

I also find 5:20's comment contrary to the norms of reasoned discourse.

Anonymous said...

What evidence do we have that the student never went to McGinn with her concerns?

Who cares? She was under no moral obligation to do so.

As far as I can see, the Troll's view hinges on the claim that the student was morally obliged to bring her concerns to McGinn before reporting him. (Otherwise, she is a "tattler", to use his word.) I disagree: If the harm that one may reasonably predict will is as serious as some of the possibilities many have outlined above -- retaliation, etc. -- any presumed obligation to register concerns with the offender first is no longer in force. I assume everyone agrees with this. For example, I need not go find the person who's robbed me and register my complaints with him first. So the point of dispute is this: ShineOnYouCrazyTroll seems to think that the RA did not have sufficient reason to expect that harm would come from confronting McGinn first. I think this is patently false: reading the comments above gives one a laundry list of outcomes that are not only possible, but likely. To suppose that they are not likely is, I'm afraid, naive.

Zero, you've been perfectly willing (and justified, in my view) to shut down trolls in the past by refusing to post their comments. Why are you letting this one get through?

Anonymous said...

1) the fact that there are no flying monkey pirates and 2) if there are no flying monkey pirates then it is okay to kill babies that 3) it is okay to kill babies. Yet both premises are true and it is a valid deduction. I leave it as an exercise to figure out why this is the case.

I'm sorry: How is this a valid deduction?

Anonymous said...

1) the fact that there are no flying monkey pirates and 2) if there are no flying monkey pirates then it is okay to kill babies that 3) it is okay to kill babies. Yet both premises are true and it is a valid deduction. I leave it as an exercise to figure out why this is the case.

Whoops. I read premise (2) as "if there are flying monkey pirates then it is okay to kill babies, since by making the antecedent false, one makes the conditional true. So (A) disregard my last comment -- the one that asks how this argument is valid, and (B) I second the commenter above who asks why in the world premise (2) is true. If the antecedent had been false, then that would make the conditional true (assuming that we are treating it as a material conditional.

Anonymous said...

"There is dignity in having the courage to look another person eye-to-eye and tell him or her that he/she's wrong, acting badly, hurting you. There is dignity is allowing people who harm you by mistake to correct their behavior and carry on with their lives. There is dignity in being part of community that is willing to be honest and forthright with each other."

This.

Anonymous said...

"I do not see how showing moral courage against a man who has an (apparently) well-known reputation for bad behavior, and who has now been publicly disgraced, and who wields no power within the philosophical community, will harm this student."

-Because this man has friends. He has friends who will support him. He has friends who will feel that he has been wronged. He has friends who sit on hiring committees. It is *incredibly easy* to black-ball someone on the job market.

Just as importantly, by making an issue out of this, some departments will pass on hiring her, because some will see her as trouble, or at least potential trouble. Some hiring committees will think - as you have demonstrated it is possible to think - that McGinn may have been treated unfairly. And if there's a chance he was treated unfairly, perhaps she will be the cause of another faculty member being treated unfairly. There are *so many* qualified applicants that some hiring committees will balk at hiring someone who some now see as a known troublemaker. This will not change, even if she is vindicated in subsequent developments.

Go back to one of your earlier comments, where you claim that "in my judgment the majority of the moral blame falls upon her shoulders," if she did nothing to correct McGinn's bad behavior. See what you did there? Knowing only what The Chronicle has posted, you have already impugned her and called her morality into question. How exactly is it that you can suggest she could be morally blameworthy *and* that being morally blameworthy might help her on the market?

And as one commenter has claimed, her identity is known to some. This is a smaller world than we might like, and already her identity is becoming known by more. This will always follow her in her career.

"Again, in my judgment (I could be wrong), the graduate student will likely be unaffected by this incident in terms of her career. It might even redound slightly to her benefit."

-What is your judgment based on? Because it's certainly not based on years spent on hiring committees, I'm certain. Hiring committees look for reasons to exclude, and above I have given you reasons. Reasons that hiring committees have used in the past. We all might like to think that showing moral courage will be rewarded (though as you have demonstrated, not all will find her to be morally courageous). We may wish that were always the case. But we live in the real world, and this is (sadly) not the case. If her identity becomes common knowledge, the likelihood that it will follow her as a black mark is far greater than the likelihood that it will benefit her.

"That's just my analysis of the situation; I could be wrong."

-This isn't analysis. It's observation and opinion.

Anonymous said...

SB 7:22 has, I think, outed himself as either having had no contact with academic philosophy or, which I think is immensely more likely, a troll.

Yes, the antecedent is true. It is a valid argument of the form (modus ponens):
(1) P
(2) P implies Q
(c) Q

But (2), the conditional, is quite clearly false; it is not the case that there being no flying monkey pirates implies that killing babies is good. So despite being valid it is unsound.

But let's be real, anyone reading this post knows how MP works. Can we conclude that SB is a troll and move on?

Anonymous said...

Can we leave the accusations of trolling and calls to have people censored at Feminist Philosophers? This place may not be all roses and sunshine, but we don't need a bunch of thought-cops running around here whinging about their feelings.

ShineBright said...

No need to censor the dissenter, people! I'll leave, I don't time to comment more on this issue anyway. My brief foray into the world of Internet messaging boards has taught me a few things:

(1) People are mean!

(2) People are irrational!

(3) People do not like it when other people do not agree with them!

(4) We should all study more logic!

As a final thought, somebody said this about the student: "This is a smaller world than we might like, and already her identity is becoming known by more. This will always follow her in her career."

I hope that this is true. I hope that this event *does* follow her in her career and that she embraces it. I hope that she is proud to say that she did not allow herself to be intimidated; that rather than being cowed she was resolute; and that instead of weakness she stood strong in the face of injustice.

Now that's what we call playing by Big Boy Rules!

Anonymous said...

Re: "I'm not sure that it's fair to assume that the reasonable harm from receiving a dirty e-mail is not great. Receiving an e-mail like that can be triggering for some."

Yes, but anything can be triggering for some. How are you gonna defend singling out sexual content as the exception?

Just you wait Henry Higgins said...

Has every seen this post by McGinn today?

He describes the alleged emails in more detail within the context of "The Genius Project", or "The purpose of the genius project was to make NN into a truly original and outstanding young philosopher."

So now McGinn is claiming to be Pygmalion/Henry Higgins and his project fell to pieces, following an "academic failing by the student."

Sadly, he thinks had he been able to continue, "the genius project ...would have borne significant fruit; and indeed a colleague has remarked to me that NN’s philosophical abilities went from “good” to “superb” following the several months during which I was attempting to make her into a “genius”."

Anonymous said...

Today's post is particularly vile. What he describes sounds a lot like grooming - he picked her out of a crowd of the merely 'good' and told her he could make her fortune: all she had to do to become truly special was give herself over to his every word of counsel. She could come over to his house and see his phsyique in action: no-one else was special enough for that. But most of all, always, she could become the genius she wanted to be, as long as she just accepted him as her fellow/superior Genius (who just happened to wield huge institutional power over her). The 'oh we were just equals having a laugh' tone throughout is pure slime.

Reading this narrative, patterned as it is after any canonical account of how abusers isolate their victims, how likely does it seem that she was the first attractive young female protege to whom he was spieling this creepy crap? How many other genius projects have there been?

As for using her initials without good reason (hey McG, maybe appropriate fake initials for a graduate student might be GS?), fuck him. It's retaliation pure and simple.

Mr. Zero said...

You say that everyone with experience X subsequently produces analysis Y. But that is not the case. I've had experience X and I produce analysis Z.

No, that's not it. It's more like, if you understood that P, you wouldn't spend all day saying stuff that seems to presuppose that Not-P. And then, when people said, "hey, what about P?", your response would at least acknowledge that P, even if you ultimately didn't agree with the other person's analysis.

So anyways. If you want to propose a carefully-described case in which there's a single "dirty" email, and although this email crosses the line, it's still very close to the line, and the email flows in a somewhat natural way from a previously-established conversational baseline between the sender and the recipient, and the recipient can be pretty well assured that the sender will be a good sport about it, and the recipient can be well-assured that no other reprisals or negative consequences will result, then I think the recipient ought to start by talking to the sender face-to-face.

But I have a couple of caveats. First, this doesn't seem to be very close to the McGinn case, as far as the details of that case have been made public. And the McGinn case is the actual topic of this discussion.

Second, it's not even clear to me that this would constitute sexual harassment under the University of Miami's policies. (Or the law, insofar as I understand it.) According to the UM faculty handbook, sexual harassment is either quid pro quo, or conduct of a sexual nature that "is directed at an individual or a group and (a) is either abusive or would be considered severely humiliating by a reasonable person at whom it was directed, or persists despite the objection of the person(s) targeted by the conduct; or (b) is so clearly unprofessional that it creates a hostile environment that may substantially impair the work or academic performance of colleagues, coworkers or students." It seems to me that you're trying to describe a case where the conduct, though sexual, is not severely humiliating, or ongoing, or so clearly unprofessional as to create a hostile work environment. So it seems like you're not describing a case of genuine harassment.

I spent a little time reading the UM faculty handbook yesterday. I found it pretty illuminating. At Miami, sexual conduct between e.g. faculty and students is strongly discouraged but not prohibited. It's strongly discouraged for the standard reasons, because the power imbalance inherent in faculty/student interactions raises problems with establishing consent. In particular, it can be hard for the junior party to extract himself from a previously consensual but currently unwanted situation. That is, the sexual conduct might start out as consensual and then cease to be consensual over time. A faculty member who finds herself in this sort of situation, even unwittingly, is now open to charges of sexual harassment. UM therefore recommends not starting down that path. That doesn't seem like shitty advice.

Popkin said...

He is claiming that he was forced to resign over "two short email messages, spaced over three months, which contained some (mild) sexual content, which was related to the seminar of mine NN had attended and which was relevant to work we were doing together." Evidently he thinks that people will believe that he resigned his job rather than bother to explain his two brief emails to university administrators.

Anonymous said...

http://fauxphilnews.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/2449/

This is hilarious. The Henry Higgins response from McGinn is also hilarious. The guy really doesn't understand when his goose is cooked; he keeps turning up the oven.

Anonymous said...

My god, what oblivious shitbag this guy is. His fucking justification is "Hey I was only engaging in my own little retelling of Pygmalion, albeit with weird shit about me founding a cult around the goddamn HAND."

WTF? He describes himself as founding/leading a cult. Offer to make a young woman a "genius" and instructing her as a part of bildung to ignore "taboos". And that is supposed to justify his creepy as fuck emails about masturbatory fantasies?

This is some seriously messed up shit. And using the person's initials (if that is what he has done..it's hard to tell since the U of M philosophy department website is now OFFLINE ) is a fucking outrage, surely also a violation of some confidentiality agreement.

WV: Physical agedru (aged are you?)

Anonymous said...

@6/7 7:50am,

I think 'NN' is a way of anonymizing someone; one encounters it in (19th century European) literature not infrequently, and Wittgenstein uses it in the Investigations, if memory serves. I always assumed it meant "Name Name."

Grad Student said...

I, too, find McGinn's tone distasteful.

But if the factual claims he makes are accurate, I'm also finding it harder to sympathize with the plight of the accuser. Two emails, three months apart, the last of which was sent five months ago, sent between two adults in the course of a working relationship close enough for her to spend time at his house; emails in which, it now seems, he never in fact said anything as disgusting as "I was thinking about you while masturbating;" this does not strike me as the sort of action that calls for accusations of sexual harrassment.

We can, of course, speculate about what else might be the case. But rather than dragging McGinn's name through the mud, let's take a step back and ask ourselves whether the virulence that has been espoused in some quarters is warranted by what we now have reason to believe the case involves. The high-minded moralizing that some people have so quickly turned to looks much less justified at this point.

Or is a woman's accusation so sacrosanct that we cannot question the grounds of her feelings without subject to shouts of 'victim-blaming?' I suspect I know the answer to that question...

We should also, I think, be more critical of the men surrounding her in this situation. They may have been unwittingly enabling a persecution complex. And that is, as SB says, to do a disservice to the woman as an agent, an adult, and someone in charge of her own dispositions.

Anonymous said...

These posts from McGinn are not PR, they're part of a (weak?) legal strategy. My guess is that he's trying to build a case against the university and others. He might also be attempting to preempt legal action from his student with the slow release of details that undermine her credibility. Will he be able to elicit libelous comments from identifiable parties? Let's see. Will he be able to build the case that the university unfairly pressured him to quit? Maybe.

Anonymous said...

One thing seems striking to me about McGinn's "Genius-Development defense" of himself that hasn't been mentioned.

He states in his defense that he selected this grad student because of her outstanding potential. He then states that she went from "good" to "superb" during her time working under him. Finally, he states in the comments section that she pressed harassment charges against him only after an "academic failure."

Now I know this is speculation, but this strange series of events can't help to bring to mind the most classic form of threatening quid-pro-quo of all - a boss punishing someone for failing to reciprocate a sexual advance. Could this be the "academic failure" McGinn is referring to? Might that be why the student raised a stink five months later? (She dealt with harassment up to the point at which he retaliated against her for refusing to submit to his advances?) Wouldn't be the first time this sort of thing happened, and it gives the predator a classic "out" ("She didn't complain until 5 months later!").

Anonymous said...

At least something worthwhile has come out of this disaster.

zombie said...

I might be slightly sympathetic with McGinn feeling a need to tell his side of the story. Who wouldn't? Except that the way he is doing it is so thoroughly repugnant. He comes off sounding like a pedophile who really, truly, deep in his heart believes that what he is doing is consensual and educational for his victim (the would-be Genius who so disappointed him). He's convinced me: he's a sexual predator, the Jerry Sandusky of Miami. (His lawyers should tell him to shut the hell up.)

If his victim had been a child instead of a grown woman, I expect he'd have fewer defenders (and hopefully fewer enablers).

Popkin said...

Grad Student, the claims he makes are extremely unlikely to be true, given the fact that he has resigned. So we don't have a reason to stop sympathizing with the victim, or to worry about McGinn's good name.

Anonymous said...

ANON 10:42 here gain to clarify...

A possible (probable?) series of events:

Student puts up with professor's emailing harassment for 5 months.

Student refuses sexual advances for 5 months.

Professor gives student a failing grade for refusing advances.

Student presses harassment charges.

Professor calls into question student's motives. ("Strange my student didn't complain for 5 months").

An all-time classic set-up.

Eliza said...

It seems very likely, triangulating from what he has posted about what he wrote and from what was reported in the CHE, that what he wrote to the student in one of the emails was approximately, "I was thinking of you while I gave myself a hand job last night..."

He meant a manicure you guys!!!!!

Seriously, watching people try to claim that the woman is at fault for, variously, complaining about this, or failing to complain sooner (what a lack of empathy and understanding of the experience of sexual harassment that shows!), is really depressing me.

Anonymous said...

I had sworn to myself that I would try to stay out of this, but Zombie's comment--"He's convinced me: he's a sexual predator, the Jerry Sandusky of Miami."--really bothers me. We don't have all of the evidence and, unfortunately, the best available representative for McGinn is McGinn himself--and he's doing himself no favors. But shouldn't we reserve judgment until and unless we get all of the information?

Glaucon said...

Here's Prop Joe impersonating McGinn's counterpart, Sidney Handjerker.

Glaucon said...

The Colin McGinn story, as directed by Wes Anderson.

humean said...

We should reserve judgment, yes.

However, the scenario sketched by 10:42/12:15 does fit. My money is on that one.

God those twitters are good.

And in case anyone hasn't read it yet, this is a good time to look at Nina Strohminger's review of McGinn's book on disgust:

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~humean/strohmingermcginn.pdf

(If you've already read it, what the hell, treat yourself, read it again. Strohminger has a bright future.)

Anonymous said...

"We should reserve judgment, yes.

However, the scenario sketched by 10:42/12:15 does fit. My money is on that one."

Yep, it fits the limited information we have. But why then bet on its being the case? I don't see how this isn't self-contradictory:

1. we should reserve judgment, because we don't have all of the facts,

2. but some of the attempts to fill in the gaps fit what little we do know, so I am going to bet on those.

Anonymous said...

McGinn's further "reasons" for resigning, added to his blog just this evening, are more outrageous:

1. The rules of the university allow the President to overrule the findings of the Faculty Senate Committee that investigates cases of alleged misconduct, and I believed this was very likely in my case.



2. I had no desire to remain in a place I had come to hate.



3. I did not want to keep paying my lawyer at exorbitant rates for several more months.



4. I was concerned about the effects on my wife’s physical and mental wellbeing.



5. I wanted to spend more time with my son and grandchildren in England.



6. I have been a professor for forty years and wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life reading the books I want to and playing more tennis.



7. I didn’t know whether my old enthusiasm for teaching would survive my disenchantment with graduate students.



8. I was sick and tired of the whole thing and just wanted not to have think about it anymore or waste my time on it.



9. I had books to write that I wanted to get on with.



10. I felt insufficiently intellectually stimulated in Miami anyway.

2 and 10 imply that he held his colleagues in Miami and perhaps the city itself in low esteem. Poor guy, having to make due with the bare essentials on (I'm guessing) a six figure salary in Miami. Bet he is glad not to have the hassle of those albatrosses around his neck. I guess he was trying to make some (young, attractive, female) geniuses out of his graduate students out of sheer boredom with his non-(young, attractive, female)genius colleagues.

4 is classic...He cares about his wife's wellbeing, now. Classic Tony Wiener, Eliot Spitzer, behaviour. Grt outed for your lecherous behavior and then resign for the health of your spouse. The time to care about that was before he sent the lewd emails, not after.

6 and 9 make it sound like he had no time to read and write and play tennis while he conducting his Genius Project. But in his initial defense he talked about the book he was writing. And a cursory glance at the class schedule at Miami shows that he taught nothing last semester. I am sure ANYONE reading this blog would be thrilled with the teaching load he has had the last few years.

2:47 said...

3:48,

Hm, you don't see how it isn't self-contradictory? I'm not exactly sure what that means. It doesn't appear contradictory in any way.

Tell you what, if you think it's self-contradictory, why don't you show how to derive from it a sentence and its negation?

Dregs said...

5:17,

Taking 'reserving judgment' in (1) to mean something like, "no one should take a side."

Taking 'betting on those' in (2) to mean something like, "I should take this side."

The tension is something like that between "no side should be taken" and "this side should be taken."

It plausibly seems to be an E-I contradiction.

Anonymous said...

Why I’m Right and You’re Wrong and I’m Taking My Genius Toys and Going Home
1. The rules of the university allow the insufferably dim President to overrule the findings of the idiots on the Faculty Senate Committee that investigates cases of alleged genius mentoring, and I believed this was very likely in my case.
2. I had no desire to remain in a place I had come to hate because they did not appreciate my luminous intellect.
3. I did not want to keep paying my lawyer at exorbitant rates for several more months because it might—just might—place me in SLAC net income territory. How embarrassing would THAT be?
4. I was concerned about the effects on my wife’s physical and mental wellbeing (but not enough to actually act as if I cared about that in my day-to-day life; note that I made this #4).
5. I wanted to spend more time with my son and grandchildren in the Motherland (hey—doesn’t that sound as if I am a regular guy? Like your grandpa?).
6. I have been a professor for forty—or is it fifty?—nah, must be sixty--years and wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my self-absorbed life reading the books I want to and playing more tennis. Now bow before me mistresses of non sequitur!
7. I didn’t know whether my old enthusiasm for teaching would survive my disenchantment with graduate students, and in particular one who wouldn’t play with the hand she was dealt.
8. I was sick and tired of the whole thing and just wanted not to have think about it anymore or waste my time on it, just as anyone who really gets OJ understands.
9. I had books to write that I wanted to get on with, and believe it or not, there may be soft porn content.
10. I felt insufficiently intellectually stimulated in Miami anyway, because geniuses really need places like Einstein lived in—like maybe pretty close to Snooky.
The downside was that I wouldn’t “get my day in The People’s Court”, but I made a point of writing a long obfuscation of the accusations against me and giving it to the university. So there.

zombie said...

"Zombie's comment--"He's convinced me: he's a sexual predator, the Jerry Sandusky of Miami."--really bothers me. We don't have all of the evidence and, unfortunately, the best available representative for McGinn is McGinn himself--and he's doing himself no favors. But shouldn't we reserve judgment until and unless we get all of the information?"

As I said, McGinn is the one who convinced me. When someone acts like a sexual predator, and talks like a sexual predator, I'm not sure how much more "information" I want. His resignation was to prevent us getting "more information," in any case. I'm not calling for anyone to go all pitchfork and torch on him. But someone ought to tell him to quit digging that hole.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear what others think about why these scenarios (up to but usually not including the complaint and resignation!) happen more often than they should in Philosophy departments. What are the conditions that made it possible for this situation to develop over a fairly long period? Why is it such a big deal that one prominent person has resigned in a wake of an inappropriate conduct scandal?

In this profession we worship heroes who do analytic philosophy precisely the way McGinn did: to exult in argument as a contest, rather than a gentler and more cooperative enterprise. Those who are best at this little game are elevated and celebrated. They gain cushy appointments where they teach very little and most of their students are graduate acolytes who admire and flatter them, eager for any wisdom from the great man and hoping to ride his coattails to career success of their own.

Almost everyone is complicit in this situation: we esteem the rankings of departments according to how many of these stars are on the faculty, we advise our students to attend such schools, and we prize the pedigree of their grad students as evidence of greater intellectual ability than possessed by those who attended a more humble institution.

How many people knew before this week that Colin McGinn was precisely this kind of guy? His colleagues in Miami certainly knew it. How many faculty members know of others like him? How many excuse their behavior, look the other way, or even defend it, as in this case, by casting aspersions on the student who has the temerity to complain? How many would think of this incident as a mark against hiring her in the future, for fear of bringing a troublemaker aboard?

This is what our profession is like, and this is why such incidents happen. We attract people who like to behave like jerks because we reward those who can dominate in a clash of arguments, and those who succeed can enjoy a very comfortable sort of job with great freedom. Some of them will, like other humans, be the sort to dominate and exploit those beneath them. The hierarchical, insular nature of our field will allow this behavior to continue.

To me the most telling comment of all was Leiter's observation that McGinn helped Miami's ranking, and his departure would hurt it. This is what we philosophers care about most. We don't conclude that Miami is a better department now, because one of its great jerks has departed and can no longer have a bad influence on students there. Think about it.

Anonymous said...

"Tell you what, if you think it's self-contradictory, why don't you show how to derive from it a sentence and its negation?"

Not P: I will not make any judgments.
P: I will make a judgment.


Anonymous said...

From the comments for his "Genius Project" post:

"There aren't many UM students likely to be NN. One particular individual has selected for her academia.edu a photo that conveys sexual attractiveness rather than professionalism. Could it be her?"

Yup. This is how some people in the field think. Because attractive people can't be professional. Because professionals can't be trusted around attractive people. Because McGinn would only harass someone attractive, and because she probably deserved it for being attractive.

And because identifying her is clearly the most important thing we can do with our time.

This is my field? Fuck this.

Anonymous said...

"To me the most telling comment of all was Leiter's observation that McGinn helped Miami's ranking, and his departure would hurt it. This is what we philosophers care about most. We don't conclude that Miami is a better department now, because one of its great jerks has departed and can no longer have a bad influence on students there. Think about it."

Very interesting comment. Indeed, definitely worth thinking about.

humean said...

I think more than one person misunderstood what I was saying -- probably my fault.

I meant: we should withhold full belief, but my credence favors (something like) the scenario sketched by 10:42.

Do other people manage to keep from *any* sort of doxastic judgments, maintaining uniform credence in the face of inconclusive evidence? I couldn't do that if I tried. (I'm a humean, not a pyrrhonian.)

Anonymous said...

I've never been in the same room as C. McG. Does he really "exult in argument as a contest", as 7:41 says? I'm very skeptical that this tendency has anything to do with sexual harassment. The philosophers I know who most exult in contesting are most definitely not sexual (or otherwise) harassers.

And 8:28, you excoriate the entire field because it contains some jerks? All fields contain some jerks. And what do you mean, "And because identifying her is clearly the most important thing we can do with our time"? Everyone in my department has better things to do with their time, thanks. Maybe you travel in the wrong circles.

Anonymous said...

I'm not seeing too many comments around the blogs surmising that maybe, just maybe, the CHE story does not have all the facts. Given that philosophy is meant to be a critical discipline, this is kind of depressing. Maybe G. Miller was onto something. If you're unable to critically assess a CHE story, maybe you don't belong in philosophy.

1. It doesn't look like anybody has looked at the UM faculty handbook, either, except Mr Zero...but here's a key point: McGinn was NOT dismissed on charges of sexual harassment. He wasn't dismissed at all. Yes, he was forced out. So: could it be that the main issue here is that, according to UM, an amorous relationship with a student or someone whom one is supervising has to be 1) reported to a superior and 2) the parties must cease having a supervisor/supervisee relationship? One obvious possibility is that McGinn and NN had a relationship, and he didn't tell his supervisor, nor, clearly, did he cease being her supervisor.

Then something happened. And the emails were brought into the fray, and they grossed people out (has anyone ever tried to argue some of the LEAST controversial philosophical positions with non-philosophers and watch their heads explode? Is it so hard to believe that an email with the word 'hand-job' in it, to a student, could rub somebody the wrong way (oops sorry again for that pesky innuendo))--but there was no prima facie legal basis to do much about them. Ah ... but how about disciplinary action according to the rules of the fac handbook; the disciplinary action is strictly in the hands of the President; voila', forced resignation which would have cost the earth to fight.

2. The part about the CHE story that's gotten everybody's panties in a twist--yep, I said it-- is contradicted in some key places by McGinn in his blog posts--and by the above scenario--namely, that he didn't just send random pervy emails to a grossed out and not-ok-with-it graduate student, but that in the course of the batshit hand project thing he was doing, emails were exchanged with a cooperative and consenting collaborator that contained (nice alliteration there huh) that....well, that's just where we run out of things to say. What do we know about the emails? Nothing. We just don't know. Maybe they had a relationship (sounds like it)...til they didn't. And I'm not sure I want to start dictating that no one can ever have a fling with a professor.

3. Who DID blow up the story to CHE--especially as reported, as maximally negative to McGinn? Motive? Is there any reason to suppose that someone at Miami--faculty member, student--had an axe to grind and used what were some, say, eyebrow -raising emails to fuck with him? (oops, sorry for using sexually charged language, where there are students present). Maybe a few people at Miami are crowing over their good fortune to have gotten rid of him so their no- rep department can sink right back into obscurity. Who knows? He's not known for endearing himself to his colleagues, for sure--in a profession where being collegially difficult is as much prized as it is nominally frowned upon.

Far more worthy of discussion than shit we don't know anything about, though, is that there have been a few comments on the blogs about all this that are degrading and pathetic--like "it is ALWAYS inappropriate for there to be sexual talk between professor and student". Not sure that kind of reactionary scoldy attitude is going to serve us at all well in philosophy. What's way worse for women in this profession is being dismissed as any kind of serious scholar for whatever reason (and don't think women don't do it to women!). But starting a call for eggshell walking with your graduate students in the character of the Dowager Countess just not on, is it.

Anonymous said...

I wrote the comment at 7:41.
5:02 asked, "Does he really "exult in argument as a contest"; yes, and he has said so in writing and in interviews if it wasn't obvious from encounters with him.

"I'm very skeptical that this tendency has anything to do with sexual harassment."
The connection between the two does not arise because people who exult in contesting arguments are more likely to be harassers, but because in a disciplinary culture where we reward the winners of such contests and establish a pecking order on that basis, it is easier to thrive as a harasser. The star philosophers in the top departments are able to operate by a different set of rules. Some of them are happy to develop a cult of hero-worship among their students, and other faculty let this happen as if it's acceptable. The employment prospects of those who don't go along with these norms will suffer. Like I said, Leiter's takeaway was that Miami's ranking is going to drop now, rather than rise.

We wish to attend the top ranked schools, teach at them, and hire their graduates. In this small world, relationships with a few senior faculty make all the difference to a student's future. Tolerating various forms of harassment (that they are common, I take as an assumption based on my own experience and the reports of others) may seem like the easiest option for a student who wishes to succeed. Reporting someone like a McGinn could be devastating to the career. I know I've never reported any of the harassing behavior I witnessed; I didn't want to be tagged with a damaging "troublemaker" label and it seemed dangerous to get powerful faculty members in potential hot water. This is how our style of rewarding certain behaviors in philosophy, and the hierarchical nature of this profession, ends up reinforcing bad behavior of all kinds. And it's not just sexual harassment; everyone knows or has nightmare stories about students who got on the wrong side of an important professor or made an unfortunate choice of advisor.

I did not write the comment at 8:28, but although some of the best people I've ever met are philosophers, our field contains not just "some" jerks, but a lot of jerks. Here too, the rewards bestowed for essentially jerky behavior in the debate arena only help such persons to thrive in our field. How many times have you witnessed a talk and observed not that people who made aggressive attacks on an argument were congratulated for the behavior, rather than encouraged to be more constructive in approach? In my experience that's the norm; the goal is to "get" the other person's argument, and there is no need to express criticisms in a friendly manner. My hypothesis is that this allows people who otherwise enjoy behaving like jerks to flourish among us. If they publish a lot, they'll be celebrated accordingly.

Yes, people are trying to identify the student; I presume that's why Miami had to take down its website. I don't think it's an accident, and that should be illuminating to everyone who is sure that philosophers have better things to do with their time, generally. Everyone in my department is gossiping about this case, and yes, people are making lots of excuses for McGinn's behavior. I think that's what drives me to write about it here. I can't help the circles I travel in - it's my job.

Another anon grad student said...

5:02 - I've been in the same room as McGinn on a few occasions, and I've found his argumentative style to vary with the occasion. Sometimes I've seen him combative, sometimes cooperative and collegial. I've never seen him act in a way I'd describe as 'exulting' in something. But I take my limited experiences with him to have very little weight, esp. in light of this controversy.

On the other hand, I have seen many people (grad students, undergrads, faculty) exult in a very combative style of philosophical interaction. I take it that exulting in that kind of interaction is different from engaging in it. And I'm less confident than you are that there's no connection between exulting in very combative argument and more unsavory behaviors & character.

I don't have a great argument for the existence of such a connection, or a good definition of what it is to exult in something (although, reading 7:41's comment, I straightaway thought the word aptly described something I've observed). Hence my modest claim: I'm just not confident that there's no connection.

Anonymous said...

7:41 is right on the money. Philosophy values jerks, and this heretofore has manufactured a sick hierarchy. Those who succeed are uncompromising and they're not known for things like sensitivity, compassion, and common sense. And this singular valuation of philosophers as such and as arguers rather than as competent people as well creates a rift, and it's not at all clear how to bridge it. But until you do (and fortunately this is your unenviable task, I'm out of the field :D), you're going to find your profession under the sway of under-emotionally developed man-children. Not to a person, obviously, but as a rule, when it comes to your stars, and often otherwise your hardest-working, most reasonable professors and colleagues, many of them will have glaring social personality flaws that leave them unable to properly function with others on both professional and personal levels. And allow me to be clear -- this is a problem for philosophers much more often than even other professions inside the ivory tower, let alone outside of it. It is the nature of the beast. Choose your fate carefully, and consider how much it will take to de-claw all the "old boys" of this profession. (I'm not saying "Get out while you can!"... but get out while you can, if the general weird unprofessionalism of people in this field bothers you to distraction. It's not going to stop.)

On a more pointed note, this wasn't the first attractive young woman Colin McGinn decided to groom. I know a fair few of the grad students in the dept. (myself included) found the novelty classes he did teach laughable to absurd. He'd teach some bread-and-butter classes, but I remember best one seminar wherein most of the room seemed politely bemused about his latest novelty topic, with only his young protege who'd been previously briefed on the topic of discussion soaking up and engaging the fairly pointless conversation. It was creepy, and I remember it so well because it seemed blatantly gross. I know this description seems fairly superficial but I'm not going to compromise my anonymity. McGinn is a self-involved creep who does deserve what he got.

Anyway, good luck to you all on here. I'm glad a substantive conversation has been started on this subject, and I hope this generation changes the seriously weird patriarchy in philosophy departments rather than perpetuates it. Philosophy will always be my first love, and I regret that I couldn't make it in what now was very clearly an abusive department at all levels.

Anonymous said...

"I've never been in the same room as C. McG. Does he really "exult in argument as a contest", as 7:41 says? I'm very skeptical that this tendency has anything to do with sexual harassment. The philosophers I know who most exult in contesting are most definitely not sexual (or otherwise) harassers.

And 8:28, you excoriate the entire field because it contains some jerks? All fields contain some jerks. And what do you mean, "And because identifying her is clearly the most important thing we can do with our time"? Everyone in my department has better things to do with their time, thanks. Maybe you travel in the wrong circles."

+1, beat me to it.

Anonymous said...

What is the evidence of McGinn's wrongdoing?

I understand that he resigned, but that's not evidence of wrongdoing. It could be due to a number of factors, including those which he professes to be the case, or perhaps resignation-in-lieu-of-firing, and all sorts of other circumstances.

I understand that McGinn is weird, but that's not evidence of wrongdoing either, for obvious reasons.

I'm not insinuating anything here. This is a request for information. What is the specific evidence of wrongdoing on McGinn's part? Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

I have had several interactions with McGinn over several years; most have been professional, though some have been personal (dinner with mutual friends at a conference, etc.). Like everyone else I know, he's a far more complex person than the various discussions of this issue recognize. I've known him to be a brash, arrogant, thoughtless jerk who accepts casual sexism as a birthright. I have also known him to be a thoughtful, helpful person who has devoted much time and energy to helping his students develop as scholars. And he's both of those things at the same time.

I, for one, am glad to see that he's not teaching right now. (But given the nature of our field and what is valued, I have no doubt that he will find a home someplace, should he desire it. But this is all too fresh to know what his long-term plans will be.) I have heard far too many reports from far too many people that he treats some female graduate students unprofessionally. Many of them simply accept that treatment as the price of admission to the field, as many women have do so before. Many have recognized that, however poorly he treats them, graduate study is temporary, so they keep their heads down, bite their tongues, and do their work.

As one of my colleagues reminded me yesterday, this is hardly the first time he has engaged in inappropriate behavior. For many, this is a public reckoning of what has been known for some time. And the same colleague reminded me that he is not alone. This colleague told me a story of another well-known philosopher, working at a top program, who repeatedly propositioned students and promised them jobs in return. My colleague was so propositioned, and when she turned him down, he no longer spoke to her.

Of course, we know that this is not proper behavior. But we also know that, far too often, it is accepted. Some accept it because that's how it's always been. Some accept it because fighting it takes far too much time, energy, and can come at the expense of one's career. (Whether because of outright retaliation or because it takes time away from publishing.) Which leads me to the following, from an earlier comment:

"I'm glad a substantive conversation has been started on this subject, and I hope this generation changes the seriously weird patriarchy in philosophy departments rather than perpetuates it."

In my time in the field, I have seen small but positive changes. When I was a graduate student (many years ago), such sexism was far more open and accepted. Now, it's less common, but also kept behind closed doors. (The former is good for the field; the latter is quite dangerous.) And I like to think that as such stories become public, and as more people make an effort to remove faculty from their posts, we will continue to see positive change.

However, I also know that as the market gets more competitive, graduate students will be less likely to report examples of intimidation and abuse, for fear of their careers. Junior faculty are often too concerned (and for good reason) with keeping their jobs. And sadly, by the time many become tenured, they have come to accept the status quo. They may know someone who engages in such behavior, and they will very likely accept it. They will look at someone and think, "he doesn't teach in my department, so it's really not my problem." They might think, "he's in my department, but he doesn't work with my graduate students, so it's really not my problem."

I know that many people think the above. I know that I did. And I know other people who have. I've watched this happen before and, if history is any judge, this will blow over and we will return to our careers and we won't give this another thought until the next high-profile example. And we will lament our inability to change anything. I hope I'm wrong.

angel said...

I’m Anon 5:02, but I think I might post a few more comments so I’m adopting a name.

5:02 asked, "Does he really "exult in argument as a contest"; yes, and he has said so in writing and in interviews if it wasn't obvious from encounters with him.

Can you point me to the writing?


The connection between the two [exultant tendency/sex harassment] does not arise because people who exult in contesting arguments are more likely to be harassers, but because in a disciplinary culture where we reward the winners of such contests and establish a pecking order on that basis, it is easier to thrive as a harasser.

It’s a good point, that is a quite separate mechanism. I’m still skeptical.

Let me be somewhat frank about this. I got my PhD from a superLeiterific department, but did not get a Leiterific job (which was fine with me). So I have met many superstars, and actually worked with (i.e., under) a couple. No doubt there are some jerks, but even the main jerk I’ve interacted with was not the sexual harasser type of jerk. (He’s the narcissistic clueless kind who doesn’t notice that half the people in the room roll their eyes when he drops little nuggets about how important he is.)

You ask,

How many times have you witnessed a talk and observed not that people who made aggressive attacks on an argument were congratulated for the behavior, rather than encouraged to be more constructive in approach?

I think you might have an extra ‘not’ in there. But I don’t know the answer, anyway – I’m not quite sure what sort of behavior you have in mind. I would say there is a big difference between adversarial interaction between philosophers who hold different views, and jerky competitive sniping. For example, I once heard Peter Van Inwagen and David Lewis have a spirited exchange in person, both of them perfectly sanguine during the discussion and the best of friends afterward. But I’ve heard the other kind, too.

Anonymous said...

I am a tenured associate professor. When I was a graduate student, I was an RA for a very famous philosopher who has well into the double digits of books published.

Here's what I did with him. I played racquetball and basketball with him. I ate food at his home. We travelled and shared a hotel room together. We drank beer and played pool at conferences. All the while we talked about philosophy, books, the job market, and how to be successful. I helped in the publishing and editing of three major books in those two years. Invaluable experience. A simple way to say this is that I was mentored well.

My wife who was a graduate student in another field didn't get to play basketball with her advisor. (He actually played with his students and me and my advisor.) She didn't drink beers with him, and just didn't have the same personal relationship I did with my advisor. And she lamented that fact.

Don't get me wrong, she can't play basketball at all. But the point is that the personal relationships that develop require interaction more than just in someone's sterile office setting.

If McGinn only ever had male students he mentored in a personal way, then that would have been an issue for the female students at UM. Why can't we go paddle boarding or play tennis with Colin. The boys are getting all the good RA spots with McGinn, they would complain.

But he didn't do that. He treated NN as an equal. As someone with standing and worth.

You can't have it both ways. Mad if you don't get the same mentoring situation, and then complain when you get it and it goes sideways (perhaps by your own doing or lack of doing.)

So frequently on this blog I see that the graduate students are off and don't have a full vision or understanding of universities, life, or job searching. Zombie's comments about CM were particularly sad to read given how little we really know.

So think about it in those terms. Imagine a world where the McGinn's of the world continue to either avoid female graduate students or don't give them the kind of educational experience that the male students get. And saying this is why we need more female mentors is the wrong way to go. We just need more good mentors.

Seems to me that what McGinn was doing was both very British and an example of a model that works. Too bad it all fell apart for him and eventually NN.

angel said...

Another Anon Grad Student wrote:

5:02 - I've been in the same room as McGinn on a few occasions, and I've found his argumentative style to vary with the occasion. Sometimes I've seen him combative, sometimes cooperative and collegial. I've never seen him act in a way I'd describe as 'exulting' in something. But I take my limited experiences with him to have very little weight, esp. in light of this controversy.

Thanks. It’s good for each of us to keep in mind what a small sample we each have, which is why I’m genuinely asking.

And I'm less confident than you are that there's no connection between exulting in very combative argument and more unsavory behaviors & character.

I didn’t mean to say I was confident that there’s no connection. I was just expressing skepticism. That is, I don’t think we have much reason to believe one way or the other. It seems like we have, from our experiences – but our own personal evidence is very weak, limited evidence.

Dr. Killjoy said...

To Mr. Zero,

To be sure, you and I have been at loggerheads several times in the past (and no doubt much to the delight of your readers). However, in the last year or two, I've found your commentary increasingly insightful and measured and your blog management fair and thoughtful (hence my conspicuous absence from the docks).

So, I was understandably surprised when I saw Zombie's outrageous comment that very seriously and quite explicitly referred to McGinn, who is alleged to have sent a grad student a series of inappropriate emails, as a sexual predator of a sort akin to proven serial child-rapist Jerry Sandusky ("Colin McGinn is the Jerry Sandusky of Miami"). By publishing such a comment, you didn't just drop the Moderating Ball, you punted it out of the goddamn fucking stadium.

While I've lost what little respect I had for Zombie, Zombie's clearly an idiot so that's no big deal. You, however, my dear Zero, I thought above such dumbfuckery Unfortunately, save some intricate plot on your part to get Zombie slapped with a libel suit, it seems I may have been mistaken.

I don't much care whether you publish this or not. I just want to let you know that you've lost an admirer otherwise gained.

Anonymous said...

I, too, think the comparison to Sandusky is obscene. The mindset that is willing to draw such a conclusion from what scant evidence we have is a poisonous one.

Anonymous said...

"Imagine a world where the McGinn's of the world continue to either avoid female graduate students or don't give them the kind of educational experience that the male students get."

I may be misreading the article, but it doesn't sound to me like McGinn was asked to retire because he invited this graduate student to "play racquetball and basketball with him," or "eat food at his home."

Part of the problem here is that the systemic sexism that many women in the field have to endure is certainly *not* "the kind of educational experience the male students get."

Anonymous said...

To everyone,

Setting aside some of the oddities of M's initial response, and setting aside his subsequent remarks entirely: That initial response, in it's general form, has been accepted repeatedly in cases very similar to this one in philosophy departments across the country.

We are now ridiculing it. However, when our prior experiences with the accused are positive, and the discussion occurs behind closed doors, we usually accept it. To be clear, this is not being offered as a defense of M, nor is it being offered as an excuse for his defenders. I am suggesting this is a fact, and a fact about "us," not "them." I have seen women, working on women's issues, accept very similar responses in cases in which the evidence was stronger, but their prior experiences with the accused were more positive.

Having accepted it once, it is very difficult to reverse course. That requires great humility, great clarity of vision, and more courage than most of us can muster.

This incident, no doubt, is hitting close to home, at many different homes. For my part, I'm humbled by the courage of Amie and, especially, the courage of her students. This has been a long time coming and I, for my part, think the shellacking was necessary. That said, perhaps it is time now to give all those involved in this particular case some space.

We can turn our attention to ourselves, and reflect on why it took so long for this happen. Those of us no longer in grad school can think about why it was left to be done by two brave but vulnerable students.

Eliza said...

I posted before about how I thought there was a severe lack of empathy betrayed by the comments questioning why the grad student may not have come forward until months after the fact.

I'm posting now because Heidi Howkins Lockwood has done a better job here [if the link doesn't do to the right place, it's comment #67, and the relevant part starts after the list of personality traits of sexual predators] of explaining what the grad student might've felt than I could've.

I'll just add, as a woman who faced a far milder version of this in a far lower-stakes academic setting (and was nevertheless totally thrown by it, for a while), that the part I identified with the most is the intense feeling of foolishness, and the shame that comes along with that. (The sense that, did everyone else but me understand that the "academic" interest in me was sexual? Have they all been laughing at me for thinking otherwise? This is a profoundly crushing set of questions to have to ask oneself. I mean, if you haven't, please do really take a moment to try to understand what it might be like to really genuinely wonder that.)

And that one part Lockwood's comment doesn't include, but that some (not all) women feel in this situation, is a sense of profound questioning of themselves -- of whether they "led the man on" or otherwise caused him to treat them this way. Comments like some of the more victim-blaming ones in this thread don't help.

On the other hand, I have to say I'm heartened by the people who articulately, publicly get it.

Popkin said...

Anon 10:11 asked what the evidence is of McGinn's wrongdoing. It's outlined in a CHE article you should be able to find on-line.

Some highlights:
"Those allegations were lodged by a female graduate student who has said that the professor sent her a series of sexually explicit e-mail and text messages, starting in the spring-2012 semester."

"her long-term boyfriend, [Mr. NN]—a fifth-year graduate student in the department—described some of the correspondence, including several passages that he said were sexually explicit. Mr. [NN], along with two professors with whom the student has worked, described one message in which they said Mr. McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating."

"Ms. Thomasson, who has been in touch with the student throughout the case, said she had read through a number of e-mails the student brought to her and found them to contain sexual content that could not be considered simply an academic discussion of sexuality. "I read enough to see that they had explicitly sexual content," she said."

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Dr. Killjoy,

I just didn't care for the Hitler stuff. Didn't think it would be productive. Maybe I was wrong; if so I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

For the record, not all tenured associate professors who RA'd for well-known philosophers when they were graduate students think that "you can't have it both ways."

There's certainly no reason to suppose that McGinn treated the victim in this case "as an equal... As someone with standing and worth." Good god, I just don't know how one could extract that from what we've all witnessed so far. McGinn's subsequent blog post give us a pretty fair idea of how much standing and worth he attributed to this student.

As a tenured associate professor reading 12:06's comment: yuck yuck yuck.

Glaucon said...

Here is a good candidate for the Jerry Sandusky of Miami. Here is another one. But McGinn? I suppose if one suffers from a ridiculous lack of perspective, rhetorical incontinence, complete ignorance about the reality of rape, or general dipshittery, it seems like an apt analogy, but otherwise I guess it's just the predictable excesses of the blogosphere (which, alas, grows more like the bloviosphere every day).

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that even something like this will change the behavior of entitled assholes with power.... particularly if it's someone who is pathological. McGinn thinks he's the victim here, after all! But one thing we can do is make sure that our women students recognize the signs of being singled out in a way that puts them on the wrong end of a power differential in a potentially seriously damaging way . Yes, it is hard enough to wonder and stress over whether you are being taken seriously, but forewarned is forearmed, and it would be well to be at least aware of red flags and toxic 'mentoring' relationships. And here I thought I'd seen (heard, and experienced), just about everything as a woman in philosophy. You just can't make this shit up.

Anonymous said...

It is curious that the UM Philosophy department website has been down for a few days. That just seems silly. Delete the grad student page for a while, but everything. More over reaction from administrators.

Anonymous said...

My take as an outsider is that McGinn seems about as disgraced as Lawrence Summers: he got to resign in full glory and avoid any judicial process, heaping scorn on the little people who thought their puny institutions could catch him and bind him; he won't have any trouble finding more congenial work, just as poor Summers, after the feminist "witch hunt," had to serve time as NEC director. His actions will win him plenty of new allies. This is arguably a good outcome for Miami and its students (fantastic, in the short term, for the student who filed the accusations), but I'm not even sure about that: I don't know how the power shift in academia (from tenured eminences, male and female, like McGinn and the rest, to a mostly-untenured faculty in cash-strapped universities) is going to play out for the grad students at post-McGinn Miami. By resigning, in any case, he gets maximum grievance/oppressedness points with minimum hassle.

Sorry to be so cynical. I do think the net effect of the resignation is positive, but I don't think it will cost him all that much professionally. Maybe that's actually naïve (maybe I underestimate how much professional contrarians long for mainstream affection/power). By the way, he seems to be the reviewer quoted here.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes being a moral authority is just so time consuming and exhausting...

maenad said...

Some thoughts prompted by Anon 12:02’s comments. You describe a positive mentoring relationship between you and a more-established male professor. But I think you may be setting up a false choice of the following sort: (a) Either women in philosophy are mentored, with the attendant unwanted sexual attention, or (b) women in the profession do not get mentored at all.
So think about it in those terms. Imagine a world where the McGinn's of the world continue to either avoid female graduate students or don't give them the kind of educational experience that the male students get. And saying this is why we need more female mentors is the wrong way to go. We just need more good mentors.
This way of setting up the situation also seems in line with McGinn’s defense of his behavior as a result of a mentoring relationship with the student in question – one that, in his characterization, included a certain amount of sexually-inflected banter.
I am guessing you are a male. If so, and your mentor was avowedly heterosexual, your mentoring relationship probably did not include unwanted sexual remarks which would imply that your sexual attractiveness was a main reason for the mentoring attention you received. If that is indeed the case, you should count yourself lucky. You should also recognize that many women in the profession now, and many who have since left the profession, have not been similarly lucky. As to how such attention can be extremely undermining to one’s sense of oneself as a philosopher and a member of the profession -- well, others in this thread have articulated this point better than I can here. If you don’t believe that such behaviors can have this effect, I’m not sure what I can tell you, except: you may want to seriously consider what that might be like.
How do we know the sexual contact was unwanted? Because the RA said that it was. True, we do not know all the facts of the case. However, I would submit that the fact that the RA in question had expressed discomfort to those close to her, and the fact that she reported the case to university authorities is some strong evidence that the sexual contact was unwanted. Should McGinn have known it was unwanted? Well, that’s a difficult question. But here is where professional standards of conduct can be useful in regulating one’s behavior.
I ultimately agree with you, Anon. Sadly, some well-placed men in philosophy may respond to the current kerfuffle by withdrawing from their female grad students. I also agree that we need more good mentors. But that will not happen by magic.
So here’s a third option to (a) and (b) above: (c) Well-placed men in philosophy make a good faith effort to understand the patterns of bad behavior that have regrettably been so common in philosophy; and well-placed men in philosophy do some work to actively change themselves and the profession so that (a) and (b) aren’t the only options.

zombie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zombie said...

OK. I can see how the "Sandusky" remark was inapt. My point was to say that McGinn has not helped himself with his explanations/justifications. His self-portrait, on his blog, in posts he uses to defend himself, indicate that he is an unrepentant sexual predator (I don't think it is too controversial to say that a sexual harasser can be a sexual predator) who attempted to "groom" a student for ______ purpose. (His claim is that his purpose was to make her a "Genius.") That is, I was more convinced after reading McGinn's side of the story than I was before. So, I have obscured my point by invoking Sandusky in this situation.

Obviously, McGinn doesn't cop to being a rapist, there is no accusation that he is, and I have no personal knowledge that he is anything but an alleged sexual harasser who has explained his actions very badly, thus shooting himself in the foot.

I'll cop to shooting myself in the foot here too.

maenad said...

Okay, I was in a hurry and did not preview my previous post and it came out garbled.

Trying again:

Some thoughts prompted by Anon 12:06’s comments. You describe a positive mentoring relationship between you and a more-established male professor.

But I think you may be setting up a false choice of the following sort: (a) Either women in philosophy are mentored, with the attendant unwanted sexual attention, or (b) women in the profession do not get mentored at all.

This way of setting up the situation also seems in line with McGinn’s defense of his behavior as a result of a mentoring relationship with the student in question – one that, in his characterization, included a certain amount of sexually-inflected banter.

I am guessing you are a male. If so, and your mentor was avowedly heterosexual, your mentoring relationship probably did not include unwanted sexual remarks which would imply that your sexual attractiveness was a main reason for the mentoring attention you received. If that is indeed the case, you should count yourself lucky. You should also recognize that many women in the profession now, and many who have since left the profession, have not been similarly lucky.

As to how such attention can be extremely undermining to one’s sense of oneself as a philosopher and a member of the profession -- well, others in this thread have articulated this point better than I can here. If you don’t believe that such behaviors can have this effect, I’m not sure what I can tell you, except: you may want to seriously consider what that might be like.

How do we know the sexual contact was unwanted? Because the RA said that it was. True, we do not know all the facts of the case. However, I would submit that the fact that the RA in question had expressed discomfort to those close to her, and the fact that she reported the case to university authorities is some strong evidence that the sexual contact was unwanted.

Should McGinn have known it was unwanted? Well, that’s a difficult question. But here is where professional standards of conduct can be useful in regulating one’s behavior.

I ultimately agree with a part of what you say, Anon. Sadly, some well-placed men in philosophy may respond to the current kerfuffle by withdrawing from their female grad students. I also agree that we need more good mentors. But that will not happen by magic.

So here’s a third option to (a) and (b) above: (c) Well-placed men in philosophy make a good faith effort to understand the patterns of bad behavior that have regrettably been so common in philosophy; and well-placed men in philosophy do some work to actively change themselves and the profession so that (a) and (b) aren’t the only options.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I disagree with anything 2:09 writes. Nevertheless, there have been some pretty grevious errors in judgment made by some people in these discussions. Most of it's just ugly, but some of it is clearly ethically wrong.

From the beginning this has been a persecution of the character, good will, and intentions of CM. But it is now apparent that the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote an article that was factually flawed on *just* the issue of what, exactly, is alleged to have been said between CM and his grad student. Turns out there's a batshit crazy pedagogical context, and an arrangement to cultivate new ways of thinking about the hand. Oh yeah, it also turns out the substance of the complaint was two emails, sent half a year ago, and spaced three months apart.

The situation here is *much* less like the kind of thing that it was initially portrayed as being. And yet the attacks on CM only got worse--multiple individuals unabashedly compared him to Sandusky. Thankfully, that highwater mark of inanity seems to have receded.

In the wake of these events, however, I think we should be willing to give a more thorough reckoning to the kind of practices we're letting ourselves set up. While gender relations are not what they ought to be in philosophy today, the kind of methods that some people are using in the service of change are not always to the good.

humean said...

Turns out there's a batshit crazy pedagogical context, and an arrangement to cultivate new ways of thinking about the hand.

Maybe. "Turns out that" is factive. The pedagogical context is alleged, not established.

Oh yeah, it also turns out the substance of the complaint was two emails, sent half a year ago, and spaced three months apart.


That's the part of the substance reported in the CHE. There may be a lot more. (I'm betting there is.)

Popkin said...

"But it is now apparent that the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote an article that was factually flawed on *just* the issue of what, exactly, is alleged to have been said between CM and his grad student. Turns out there's a batshit crazy pedagogical context, and an arrangement to cultivate new ways of thinking about the hand. Oh yeah, it also turns out the substance of the complaint was two emails, sent half a year ago, and spaced three months apart."

You're basing these conclusions on McGinn's blog posts. There are good reasons not to believe the things McGinn says about the case. So, we don't have good reasons to think the CHE article was factually flawed.

Eliza said...

In addition to the above replies to Anonymous @ June 10, 2013 at 8:51 PM (which correctly point out that McGinn has an interest in downplaying what it at stake):

See my comment above where I speculated that at least one of the emails said something along the lines of, "I was thinking about you while I gave myself a handjob last night..." and that McGinn's "defense" is that this is a joke because he meant a manicure.

I still think this is the most plausible hypothesis based on what has been reported by both the CHE and McGinn. Nobody has given any other plausible hypothesis about the content of the email that I have seen.

My opinion is that this is so wildly inappropriate and harassing that if I were his grad student, I would have felt highly distressed, horrified, sexualized and ashamed. To dismiss this as "one email, sent a year and a half ago" strikes me as profoundly missing the point.

8:51 said...

This is 8:51. I concede that there may be more going on behind the story that we're not aware of. Perhaps on the balance CM's treatment has been pretty much what he had coming. Given what we do not know speculation in that direction seems a bit prurient, but people were quite happy to run roughshod over the details of the situation in the interest of facilitating a social program. Regardless of what one might think of the value of that program, I think we ought to be more careful about the institutions we set up, and the behaviors we encourage, in pursuing it.

In particular, I think we should be very careful about collectively suppressing critical dissent in the favor of a political objective. That sort of activity polarizes a community into 'us' and 'them,' effectively shutting off avenues for dialogue and conversation by shaming some group into silence. I'm not saying that there should never come a point when you shut a conversation down by accusing your interlocutor of proceeding in bad faith. But this kind of thing can't become a go-to dialogical move anytime one's political convictions are questioned. As an institution it is poison to an open society. We ought to be very careful about encouraging that sort of behavior, no matter what the political ends.

Dr. Killjoy said...

Zombie,

Thank you for being big enough to admit you made a mistake. I see now that you are far from "the Hitler of idiots" I claimed you to be in an earlier post Mr. Zero saw fit not to publish.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:51:

As long as sexual harassment continues unchecked in the discipline, the community is already divided. It's divided into those who feel like full members of the community, and those who are marginalized because of being subjected to this harassment. Some of the comments people have been making about the McGinn situation reinforce that marginalization, and it is a good thing that those remarks are being subjected to critical dissent. While a few comments have gone too far--I'm thinking of some elements of the Sandusky analogy--the vast majority have been very helpful for explaining to those who are clueless that it is completely unacceptable to tell your grad student that you are thinking of her while giving yourself a handjob. No explanation about hilarious wordplay or "genius projects" can mitigate this fact: talking that way to your students is completely unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

I wonder and almost hope that McGinn's further remarks will provoke the student to come forward. As many have said, it's too small a world for her to remain anonymous to hiring boards, and I can't imagine she's bound by the gag order McGinn's attempted defenders seem to be willfully ignoring Miami accepted to be rid of him quickly. A public confrontation would further push this issue from out behind closed office doors and drag the harassers and their enablers ever more clearly into the light of day.
That said, it obviously is and absolutely should be her choice alone. She's studying philosophy, not activism, and like everyone else she's perfectly entitled to a normal, happy life and career.

Finally, an amusing, if if perhaps pedantic, note.
In McGinn's manifesto of his odd "cult of the hand" he states "We despise the phrase 'hand job'". Make of that what you will.

zombie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zombie said...

Killjoy:

Godwin's Law:
"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."

Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

8:51 said...

5:59's position seems to entail that no student/professor relationships are ever permissible. That seems obviously false. And at any rate, to decide the specific case at hand we would need to know more than we do about the details of the accuser's relation to the accused. Instead we get an accusation that is distorted in the press, a rush to judgment by a cadre of politically motivated activists, an unabashed shaming of both CM and those who have called for more restraint; these are not the sorts of behaviors that ought to be countenanced by an open society, not even (indeed, *especially*) when those engaged in them are convinced of their own righteousness.

Anonymous said...

The latest tack that Gricean conversational implicature is virtually unknown outside of philosophy is an interesting, though preposterous. Computer scientists involved with elementary considerations of modal and temporal logic, game theorists working in epistemic game theory, linguists and anyone who follows Steven Pinker are well-aware of Grice. It's silly to pretend that Grice's landmark work is known only to the philosophical cognoscenti, but once in a blue moon an arrogant, profound sense of entitlement commensurate with one's self importance pays off. Perhaps it's worth a long shot.

Philosophers of language should understand that the use of indirect speech to plausibly deny mutual knowledge of sexual interest is an obvious ploy and is prohibited in student-faculty interactions. A reference for this kind of innuendo is Steven Pinker, Martin A. Nowak, and James J. Lee
The logic of indirect speech
PNAS 2008 105 (3) 833-838. Steven Pinker has popularized this in several highly popular YouTube videos that would be very familiar to academic administrators reviewing allegations of sexual harassment. Given that Gricean conversational implicature and the use of indirect speech to deny mutual knowledge of sexual interest have become widely known through popularizations such as Pinker's, a random "naive" eavesdropper is going to interpret the use of indirect speech by a self-styled linguistic sophisticate to plausibly deny his sexual interest in a subordinate for what it is: overt sexual interest.

The particular phrase employed resists asexual recontextualization. A seasoned philosopher of language will also understand that the listener, well aware of Pinker's analysis, will not recognize the use-mention distinction in "I was thinking of you while receiving a hand job". It is not because third parties to the utterance are naive or unschooled, on the contrary: they've seen it all. And they had Pinker et al to tell them what they already knew.

Anonymous said...

I don't read the stuff about Grice to be pointing toward conversational implicature at all. Rather, I thought it was supposed to be about Grice's general account of the relation between speaker meaning and linguistic meaning.

Could be completely wrong, because CM is so vague, but that's how I understood it.

Anonymous said...

The issue of ‘banter’ has come up quite a bit in the internet comments on the case of McGinn and his graduate student. I don’t want to raise the issue of that particular case, especially since the facts are somewhat occluded. I just want to question the commonly expressed strong position that all sexual banter between supervisor and supervisee is wrong. I did my doctorate before the age when people nervously left their door ajar when teaching. I was blessed with a wonderful supervisor, who was conscientious, and who got to nub of the issues I was writing about. I would leave supervisions thinking I had work to do, to clarify issues and to repair the argument he had so elegantly punctured. We also had a very friendly relationship, for example sharing a love of music and other things. There were times for serious philosophy, in a supervision or in the seminar, but then we would also decamp to the bar afterwards with other students, where there was sometimes amusing ‘banter’ mixed with further philosophical excursions. I recall some of the banter. My supervisor was openly gay and I was I suppose an obviously straight male. He was very pleased when I got a serious girlfriend half way through my doctorate since he said it would provide a good emotional foundation from which to do the doctorate. I also met some of his boyfriends. We talked about all sorts of matters, and I don’t recall and can’t imagine anything being off-limits. Once, after a few drinks in the pub after a seminar he said to me with a playful smile: “You agree with me that Descartes was wrong and that mind and body are not distinct. Right, so you admire my mind, so surely you should admire my body too”. There were other similar absurd comments. Now this was just knock-around nonsense, not worth repeating, but actually I enjoyed the delightful implausibility of the pseudo-arguments. It was good fun, often with a philosophical spin. It was trivial disposable banter. It was also completely fine as far as I was concerned. But that was a different era. Should I have been offended, and felt sexually harassed? Should I have gone all prickly and prissy in the style of many today? Were his comments inappropriate? I can’t see how. He was gay and I was straight and we had fun playing around this as we did playing around many other topics of conversation. I would go for enjoyable dinners with my girlfriend to his home with him and his boyfriend. The idea that our conversations could roam but not over sexual subject-matters would have seemed bizarre. Once one leaves the seminar room one then engages with a whole person in an informal setting. And while status does not disappear, the idea that our fun alcohol-laden sometimes raucous laughter-filled discussions should have been policed to have no sexual content seems absurd. Should we stick to the weather? I am not unaware of the general underlying issues of offence and harassment. But my supervisor’s comments to me were received in good sport. I now supervise grad-students and this is not my style at all. I remain more formal. But looking back I find nothing wrong with my experience. Perhaps another student would have found my supervisor’s comments problematic. But perhaps he judged that it was ok for me. He never made a physical advance to me, despite flirtatious comments. Perhaps he found me attractive. So what? That is just part of life and he never made me feel awkward. Other faculty at the same time said highly inappropriate things, of a non-sexual nature, that were intended to make me feel awkward. With my supervisor I had a kind of freewheeling open relationships that was of considerable pedagogic value. I am sure others have had similar experiences. It may be true that in these legalistic times these kind of relationships are no longer possible, and were he still teaching, my ex-supervisor would be on his guard against cracking those kind of comments for fear of the consequences. If so, whatever gains, the change since that time has brought, there has also been a considerable loss.


Anonymous said...

He was very pleased when I got a serious girlfriend half way through my doctorate since he said it would provide a good emotional foundation from which to do the doctorate.

That's awesome, to have an academic advisor who is also a therapist. My advisor cleans my teeth sometimes while we're talking about philosophy. (I mostly listen while he's actually scaling my teeth.)

We talked about all sorts of matters, and I don’t recall and can’t imagine anything being off-limits.

Nothing off limits! I bet you're a genius now.

Anonymous said...

This story has made the NYT: http://t.co/usIqeMC9Ad

Anonymous said...

I think it is futile to claim that McGinn was innocent or that the comment about masturbation could plausibly be part of research. If McGinn was talking about masturbation as a historical phenomenon, then OK, it would be impersonal. But his actual comment seems to have been personal.

Still it does seem that the punishment is excessive. America is a fairly punitive society - we imprison people at about nine times the rate of Germany.

So apart from "guilty?" "innocent?" we should also ask if the punishment was excessive and a milder punishment would have made the same point without ruining his life.

I personally would be very hesitant now to ever visit the University of Miami. Let there be some consequences for them too.