Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Stray Thoughts on the McGinn Kerfuffle

I've had some time to read through and (hopefully) digest McGinn's recent blog posts and related commentary, and I (a) am too lazy to provide links, and (b) have a few disorganized observations I'd like to share. I'm pretty sure that some of these observations have been gleaned from comments here and elsewhere, but searching through all the relevant discussions for the original sources is not going to be possible. If I have stolen one or more of these from you, please let me know in comments. And sorry.

  1. My hypothesis about how the McGinn's "offending" comment might have been related to his research. It was not because, as I speculated, McGinn imagined that there was some non-trivial link between masturbation and the evolution of the hand. Mea culpa.
  2. The presence of a relationship between McGinn's offending comment and his research has been greatly exaggerated. The fact that your research project is about the hand does not mean that your "hand-job" puns are research-related. 
  3. The "Genius Project" is pedagogically ludicrous. I'm not talking about the tennis or whatever, which sounds like a relatively normal mentoring situation. I'm talking about the "nothing will be taboo," "if anyone is uncomfortable, they just have to say so" stuff. That makes no pedagogical sense. 
  4. It's also incredibly naive about human interactions. You can't make a deal with someone that nothing will be taboo or otherwise off-limits. I think about the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent Vega tries to get Mia Wallace to promise not to be offended by what he's about to say. A promise like that cannot be taken seriously. 
  5. Nor can you just stipulate that someone will trust you enough to let you know when you have made that person uncomfortable. 
    1. Especially when you are that person's mentor. Especially when you have already gotten that person to agree that there will be no taboos.
  6. If this arrangement is substantially as McGinn describes it, it was a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. It was only a matter of time.
    1. From the Miami faculty handbook: "Furthermore, the line between consensual and non-consensual relationships may be blurred, particularly in regard to the freedom of the junior party to end the amorous relationship without fear of inappropriate repercussions. This creates vulnerability of the senior party and the University itself to charges of sexual harassment." I realize the relationship was not amorous, but the basic principle applies, especially if the relationship included jokes about who was thinking about whom during some possible interpretation of a 'hand job.' 
  7. Although it's hard to tell exactly what he's talking about, because he doesn't just come out and say what he means and instead couches everything in vague or figurative language (I understand why this is), it seems like he pretty much did what the CHE article says he did. A joke like that, I gave myself a handjob and thought of you, ha ha, is obviously at least potentially inappropriate. Maybe I have a tin ear for this sort of thing, but it's hard for me to imagine a situation in which it wouldn't be kind of weird. Guys usually don't make jokes like that unless they mean it, at least a little. 
  8. I don't understand the "I'm Joking" defense at all. As if it's not possible for jokes to be offensive. 
  9. I've seen several attempts by various people, including the editor of the blog to which McGinn contributes, attempt to claim that it's not possible for the imbalance of power between McGinn and his RA to have been a factor here, because the RA is an adult, not a child or even an undergraduate. This is pure balderdash. Being an adult does not confer immunity to power imbalances.   
  10. He has let his lawyer go. That explains a lot. 
  11. Some of his remarks about the circumstances surrounding the allegations strike me as possibly retaliatory. If so, this would violate University of Miami policy, as well as (so far as I understand them) applicable state and federal laws. Am I right about this?
    1. For another thing, his resignation is effective at the end of this year. He still works for the University of Miami. It seems to me that he can still be disciplined. 
  12. He claims that the University of Miami allows the president of the University to overrule the Faculty Senate sexual misconduct committee's findings. That sounds absolutely batshit insane. Is that true? If so, is that legal? If it is true, then the University of Miami's faculty union is for shit.
  13. He claims that the only charge the University was considering was a failure to disclose a nonsexual relationship. Is that kind of failure to disclose the kind of big deal that it would be worth resigning over? 
    1. I mean, I guess the relationship could be non-sexual while still being inappropriate in a variety of ways, and I guess the threat of a "failure-to-disclose" charge could be just for starters, while they decide whether to conduct a formal investigation and/or wait for the outcome of that investigation. 
    2. Also, what is the academic freedom angle? Why would it be a violation of academic freedom to accept sanctions over a "failure-to-disclose" charge? Is the idea that academic freedom means the freedom to conduct a mentoring relationship however one sees fit, no matter how pedagogically fucked it may be? Because that seems implausible. 
This ended up being more observations than I thought. Sorry. 

--Mr. Zero

100 comments:

Anonymous said...

As usual, Mr. Zero, your observations about how things stand is sensible. You are especially right in noticing that the Genius Project is worrisome. I just wanted to add a few remarks about this. Consider that McGinn (in his up-himself blog posts at Philospot) characterizes the Genius Project in such a way that the following is reasonable to conclude: that McGinn thinks that just being in his f-ing presence will make someone into a genius. As if paddleboating and playing tennis near him (and in a context where, free from the constraint of social taboos, McGinn can let his unencumbered best self shine) will make someone not only brighter, but a genius. I've never encountered anyone with such a lofty self-conception--and the only figures I have ever heard make such claims took themselves to be divinely inspired prophets or gods.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, the faculty at the University of Miami cannot unionize. Faculty unions at private universities are illegal.

Anonymous said...

It gets better with today's post:

"Irony depends on this Gricean distinction—meaning the opposite of what you say. This is why reporting an ironic speech act can be tricky. Philosophers who know their Grice are constantly aware of this distinction and often exploit it to make clever remarks to other philosophers—gleefully canceling the “implicature” without contradiction. This is how we amuse ourselves on a Saturday night. Outsiders don’t get it, unless they have been schooled in Gricean philosophy of language. This can cause misunderstandings. Maybe Grice should be taught in high school, along with Darwin."

How droll, to tell someone you gave yourself a handjob while thinking of them but to have meant no such thing! Professor McGinn, you sly old dog!

Anonymous said...

Some or even most McGinn detractors seem to assume that sexual contact between a student and a professor, whether verbal, physical, or emotional, is always impermissible, for the reason that this kind of contact is always wrong in relationships with a power differential. At best, this seems not all obvious, as there are sexual relationships with a power differential that are genuinely wanted by all the parties in it, and it isn't obvious that those parties shouldn't be able to start such a relationship just to avoid the problematic relationships of others. At worst, it seems implausible to condemn all sexual relationships between a professor and a student: there isn't always a worrisome power differential in the relationship. For example, a case in which the professor mentors the student but doesn't grade the student. In such a case, the worry should more likely be the equality of treatment of different students.

Of course, additional legal and regulatory concerns may apply to these issues. But it seems that some or most detractors would maintain their judgment even if no regulations supported it.

zombie said...

"For example, a case in which the professor mentors the student but doesn't grade the student. In such a case, the worry should more likely be the equality of treatment of different students."

Yes, there is a legitimate worry about equality of treatment of students NOT in sexual relationships with said professor, but there are further concerns brought about specifically by the power differential. Even if the professor/mentor does not grade the student, that prof is still in a position to have a seriously negative effect on that student's academic and professional future should the relationship go bad. Consider, say, a hypothetical RA at U of Some Southern State who is the annointed one to a hypothetical would-be mentor who thought she had Genius potential. But then things went bad, got uncomfortable, whatever. Hypothetical mentor is displeased, disappointed, etc. and will no longer be a reference for the student. The student can't take the mentor's classes anymore for fear of retaliation. The time the student invested in being an RA to the prof is potentially going to set her back. The mentor might badmouth the student to colleagues, both at USSS and elsewhere. Or maybe none of that happens, everybody acts like an adult and moves on. But the reason for caution about teacher/student sexual relationships is that the student is vulnerable in a number of ways that the teacher just is not. And people are not always on their best behavior when relationships don't work out.

Anonymous said...

By this last post Professor McGinn's previously uttered "Enough" is apparently only mentioned to Gricean audiences and deliberately used on non-Gricean audiences. We draw this inference from his last post as obviously used to address a Gricean audience. At least the conjunction of both utterances is clear as a rhetorical strategy. Or unclear.

Anonymous said...

A new thread gives me the chance to offer a reflection on the previous without mentioning specific names or the comments that provoked it, yay.
(Please note, I'm presuming McGinn did these things and worse, based on both inside knowledge I don't expect anyone else to accept from behind the veil of anonymity and on his words and actions since this became public. He is not the innocent victim of a misunderstanding, he is at best a retrograde egomaniac who resigned in a tantrum rather than let his questionable methods be questioned. At worst he's a predator. The truth is likely in between, but my obvious bias is in the direction of the latter.)

To those attempting a defense of McGinn and/or to find hypothetical situations where the grad student was also, or even primarily, in the wrong, I have a simple question; why?
To be sure, or at least hopefully, most are simply a little old fashioned and ignorant and trying to cling to "let boys be boys". Not good, but not necessarily malignant so much as dumb and shallowly self-involved. And the example of the webmistress at his blog shows that some members of his fanbase will stand by their hero till the end regardless of reason or logic or rational cause. (I'm not saying all his defenders are unreasonable, but if you know who I'm describing you understand why I say that.)
However, and this is why I'm not leveling this charge at anyone specifically, though there's one particularly... loud voice in the previous thread I wonder about, I suspect some are effectively defending themselves from awareness of their own deeds. And this is why I ask why, and why I feel his defenders should genuinely ask themselves this question, as well. What in you provokes you to need to find ways in which what happened was ok, not true, her fault, a misunderstanding, a bad example of an acceptable practice, or anything similar? Are you trying not to have recognize that you have some commonality of attitude, or have even done similarly harmful things? That his flaws are, in a very real way, your own?
I'm not assuming anything of anyone, but we've all seen people struggle to avoid self-awareness, and damned if it ain't the same old song. Ask yourself why you can't put yourself in her shoes, challenge yourself the same way you do everyone else. Have some balls, boys.
And fwiw, I'm male, and still get dressed down for my own gender politics sometimes. No one is perfect, and no one is demanding perfection. But you're smart enough to know and learn better. Start with why?

Anonymous said...

"Some or even most McGinn detractors seem to assume that sexual contact between a student and a professor, whether verbal, physical, or emotional, is always impermissible, for the reason that this kind of contact is always wrong in relationships with a power differential."

I don't see how anything rests on the *impermissibility* of relationships with power differentials, if by that you mean (as the rest of your comments implies) that one or both parties do something wrong in entering into such relationship. These relationships might just be *really bad*, but not impermissible. E.g., people may be within their rights to get theirselves into these situations, but well-advsed (for their own sakes) not too. Or it may be that they impose a cost on others, in doing so, that is quite large but not sufficient to outweigh the presumption in favor of their autonomy. In either case McGinn is to be deplored for perpetuating a climate in which this sort of bad thing is likely to continue to occur.

That is to say: depending on how bad you think these relationships are, promoting their existence might be quite deplorable, even if in doing so one is not promoting wrong-doing.

Anonymous said...

3:31, why?

Trying to be fair, and to get at the truth. Aren't those respectable motives?

(I haven't posted in any of these threads so far, by the way. I've just been reading. So I am not reporting my own motive, just trying to be charitable in finding a motive for some of the commenters in other threads.)

Puzzled said...

3:31,

I may be the 'loud voice' in that other thread, and if I am I'd like to respond because, frankly, I find your characterization bold and worth responding to. But I also find it deeply flawed and in parts emblematic of the very sorts of things I was objecting to in this discussion. So I don't want to get into this unless I'm sure it is I you have in mind. Can you be specific and identify who your remarks are in particular addressed to?

Puzzled said...

6:00 a.m. writes:

"people may be within their rights to get theirselves into these situations, but well-advsed (for their own sakes) not too. Or it may be that they impose a cost on others, in doing so, that is quite large but not sufficient to outweigh the presumption in favor of their autonomy. In either case McGinn is to be deplored for perpetuating a climate in which this sort of bad thing is likely to continue to occur. "

I reject the transition, which you seem to endorse, from a concession that the action is permitted, to a claim that, nevertheless, CM is to be "deplored" for this "bad thing" that happened. To accept this move, it seems to me, is about as clear a case of setting oneself up to perpetuate an injustice as one could imagine.

We need to make a distinction here between deploring a social tendency, and deploring the individuals who partake in it. Even if, as you propose (and as I am inclined to agree), relationships between professors and grad students ought to be discouraged, it does not follow that every instance ought to elicit censure. In fact, we may have a duty to both respect the decisions of those who freely enter into such relationships while at the same time deploring the tendency.

Please note that none of this is to say anything about whether CM's activities ought to be deplored. I'm only making a point about the habit of thought evinced in the above passage.

Anonymous said...

I'm anon from 3:31

6:08,

"The truth" is hardly a simple thing in philosophical circles, and my own training leads me to circle back around and ask why "the truth" begins with trying to find ways to excuse him and dismiss her. Obviously I'm not directing this specifically at you, but it seems that many, if not damn near all, of his defenders are hinging on a very narrow and selective reading of both the CHE article and McGinn's words. Miami accepted a gag order to be rid of him quickly and comparatively quietly (imagine if the things there are rumors and whispers of proved true how much more attention this all would have generated), and the grad student has obvious motivations (for one not defining her yet to begin career with this controversy, for another, mitigating any unjustified blowback against her despite the all too thin veneer of anonymity), so all we have are his words, which make him very much sound like the kind of person who would do precisely what he's accused of.
I understand that we are beings who are taught to think abstractly and to explore and value the liminal cases, but this is something that actually happened to someone, in a concrete context we're all familiar with here. When someone's first instinct is to defend him, I can't help but wonder if it's part of a collective defense of privilege.

6:47

I'm trying to be provocative with some of my language, yes, for what should be obvious reasons.
I didn't, and won't, name the person I'm suspicious of in the last thread out of respect for them. It's nothing but a gut intuition, which I could not justify and would be properly received as an unfair and insulting accusation were I to make it.
But I will say they were using a specific name, not commenting as anonymous, so it presumably wasn't you.

I'm not presuming bad faith in those I'm trying to challenge, just arrested (or incomplete) development in a particular area which they damn well should grow up and face.

mabd said...

I'm confused by the non-disclosure charge. For which sorts of relationships does Miami require disclosure? If the relationship was not sexual, what is it that he would have needed to disclose?

Anonymous said...

I’m, 6:08.

"The truth" is hardly a simple thing in philosophical circles, and my own training leads me to circle back around and ask why "the truth" begins with trying to find ways to excuse him and dismiss her.

I don’t understand what you mean by this. Why do you put “the truth” in quotation marks? I agree, of course, that it is, in this particular case, not a simple thing. But the truth does not begin with trying to find ways to excuse McGinn. The truth doesn’t begin with you or me trying to do anything. The truth about this particular matter ended a while ago. Investigating the truth has as a component leaving as an open possibility that there are exonerating circumstances, and trying to think of moderately plausible ways that might happen.

I agree with you 100%, by the way, about what McGinn’s own words make him sound like. (And I would add that some prior knowledge of him that I have strongly supports this impression.)

On a tangent: what do people think the “gag order” orders? I mean, whom is it supposed to cover? I doubt a judicial gag order could be binding on graduate students in the Miami philosophy department (since they are not parties to the suit).

Anonymous said...

4:29, I'm who you're replying to

I used scare quotes because in this case the factual truth will in all likelihood remain inaccessible, which means, as you say, we have to construct hypotheticals out of the available facts to make possible sense of it. There's no harm or reason not to try to consider the possible ways in which even someone coming across this creepy might be the still creepy victim of someone even weirder, in your own mind to yourself.
But... considering the context that is philosophical academia, it probably shouldn't be the first scenario anyone constructs, or regarded as anywhere near likely enough to need primary discussion. And more importantly, regardless of the truth of this individual case one tragic fact is there are countless more like it and even worse out there. We don't have to presume McGinn to be in the wrong to show respect for those women (and men) who have faced such by not first trying to minimize the reported story with what is very easily interpreted (rightly or wrongly) as victim blaming or find ways it's possible she's lying.
(I'm tired, apologies if this in any way reads as directed at you in ways it's not meant to be.)

4:29, etc. said...

But... considering the context that is philosophical academia, it probably shouldn't be the first scenario anyone constructs, or regarded as anywhere near likely enough to need primary discussion.

I don’t see this.

It was already extremely obvious what circumstances had to be filled in to get scenarios in which CM was guilty of pretty bad stuff. Anyone interested in thinking it through honestly had to work out what had to be true in order for CG not to be guilty of anything terrible. So that’s why those scenarios were being spelled out and considered.

The comments here were a bit like jury deliberations. You would expect (I hope) jurors to work carefully through the question of what missing details would have to be filled in if the defendant were to be innocent.

By the way, I don’t think anyone said the victim was lying. I may have missed something – feel free to correct me.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, June 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM, writes: "These relationships (with power differentials) might just be *really bad*, but not impermissible."

First, it should be emphasized that *any* friendship with a power differential is somewhat fraught: this includes a nonsexual friendship between a newly tenured Associate Professor and a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the same department. After all, the Associate Prof might be asked to sit on the tenure committee of the Assistant Prof. She could recuse herself, citing something very close to a conflict of interest: but then too much fraternizing among tenured and untenured faculty in this department might make it impossible to strike any tenure committee without some member being in a conflict of interest. Despite this, I would think it bizarre to label such an asymmetrical friendship as in any way *bad*, unless the Associate Professor somehow abused his power in the course of the friendship. Indeed, despite potential problems, I would much rather work in a department where it was common for tenured and untenured faculty to be friends, rather than one in which fears of misconduct, abuse of power or favoritism outweigh the great benefits of friendships among philosophers at different stages in their careers.

Second, I know of a great many seemingly happy healthy longterm relationships and marriages in which one party had more power than the other party when the relationship began: in some cases they were professors on different sides of the tenure divide, and in others one was a professor the the other a graduate student. If we discourage such relationships, then they will simply go underground: I much prefer a culture in which full openness around such relationships is the norm. If full openness is the norm, then many of the bad effects such relationships can have -- e.g., the conferring of academic benefits on the student -- will be mitigated.

Anonymous said...

3:31,

A response to: "Have some balls, boys."

It's not uncommon for women involved in cases like these to defend the accused. The psychology of these sorts of scenarios can be very complicated. My impression of the previous discussion was that there were a variety of voices involved, some older, some younger, both male and female. I really hope they don't fit together. That would be truly disturbing. However, it wouldn't be a first.

Anonymous said...

Of all the discussions on the smoker, the ones concerning McGinn have been the most utterly predictable.

Anonymous said...

But these aren't jury deliberations, which happen behind closed doors and require such debate. Not to mention juries are required to have the kind of evidence we cannot.
This is the community reacting. And when the community responds by saying, well.... but, maybe he didn't do it, that sends a message, which is that he, and his privilege, are the most valued thing in all this. Not the safety of female students to study without this aspect of the culture continuing, that we save this man.
That you, and hopefully most of the others who try to create scenarios in his defense, did not have this motivation at all doesn't change the insensitive nature of it as a response. Sexual harassment and general sexism, and worse, are very real and established components of philosophical academia. Not in every school or every professor's mind and classroom, but let's not be naive about what we all have seen in our time in this world.
Women in philosophy deserve better, and I think it's high time that defenses of privilege get turned around into teaching moments. When someone tries real, real hard to say that it can be ok for professors to chase students they're, intentionally or not, defending privileged imbalances used by bad people for bad ends. It's a huge blind spot in the awareness of some otherwise generally brilliant people, and boys don't get to be boys anymore. We need to be adult men and take responsibility for our shit.

You know who I think has the real responsibility here? Tenured profs who turn a blind eye. It shouldn't be on students to have to defend themselves.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, my comment at 5:36 is in response to 6:34, in case it's not obvious.
Also, to respond to your earlier question about the gag order, my uninformed presumption is that it's some form of contract requiring UM to pay some huge penalty if any of their records regarding McGinn are made public or any of their employees publicly discuss him or the case. The grad student might have some limits on her ability to speak while still at the school, depending on her funding sources and employment status, but I assume once she finishes the program it's entirely up to her.

12:11 No doubt. Phylis Schlafly is a real person, women can hate women just as much as men do.
Which admittedly is an incredibly uncharitable treatment of any female defenders of McGinn, but too bad.

Anonymous said...

Regarding #12, that's actually not unusual...especially at private/religious colleges (which, of course, isn't the case with Miami). Presidents have an absurd amount of power in the university system. I can't speak to Miami, but it wouldn't shock me if the President were allowed to overrule a faculty senate committee ruling.

The university system is quickly moving toward a system where administrators hold all power.

Anonymous said...

5:36,

But these aren't jury deliberations, which happen behind closed doors and require such debate.

No, but frank debate is still important, even in the open air. I suspect that our respective judgments of its relative importance are the main difference between us on this issue.

This is the community reacting. And when the community responds by saying, well.... but, maybe he didn't do it, that sends a message, which is that he, and his privilege, are the most valued thing in all this.

I don’t think so.
It says that fairness and open-mindedness are important. It doesn’t say that preventing sexual harassment is unimportant, or less important.

That you, and hopefully most of the others who try to create scenarios in his defense, did not have this motivation at all doesn't change the insensitive nature of it as a response.

I think that rather than answering I'll point out that I earlier said that I am not one of the people who tried to think of scenarios in CM’s defense. It’s a little disappointing to me that you now presuppose that I am.


Sexual harassment and general sexism, and worse, are very real and established components of philosophical academia. Not in every school or every professor's mind and classroom, but let's not be naive about what we all have seen in our time in this world.

Nobody has questioned that. Unfairness toward accused persons is also a very real problem.

When someone tries real, real hard to say that it can be ok for professors to chase students

Nobody has said that, though.


You know who I think has the real responsibility here? Tenured profs who turn a blind eye. It shouldn't be on students to have to defend themselves.

I think it's a little more complicated than that.

Anonymous said...

"You know who I think has the real responsibility here? Tenured profs who turn a blind eye. It shouldn't be on students to have to defend themselves."

I think sometimes, people commenting on this blog think that tenured faculty have more power than they really do. If you're going to accuse a group of turning a blind eye, let that group be administration. I have been aware of several sexual harassment cases at a number of institutions (two of which I worked for at the time); in every single case, administration chose to work behind closed doors, and allow the accused to retire so as not to make the accusations public. (None of these cases involved anyone with a national name.)

Please don't assume that tenured faculty have done nothing. Often, tenured faculty do, and are turned away. The one case I was directly involved with at my university taught me a great deal. A number of students came to me to report harassment by a department colleague. Some of them had emails and text messages supporting their claims. The students asked me to stand with them when they reported the abuse. I accompanied those students, and also filed a report, noting several things I witnessed (including but not limited to drunkenly showing up at a student's house - my neighbor - and demanding she accompany him to the woods). It took nearly two years for *anything* to come from these reports, and the final result was that he was put on paid leave, allowed to resign, and the university agreed to a gag order so that he could find new work. (He now chairs a department elsewhere in the same state.)

You don't know that the tenured faculty sat idly by while this - or other events - happened. I'm sure that many do. I also know that many don't, and are ignored and/or silenced.

Anonymous said...

7:35

I apologize. I know you haven't been among his defenders, I've been trying to avoid using the "royal" you but I missed one.
But fairness is abstract, and frankly I find concrete inclusiveness to be more important in the issues this case has dragged a little closer to the surface. It's not about theory, it's about people. Women in philosophy need to know that they will be supported and taken seriously if they come forward and out their harassers. Considering the nature of our environment there simply, as a matter of course, should be a mild prejudice in their favor. Not an assumption of guilt about the accused, but enough that victims of harassment don't feel further minimized or blamed or even harassed. This isn't a what if to them, it's not the classroom, it's people.

And it's hard for me not to read some of the defenses and hair splitting about policies as not so subtle defenses of professors seeing students as a dating pool. No one's saying it explicitly, maybe, but reread the post we're commenting on, it's been in the mix.

7:44

You're right, I absolutely should have included if not given primacy to administration. I left the plantation, as it were, so I can forget their role and existence. Lucky me.

Puzzled said...

Hello 9:28. You write:

"Women in philosophy need to know that they will be supported and taken seriously if they come forward and out their harassers. Considering the nature of our environment there simply, as a matter of course, should be a mild prejudice in their favor. Not an assumption of guilt about the accused, but enough that victims of harassment don't feel further minimized or blamed or even harassed."

Mild prejudice in favor is one thing. Quick rush to condemn anyone questioning the party-line is another. From my vantage, what you're calling "victim blaming" is instead an effort to encourage more care in judgment (but then, it's not really clear what you're talking about).

At any rate it is only to be expected that facts about the accuser's relations to the accused, and her motivations in making the accusation, are going to bear on what conclusions we are entitled to draw from those accusations. As such, we should be able to have a reasonable discussion about those facts. And accusations of "victim blaming" do not seem reasonable here. Unless you can point out some concrete cases, I am instead inclined to judge that the willingness to think in terms of 'blaming the victim' is an expression of an unwarranted persecution complex shielded by righteous indignation. When the righteousness of that indignation is itself subject to criticism, we cannot allow the conversation to devolve into accusations of victim-blaming, trolling, etc.

Finally, it seems a bit disingenuous to say that we need to work to see that there is "a mild prejudice in favor" of trusting a woman's accusations of sexual harassment. In the details a woman's accusations often carry a lot of prejudice in their favor.

7:35, etc said...

9:28,

I tend to agree on the ‘mild prejudice’ bit, especially for highly public and anonymous forums.

I do not agree about the concrete/abstract thing. Each unfairness (in the sense I mean) is a matter of treating a particular, concrete person unfairly. I’ve seen one pretty awful example of this (not a philosopher), so it may be more vivid to me than it is to you.

I guess on the whole I think it would not be wise to get into a discussion of which is *more* important; what’s the point? I would just hope that everyone remembers that both are important.

Anonymous said...

to 7:44

"(He now chairs a department elsewhere in the same state.)"

I am aware of another case where the accused went on to become chair of another department, albeit in another state.

I'm recalling now Leiter expressing his concern for tenure and due process. Did anyone else find that odd?

"Tenure: protecting established scholars from the malevolent greed of corporations, the heinous dogmas of the church, and from terrified and humiliated young students."

It's hard to believe anyone who has seen an actual instance of this process played out at an actual university would defend that process. In most cases, it does exactly what it is designed to do very effectively, nothing.

Anonymous said...

Puzzled;

"In the details a woman's accusations often carry a lot of prejudice in their favor."

I simply don't agree, and I think you're making a good faith but real mistake. There's no "party line", the system is biased in favor of the entrenched harasser in countless ways. Further, the ratio of false claims of harassment to real (and moreso real and unreported) is so tiny as to render concern about false claims misguided, in my view, at best, and this is where I believe your innocent mistake is made. I simply don't believe there are enough people in the grad student pool who would go to such lengths of duplicity for at most marginal gain in a limited context (or an irrational personal vendetta) that it's a legitimate concern, especially considering the further context of the CHE article showing that it's not he said/she said, it's he said/then later claimed it wasn't harassment in ways which were creepy, unenlightened, and highly suggestive that he's capable of what he's accused of.

And I'm not trying to get anyone to toe the party line, even if I am arguing for a change of tone. My point in asking that McGinn's defenders ask themselves why wasn't to shame, but to try to get them to consider putting themselves in her shoes, too, not just his.
Please, if you haven't already, visit the various women in philosophy blogs where they express their own experiences and feelings in ways I as a man am simply incapable. Don't say "yeah... but" when reading them, it can be my instinct, too, at times. Just absorb, and try to see it as happening to you.

11:01

I think we have to agree to disagree here, but I hope respectfully. My feeling is that we've spent enough time trying to protect the rare liminal case (but I lack your personal experience with one), and it's time to spend a few years making sure women feel safe in our halls. I'd never endorse a witch hunt or thoughtcrimes or presumption of guilt in any context, but if an older male professor of debatable sensibilities has to "unfairly" take a sensitivity seminar I'm ok with it.

Anonymous said...

but if an older male professor of debatable sensibilities has to "unfairly" take a sensitivity seminar I'm ok with it.

Old people don't do very well in Smoker comments.

Anonymous said...

Okay. I don't know how rare those cases are, so I am not so happy to dismiss the possibility as you are (again, maybe because of a troubling case I am familiar with).

- 11:01

Anonymous said...

(1) "Nor can you just stipulate that someone will trust you enough to let you know when you have made that person uncomfortable."

--I think that you can stipulate this. It's hard to know exactly how to analyze things given how hazy the McGinn-student interactions are to us, but when dealing with adults one has a reasonable expectation that someone will let you know if they're feeling uncomfortable.

(2) "I've seen several attempts by various people, including the editor of the blog to which McGinn contributes, attempt to claim that it's not possible for the imbalance of power between McGinn and his RA to have been a factor here, because the RA is an adult, not a child or even an undergraduate. This is pure balderdash. Being an adult does not confer immunity to power imbalances."

--I agree that the blanket claim that the "imbalance of power" was not a factor is false, but I think that the general sentiment is correct. The graduate student is an adult and should be expected to comport herself accordingly. That means speaking up when something is making her uncomfortable.


(3) "He has let his lawyer go. That explains a lot."

--I do not see what this "explains", other than that the matter is now settled and that lawyers are expensive.

Anonymous said...

"The graduate student is an adult and should be expected to comport herself accordingly. That means speaking up when something is making her uncomfortable."

Exactly. She speaks out, and problem solved. I mean, it's not like there has ever been any kind of professional backlash for such an action, right? Why wouldn't she just speak up?

Glaucon said...

I was surprised that the imbroglio was downgraded to a kerfuffle. Does the National Blog Service or FEMA issue a determination of some kind, or do you make that decision locally?

Personally, both sound too foodish to me. "Try the Fettucini Imbroglio, it's to die for. And be sure to leave room for the Almond Kerfuffle -- they drizzle it with Gran Marnier. Yum."

Imbroglio: The Musical.

Mr. Zero said...

when dealing with adults one has a reasonable expectation that someone will let you know if they're feeling uncomfortable.

You don't think it makes a difference how uncomfortable the person is, or the precise nature of the person's discomfort, or whether the person who caused the discomfort ought to have known better, or whether that person has power that he or she might use in retaliation?

I mean, as I said in the previous thread, if we're stipulating that the "complainant" has extremely strong reason to think that the "offender" will be a good sport and take the criticism in the constructive spirit in which it was offered, then the complainant ought to just say something to the offender. And maybe that's the more usual kind of case. But I don't think we have any reason to believe that the McGinn case was like that. Or that adults are obliged by their adulthood to pretend that they're in that kind of situation regardless of whether they really are.

The graduate student is an adult and should be expected to comport herself accordingly.

I'm not sure what you mean. It sort of seems like you might be suggesting that a person who finds himself the victim of an authority figure who is abusing her power is not comporting himself as an adult. That it is childish to go along with something your mentor suggested, even though it makes you uncomfortable, because you feel threatened. But that can't be what you mean.

I do not see what this "explains"...

I wonder if it is your view that the suggestion that the RA's complaint was in response to an academic failing and the remark exploiting the double-meaning of the word 'bitch' were well-advised. Because it seems to me that the former is a possible FERPA violation and is possibly retaliatory, and the latter is just mean. And as I mention in the original post, because his resignation has not yet gone into effect, if the University of Miami thought he was retaliating, he could still be subject to discipline. He can still be fired for cause between the time he submits his resignation and the time his resignation goes into effect.

If this matter does go further for any reason, the fact that he wrote all this stuff down and then published it on the internet will not help him at all. I'm not a lawyer, of course, and I'm definitely not his lawyer. But if I were his lawyer, I would want to be prepared for that possibility, and I would want to control what information is publicly available and how that information is presented. I would therefore be tearing my hair out and screaming at him to shut the fuck up right about now.

Anonymous said...

And maybe that's the more usual kind of case. But I don't think we have any reason to believe that the McGinn case was like that.

If it's the more usual kind of case, that is a reason to believe the McGinn case was like that. You know, the base rate.

I guess you think other information we have screens off the base rate, or something like that.

Mr. Zero said...

I guess you think other information we have screens off the base rate, or something like that.

I know that the RA lodged a formal complaint, and that the administration took it seriously, and that they conducted an investigation and approached him with a preliminary finding that he'd failed to disclose a consensual and non-sexual relationship, and that he then resigned rather than face a formal investigation. That seems to me to be pretty unusual.

Anonymous said...

"You don't think it makes a difference how uncomfortable the person is, or the precise nature of the person's discomfort, or whether the person who caused the discomfort ought to have known better, or whether that person has power that he or she might use in retaliation?"

--Generally, no, I don't think it makes a difference. If we are talking about words, then, no. Obviously if McGinn threatened her or something then it would be a different story. People should not be coddled, and if a student has a beef with a professor she needs to stand up for herself. Which obviously she did. And I do not think that McGinn had much power. If he did, it clearly did not redound to his benefit: He is fired, disgraced, and she has been lionized. Perhaps all three are justifiable. But the powerful recourse available to students, used in this case, shows how illusory the teacher's "power" really is.

"I wonder if it is your view . . ."

--It is not. I do not really have a view on any of that. I am not a lawyer. But you wondered why McGinn no longer retains counsel. Seems to me likely to be the case that it is because the matter is settled (he lost his job) and lawyers are expensive.

rev tom said...

I know that the RA lodged a formal complaint, and that the administration took it seriously, and that they conducted an investigation and approached him with a preliminary finding that he'd failed to disclose a consensual and non-sexual relationship, and that he then resigned rather than face a formal investigation. That seems to me to be pretty unusual.


Yeah, but that doesn’t screen off the base rate.

Look, every case is unusual in certain respects. That doesn’t validate the fallacy of ignoring the base rate. Claiming in successive sentences that there is no reason to believe that this F is G and that most F's are G's does sure looks like ignoring the base rate!

Popkin said...

"approached him with a preliminary finding that he'd failed to disclose a consensual and non-sexual relationship"

Mr. Zero, where is this information from?

Mr. Zero said...

Hi 10:28

If we are talking about words, then, no. Obviously if McGinn threatened her or something then it would be a different story.

I think it is very likely that the RA felt threatened. I think it is unlikely that McGinn literally overtly threatened her, in so many words. But that doesn't mean it was unreasonable for her to feel threatened.

People should not be coddled, and if a student has a beef with a professor she needs to stand up for herself. Which obviously she did.

Yes. She did. Good for her. But just to be clear, do you think that she was coddled? If so, how so?

And I do not think that McGinn had much power. If he did, it clearly did not redound to his benefit:

He didn't have much power once the administration got involved. Before that, he had a lot, in his capacity as her immediate supervisor. Getting the administration involved leveled the playing field. Which is why it was a good idea for her to do so.

He is fired...

No, no, no. We've been over this a hundred billion times. He was not fired, subject to any discipline whatsoever, or even charged. He resigned.

But the powerful recourse available to students, used in this case, shows how illusory the teacher's "power" really is.

But again, that stuff is all pretty rare. It's very unusual for a professor to resign amid allegations of sexual misconduct. And although the professor's power is not absolute, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

But you wondered why McGinn no longer retains counsel.

No, I didn't. I asserted that the fact that he no longer retains counsel explains some other facts.

Hi Rev Tom

Claiming in successive sentences that there is no reason to believe that this F is G and that most F's are G's does sure looks like ignoring the base rate!

Except that we know a lot about this F other than the mere fact that it is an F. Have you read his autobiography? He's not a good sport.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Popkin,

Mr. Zero, where is this information from?

The bit about approaching him with some sort of preliminary finding comes from the CHE article. It's not entirely clear which procedures UM was following; the language in CHE is not consistent with what I was able to find in the UM faculty handbook. It may be that I am misdescribing the process, or describing it in a misleading way. If so, sorry.

The bit about the non-disclosure charge is from here: "The only charge the university considered that involved a (putative) violation of university rules was that of failing to report a consensual (though nonsexual) relationship."

Popkin said...

Hi Mr. Zero

I don't think we should put much stock in McGinn's claim that the only charge the university was considering was "failing to report a consensual (though nonsexual) relationship." That claim is in tension with other claims McGinn makes, and it seems extremely unlikely given the facts reported in the CHE article and the fact that McGinn resigned.

rev tom said...


Except that we know a lot about this F other than the mere fact that it is an F. Have you read his autobiography? He's not a good sport.

I have not read his autobiography (and I can’t imagine anything that would induce me to read it), but I am more than willing to believe he is not a good sport.

But I don’t see how this addresses my point, actually. It is *always* true, in every instance of the fallacy of ignoring the base rate, that we have other information.

wv: UFFAVOK AMONG

I always suspected as much. But I bet we can ferret him out!

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Popkin,

I don't think we should put much stock in McGinn's claim that the only charge the university was considering was "failing to report a consensual (though nonsexual) relationship."

I totally agree. Totally.

Anonymous said...

1) "I think it is very likely that the RA felt threatened. I think it is unlikely that McGinn literally overtly threatened her, in so many words. But that doesn't mean it was unreasonable for her to feel threatened."

I think it is unreasonable for her to feel threatened if McGinn did not threaten her. (Or if McGinn didn't do something that could reasonably be construed as threatening, blah blah blah). Me, I have no idea what happened so I'm not going to pass judgment.

These days though people seem to feel violated/threatened when the wind doesn't blow their way. This is because they are of low moral character and have been coddled by rich, doting parents all their lives (Beyond the scope of this thread!)

NB Not talking about the grad student here, I have no idea what happened in this case other than the little I've read.

2) "Yes. She did. Good for her. But just to be clear, do you think that she was coddled? If so, how so?"

Nope, but I really don't know that much about the case. She might have been; I just don't know. Seems like you know more about the case than I, are you on the inside?

3) "No, no, no. We've been over this a hundred billion times. He was not fired, subject to any discipline whatsoever, or even charged. He resigned."

Okay, fine, I guess that is a point in McGinn's favor, then. With my limited knowledge of events it struck me as a de facto firing.

4) "But again, that stuff is all pretty rare. It's very unusual for a professor to resign amid allegations of sexual misconduct. And although the professor's power is not absolute, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

Indeed. But that doesn't imply that the student doesn't actually have the balance, it just implies that the student doesn't exercise it, which might be the case for all I know.

But I really doubt that professors have much power at all. I mean, imagine if Saul Kripke or some other megastar was your dissertation adviser, and made a pass at you or whatever, and you felt uncomfortable and so ended the relationship. What vengeance could he possibly visit upon you? Not write a letter of recommendation? Seems like a minor hiccup.

And why would he want behave in such a retalitory way? It would be counter to his interests. Of course anything COULD happen, but it could go in the other way, too, i.e. in your favor. Basically I don't think that professors have very much power, when you really think about it, and students should be able to stand up for themselves.

Mr. Zero said...

But I don’t see how this addresses my point, actually. It is *always* true, in every instance of the fallacy of ignoring the base rate, that we have other information.

I'm not really sure how to respond here. On one interpretation, it seems like you might be saying that once we know that Fs are usually Gs, then anytime any one takes himself to have reason to believe that some particular F is not a G, he is committing a fallacy of ignoring the base rate. But that can't be it.

Maybe the problem is that I said it wrong. Maybe instead of saying that we have no evidence that this case is the more usual kind, I should have said that the available evidence favors thinking that this case is not the more usual kind. But that doesn't explain why you think my remark about the additional evidence available to us is unresponsive.

Maybe the problem is that you think I'm not giving appropriate weight to the possibility that this case is a false positive--a case that seems like the unusual instance where the person would be ungracious or retaliatory, but isn't actually that kind of case. Maybe you think the probability of a false positive is higher than the probability that it's an actual positive, even given the additional available evidence, because I'm not giving proper weight to the base rate.

But it seems to me that the "false positive" hypothesis is, in fact, ruled out by the available evidence. If the CHE article is substantially correct, then it's not a base-rate case, it's really pretty egregious. And McGinn has not contested the substance of the CHE article. And there are serious risks of personal and professional backlash in cases like this, which the RA would be foolish to ignore, especially taking McGinn's actual personality into account. Maybe McGinn is nevertheless entitled to the benefit of the doubt. But then, so is the RA.

I don't know. Maybe you can help me out and let me know exactly where you think I'm going wrong.

Puzzled said...

"If the CHE article is substantially correct, then it's not a base-rate case, it's really pretty egregious."

CM has argued that the CHE article is *not* substantially correct. For that article ignores the language-game that he and his student were playing. Say what you want about the merits of that pedagogy; if CM is telling the truth about it then the CHE article was radically one-sided. You may go on to conclude that such remarks nevertheless constitute harassment. But there's an important distinction between what CM actually said and what the CHE reported, and that distinction makes what actually happened far less like the situation the CHE reported.

I wish that were more troubling to people.

I'd also like to second the suggestion, made here and by others elsewhere, that a proper response in such situations is at least at times to confront the harasser directly. I am not saying this would have been the proper response here; I don't know enough about the details and so I do not think we can decide the issue (I certainly don't think that the accuser, simply because she is a woman who has made an accusation of sexual harassment, is beyond question). Part of what it is to be an adult is to take control over the forces that offer us what opportunities we have in life. It is a peculiar sort of deficiency in the relationship between two adults when there is a need to turn to an external authority to resolve interpersonal disagreement. Perhaps it was needed here, but based on the evidence this does not seem nearly so egregious a case of harassment as some have supposed.


WVL Lovin hemrna

Mr. Zero said...

I think it is unreasonable for her to feel threatened if McGinn did not threaten her. (Or if McGinn didn't do something that could reasonably be construed as threatening, blah blah blah).

That seems basically right to me, as long as the parenthetical remark is given its due weight.

And why would he want behave in such a retalitory way? It would be counter to his interests.

People act in retaliatory ways that run counter to their own interests all the time. All the time.

Popkin said...

"But there's an important distinction between what CM actually said and what the CHE reported, and that distinction makes what actually happened far less like the situation the CHE reported."

We have good reasons not to believe the things McGinn has said about the incident. So we don't have good reasons to think that there is any divergence between what CHE reported and what actually happened.

Rev Tom said...

I'm not really sure how to respond here. On one interpretation, it seems like you might be saying that once we know that Fs are usually Gs, then anytime any one takes himself to have reason to believe that some particular F is not a G, he is committing a fallacy of ignoring the base rate. But that can't be it.

Right, that’s not it. I pretty obviously did not say that.

Look, you said there was *no reason* to think the McGinn case was “like that”, as you put it. I pointed out that the base rate *is* a reason to think it’s like that.

I believe you are now agreeing that it is a reason. You just think it’s outweighed by some other evidence.
If there were no reason to think the McGinn case was like that, it would be highly unreasonable to believe it was! If instead it’s a matter of which reason is weightier, there’s obviously room for reasonable disagreement. It seemed like you were saying the former; I assume you mean the latter.

Mr. Zero said...

CM has argued that the CHE article is *not* substantially correct. For that article ignores the language-game that he and his student were playing.

You're right, but I don't agree that this caveat has any bearing on what happened. McGinn says that they had a running series of jokes based on this "hand-job" pun, and this detail does not appear in the CHE. But McGinn does not dispute that in at least one such pun he told her that he was thinking about her during a hand job. Which is the egregiously inappropriate thing he's accused of doing in the CHE article, and the fact that this incredibly inappropriate joke was preceded by a number of similar but somewhat less inappropriate jokes is not exculpatory.

I mean, putting myself in the RA's shoes, even if I was basically fine with the toilet humor--and let's be serious, I am in fact totally fine with toilet humor--I would not be at all fine with a joke about how he thought about me while getting a handjob. (Putting myself in McGinn's shoes, I would never say something like that to a student because of how inappropriate it would be.)

You may go on to conclude that such remarks nevertheless constitute harassment.

I don't know if they remarks constitute harassment--in fact I suspect that they do not--and I don't see where I said they do. I do think the remarks were egregiously inappropriate, and have said so several times. But I don't think that's a meaningless distinction.

But there's an important distinction between what CM actually said and what the CHE reported, and that distinction makes what actually happened far less like the situation the CHE reported.

One reason why the CHE piece doesn't say what McGinn actually said is that McGinn didn't say anything of any substance to the CHE. If he wanted the article to include his side of the story, he should have told them his side.

And the CHE did talk to someone who attempted to defend McGinn--Edwin Erwin. The fact that Prof. Erwin's "defense" was vague, misleading, and absurd isn't the CHE's fault.

It is a peculiar sort of deficiency in the relationship between two adults when there is a need to turn to an external authority to resolve interpersonal disagreement.

I don't disagree with this, as far as it goes. But it seems to me that conflict resolution doesn't come very naturally to people. (It seems to me that conflict escalation comes much more naturally.) It can often be beneficial to consult an impartial third party who has been trained in conflict-resolution. I realize that the University is not strictly impartial, because it has an interest in protecting itself from liability. But this interest counts in favor of resolving conflicts between staff members to the comfortable satisfaction of both parties insofar as that is possible. And I just don't see where it's childish or whatever to seek outside help with conflict resolution if you need it.

Mr. Zero said...

Look, you said there was *no reason* to think the McGinn case was “like that”, as you put it. I pointed out that the base rate *is* a reason to think it’s like that.

Look, I acknowledged that error in the paragraph after the one you quoted. The *very next sentence.*

Anonymous said...

"It is a peculiar sort of deficiency in the relationship between two adults when there is a need to turn to an external authority to resolve interpersonal disagreement."

Amen. Seems like this really should have been resolved between the two of them.

Oh, you're uncomfortable confronting your big bad professor? Grow a backbone.

And McGinn, you think you can just make handjob jokes to attractive young graduate students just because you two have developed a repartee? You cannot. Think on it.

rev tom said...

Look, I acknowledged that error in the paragraph after the one you quoted. The *very next sentence.*

It seemed like it, but I wasn't sure because of your subsequent remarks.

So, good! Since I already explained why the difference (between "there is no reason" and "there is a reason but I think it's outweighed") is important, and you didn't object or respond, I take it we agree about this now.

Anonymous said...

But McGinn does not dispute that in at least one such pun he told her that he was thinking about her during a hand job.

Well, he does, actually. Although his dispute has more to do with reporting indirect discourse than with what words he typed in an email.

Puzzled said...

I don't think I disagree with much of what you say Mr. Zero, other than to confess that I'm less sanguine with the thought that the facts bear out the obvious egregiousness of the interaction (I'm happy to speak in terms of egregiousness instead of harassment--I apologize for thinking you were supposing it was obvious that harassment had occurred). And it's not that I think CM's behavior was appropriate; I'm happy to affirm that if the attention was unwanted he ought to be called on it. And I appreciate what you said about mediation and the value of a third party.

But here's the problem, as I see it, of going to the administration as a mediator here. The events of this woman's graduate career, and the exit of CM from Miami, will now be shot-through with the impact of that move. Now I know there will be some who champion both these things ('she's a voice for justice!' 'he was a lousy cad anyway!'), and perhaps they are right. But from my view, a petty dispute between two adults fed into public speculation bloated with ignorance, setting the stage for some of the ugliest behaviors I've seen in my colleagues.

Now philosophers can be some pretty pissy people. Still, I can't help but feel that if there was a bit more interest on the part of professional academics to act like adults toward one another, this sort of thing could be dealt with in a more fruitful manner. Administrative inquiries, arcane university regulations, and the self-congratulatory petulance of certain political elements of the profession; these ought to be elements of last resort for a community of independent agents. Even if this was a case of egregious behavior, it is nowhere near the sort of harassment that some have compared it with. If we lean on Big Brother for help in the little things, we can only hope to stand on our own when something truly trying comes along.

Popkin writes:
"We have good reasons not to believe the things McGinn has said about the incident. So we don't have good reasons to think that there is any divergence between what CHE reported and what actually happened."

I'm finding it difficult to put an interpretation on what you've said Popkin. Do you mean to say that we have good reason to suppose CM was lying about the context in which the speech acts occurred? I don't see why that's the case. We have good reason to expect that he will want to try to paint himself in as favorable a light as he can, but I don't see how that forces us to conclude he was lying. We may decide context is irrelevant--but that doesn't seem to be what you are saying here. Instead, you seem to be saying we have reason to think CM lied. And I don't see that.

Anonymous said...

The latest tack that Gricean conversational implicature is virtually unknown outside of philosophy is interesting. Computer scientists involved with elementary considerations of modal and temporal logic, game theorists and economists working in epistemic game theory, linguists, followers of Steven Pinker and the vast audience for TED Talks are well-aware of conversational implicature. It’s silly to pretend that Grice’s landmark work is known only to the philosophical cognoscenti. Perhaps it's worth a longshot. Oonce in a blue moon a profound sense of entitlement commensurate with one’s self importance might pay off.

Philosophers of language should understand that the use of indirect speech to plausibly deny mutual knowledge of sexual interest is an obvious ploy 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. (No chuckling over PNAS references, please.)

Steven Pinker has popularized the use of indirect speech to plausibly deny an attempt to negotiate the type of relationship holding between a speaker and a listener in several popular YouTube videos. These would be very familiar to academic administrators reviewing allegations of sexual harassment.

A seasoned philosopher of language will also understand that the listener, well aware of Pinker’s analysis, will discount 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...

Dear 8:23,

Yes, you said that in the other thread.

Someone then pointed out that McGinn did not seem to be talking about implicature at all. You didn't answer, but now you've apparently cut and pasted the same comment here. What should seasoned philosophers of language infer?

Popkin said...

Puzzled: yes, I think we have good reasons to think McGinn is misrepresenting the incident in his blog posts, but no that doesn't mean we need to assume he's lying (he may honestly believe everything he's said).

The reasons: first, there are significant tensions within McGinn's version of events. On the one hand he says that the entire basis of the charge were two easily-explained emails, that his accuser is demonstrably untrustworthy (in effect stealing $4000), and that the only charge the university was considering was failing to report a relationship; on the other hand, he claims that he believed the President would overrule the findings of the relevant committee, that the case required the services of an expensive lawyer, that this expensive lawyer told him "they are clearly out to get you," and that he thought the least troublesome course would be to resign.

Second, there's the fact that McGinn's blog posts have revealed him to be narcissistic (the genius project), vindictive (attacks on the department), and to have a distorted view of reality (failing to recognize that he's done anything wrong at all, thinking it would be a good idea to tell everyone about the genius project).

So, when CHE mentions "a series of sexually explicit e-mail and text messages" and McGinn insists that there were only two offending emails, we ought not to believe McGinn. And when CHE reports that the student's boyfriend and two other faculty members "described one message in which they said Mr. McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating," and McGinn denies this, we ought not to believe McGinn. And when CHE reports that Prof. Thomasson "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," and McGinn claims that the relevant emails were simply part of the taboo-busting aspect of his pedagogical strategy, again, we ought not to believe McGinn.

Anonymous said...

They were mistaken that CM was not talking about conversational implicature, as if that were irrelevant. The example CM gave was obviously an example of conversational implicature, in this case that by violating the convention temporal ordering is suggested but not implied. Seasoned philosophers would have seen the attempt to pretend that conversational implicature played no role as misleading and counterproductive.

Puzzled said...

Hi Popkin; you conclude:

"So, when CHE mentions "a series of sexually explicit e-mail and text messages" and McGinn insists that there were only two offending emails, we ought not to believe McGinn. And when CHE reports that the student's boyfriend and two other faculty members "described one message in which they said Mr. McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating," and McGinn denies this, we ought not to believe McGinn."

In support of this conclusion you give two arguments:

"The reasons: first, there are significant tensions within McGinn's version of events. On the one hand he says that the entire basis of the charge were two easily-explained emails, that his accuser is demonstrably untrustworthy (in effect stealing $4000), and that the only charge the university was considering was failing to report a relationship; on the other hand, he claims that he believed the President would overrule the findings of the relevant committee, that the case required the services of an expensive lawyer, that this expensive lawyer told him "they are clearly out to get you," and that he thought the least troublesome course would be to resign.

Second, there's the fact that McGinn's blog posts have revealed him to be narcissistic (the genius project), vindictive (attacks on the department), and to have a distorted view of reality (failing to recognize that he's done anything wrong at all, thinking it would be a good idea to tell everyone about the genius project)."

I will take them in reverse order.

I agree that CM's blog posts have revealed features of his character that are distasteful. As to whether he's giving us a distorted view of reality; that of course turns on whether or not he's distorting the facts. So the meat of your contention that he is distorting the facts comes down to what you give as your first reason.

You claim to see a 'tension' among CM's claims that 1) the email exchange was situated in a language-game he and the student had been working on where word-play about hands was crucial 2) he and the grad student had recently had a falling out over work performance, 3) the charge on which the inquiry was to proceed (an unreported personal relationship) fell under a rubric that permitted the president to overrule the findings and censure CM anyway, and 4) he had hired an expensive lawyer who advised him that the process would be long and drawn out, expensive, and that it looked like they had already come to some conclusions anyway, so he decided to retire.

I fail to see any tension here. Remember, this is supposed to be a defense of your charge that CM is misrepresenting events. In support of that charge, you claim there are tensions among 1-4 above. But those look like perfectly consistent descriptions of one and the same event. What was reported as licentious sexual advance was instead two emails three months apart sent over half a year ago, involving a student who had recently failed to complete some work. While he was facing academic investigation, he hired a lawyer, who advised him that the process would be long and drawn out, that there was good chance the inquiry would result in censure, and that even if it didn't the president of the university has the right in this case to censure him anyway. Having already spent $10,000 on retaining the lawyer for the *preliminary hearing,* and because it looked like this train of events was likely to pass ('railroading' used to be the term for it), CM opted to retire.

Puzzled said...

Continued.

Now perhaps the speculations are right and there is a sordid tale of sexual lechery going on behind the scene. And no doubt there is much we are unaware of--that's precisely why we should all be more guarded in our conclusions, I think. But there is no evident tension with what CM wrote. As such, we have not been given any reason to suppose that CM is misrepresenting the facts. Portraying himself in the best light possible, engaging in narcissistic posturing, proponent of a bizarre pedagogy; fine.

But if CM is telling the truth (and we've been given no reason to suppose he's lying), two emails were the point of issue in the initial hearing. Faced with an administrative inquiry, complete with all the legal and professional problems that process brings with it, not to mention the emotional and public turmoil that would accompany the inquiry, I do not find it surprising in the least that someone would say 'to hell with it' and quit. American sexual mores, and the institutions that enforce those mores, can seem rather perverse for those not weaned on them. And despite the protests of some to the contrary, many of those institutions are decidedly in favor of the accuser's perspective when the accuser is a woman and the accusation is unwanted sexual attention.

As I said above, I think that recourse to this kind of 'mediation' between two adults breeds social dysfunction and interpersonal immaturity. We ought to be able to handle the little things with a bit more aplumb than this. And as far as I'm concerned (trigger warning!), from what's been made public this looks like a little thing indeed. The right counsel here is intestinal fortitude, not recourse to Big Brother.

Finally, 8:11 writes:
"Seasoned philosophers would have seen the attempt to pretend that conversational implicature played no role as misleading and counterproductive."

I don't think anyone said conversational implicature played no role. Rather, the point is that there was a conversational context in which the remarks were situated that was completely absent in the CHE's retelling. This in no way implies that what was said was OK (I personally don't think we have enough information to decide that with any great confidence); it's just to point out that the accusations trotted out in the CHE were pretty one-sided.

Popkin said...

"As to whether he's giving us a distorted view of reality; that of course turns on whether or not he's distorting the facts. So the meat of your contention that he is distorting the facts comes down to what you give as your first reason."

This isn't right. The claim is that we have independent evidence for thinking that McGinn's view of reality is distorted (I mentioned a couple of examples). That gives us a reason not to trust his testimony.

The 'tension' claim is that it's not likely that all of McGinn's claims would be true at the same time (I don't say impossible, but it isn't likely). The tension ought to be obvious: if the whole incident really came down to two easily-explained emails, and if his accuser had recently stolen $4000, then there would be no reason to hire an expensive lawyer, and there would be no motivation for the President to want to overrule the findings of the relevant committee (particularly given how important McGinn is to the philosophy department). And if the only charge the university was considering was failing to report a consensual, non-sexual relationship, then it would be unlikely for a lawyer to tell McGinn that the University was out to get him, and it would be unlikely for McGinn to conclude that the easiest thing to do would be to resign. Again, this story could be true, but it isn't plausible.

Anonymous said...

In case there is any doubt that CM's example was a textbook case of conversational implicature, consider the example from that incontrovertible source, the Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia example, which follows, is exactly parallel to CM's example.


For example, the sentence "Mary had a baby and got married" strongly suggests that Mary had the baby before the wedding, but the sentence would still be strictly true if Mary had her baby after she got married. Further, if we add the qualification "— not necessarily in that order" to the original sentence, then the implicature is cancelled even though the meaning of the original sentence is not altered.


We may substitute, practically salva veritate, CM's example (with some minor modification) to the quote from Wikipedia, without violence to its pragmatic import, as follows.


For example, the sentence "I went into a bar and I got drunk" strongly suggests that I got drunk before I went into a bar, but the sentence would still be strictly true if I had gotten drunk after I went into the bar. Further, if we add the qualification "— not necessarily in that order" to the original sentence, then the implicature is cancelled even though the meaning of the original sentence is not altered.


CM's example is a case of Gricean implicature. Are we now going to argue that Gricean conversational implicature isn't what CM was getting at, even though CM goes on to point out, following the structure of the Wikipedia excerpt above, that "the implication of temporal succession in the events reported can be canceled without contradiction."?

Given the parallel invocation of paradigmatic examples of Gricean conversational implicature, what are we to infer from an anonymous at 4:08 PM who ends with "What should seasoned philosophers of language infer?"?

My guess is that the answer would not be interesting even if it were forthcoming.

By degrees over the course of the Genius Project, the conversational implicatures turned to suggestive suggestions, without there necessarily being an implication, in a narrow, technical sense. Nothing esoteric or terribly specialized about this.

Getting into a dispute with a student over an academic matter is often the downfall of academics who have previously crossed professional boundaries in their interactions with them.

Now, attempting to move the conversation in the direction of thoughts of a student while receiving a handjob is a no no, calling for some kind of disciplinary action. I see the introduction of examples of conversational implicature into the public record as an admission.

And after all that, the transgression, while indefensible based on the public record, was not as egregious as some of the examples that I am personally acquainted with, involving more accomplished academics.

Puzzled said...

Popkin writes:

"The tension ought to be obvious: if the whole incident really came down to two easily-explained emails, and if his accuser had recently stolen $4000, then there would be no reason to hire an expensive lawyer, and there would be no motivation for the President to want to overrule the findings of the relevant committee (particularly given how important McGinn is to the philosophy department). And if the only charge the university was considering was failing to report a consensual, non-sexual relationship, then it would be unlikely for a lawyer to tell McGinn that the University was out to get him, and it would be unlikely for McGinn to conclude that the easiest thing to do would be to resign. Again, this story could be true, but it isn't plausible."

I'm sure that wasn't the only charge the university was considering; no doubt this was framed in terms of sexual harassment from the beginning. Still, I see no tension within CM's story. In today's litigious environment, anyone who goes into a hearing on the possibility of professional censure better have a lawyer. And the climate today in many quarters is such as to make even the suspicion of unwanted sexual advances the topic of pretty severe public excoriation and professional fallout.

Let me be clear--I myself suspect that CM was up to quite a bit more than he's letting on. But that's only a suspicion. Perhaps you only meant to suggest that he was up to more than just pedagogy. Fair enough; but that doesn't entitle us to disregard what he says, as you seemed to suggest.

Regardless of the he said/she said, my own view is that the path to virtue here involved a much more local address to the problem. Myself, I blame feminism.

WV: feminines hinaei

Anonymous said...

By degrees over the course of the Genius Project, the conversational implicatures turned to suggestive suggestions, without there necessarily being an implication, in a narrow, technical sense.

Are you planning to give some evidence for this facially libelous claim?

Popkin said...

"I'm sure that wasn't the only charge the university was considering; no doubt this was framed in terms of sexual harassment from the beginning."

McGinn explicitly denies this, so I take it you don't trust McGinn either.

"Perhaps you only meant to suggest that he was up to more than just pedagogy. Fair enough; but that doesn't entitle us to disregard what he says, as you seemed to suggest."

I don't trust what McGinn says because I have at least two good reasons for thinking his testimony is not reliable (outlined above).

"Myself, I blame feminism"

Can I assume that's a joke?

Anonymous said...

Back to Anonymous June 13, 2013 At 5:57 AM, who writes, "I don't read the stuff about Grice to be pointing toward conversational implicature at all."

Really? In the face of the introduction into the public record of a parallel paradigmatic, textbook example of Gricean
conversational implicature? An example that follows the structure of the Wikipedia article on implicature, including the observation on how implicatures can be cancelled? Pardon the paraleipsis, but I will say nothing about citing sources.

Anonymous then says, "Rather, I thought it was supposed to be about Grice's general account of the relation between speaker meaning and linguistic meaning."

That undermines the defense that the linguistic mechanism philosophers like to make a game of would be something with which only philosophers of language would be expected to be conversant. CM writes, "Outsiders don’t get it, unless they have been schooled in Gricean philosophy of language."

But according to Anonymous, we are expected to believe that the example of conversational implicature, parallel to the Wikipedia account, is not to be read as "...pointing toward conversational implicature at all." This claim is asserted despite CM writing that "Philosophers who know their Grice are constantly aware of this distinction and often exploit
it to make clever remarks to other philosophers—gleefully canceling
the “implicature” without contradiction." Now that's what I call a sentence "pointing" to implicature, and the cancellation thereof.

Now another, possibly identical Anonymous, wants to backpedal
at breakneck speed, by asserting, again in glaring contradiction
to the text, that no one said that Gricean implicature played no
role. The anonymous above did exactly that when he wrote that
he "...did not see the stuff about Grice to be pointing toward
conversational implicature at all."

Ok, he allows he is mistaken. Fine: he is mistaken.

Such are the efforts to cloud the mind with tenebrous vapors.

Anonymous said...

But I really doubt that professors have much power at all. I mean, imagine if Saul Kripke or some other megastar was your dissertation adviser, and made a pass at you or whatever, and you felt uncomfortable and so ended the relationship. What vengeance could he possibly visit upon you? Not write a letter of recommendation? Seems like a minor hiccup.

You are clearly ignorant of academic culture. Either you have no real contact with this culture or you are disconnected with a social reality that's in front of your face. Either way, it's embarrassing. It is patently false that faculty advisers don't have power over graduate students. High profile faculty can have students run out of a program very quickly.

Anonymous said...

A weak letter from faculty can make getting an academic job IMPOSSIBLE in the current market. A bad letter will sully you for some time.

Even without a bad letter, just having your name out in the academic world as a "potential troublemaker" (as some see this woman) will gut your chances. Anyone who doesn't know or realize this is either hopelessly basking in privilege, hasn't been on the market in a decade, or both.

Graduate students are at the mercy of their departments not just while they're students but for years after they finish (assuming they're on the market).

Anonymous said...

The Genius Project reads as if it had the potential to escalate because of the agreement to stop if either side felt uncomfortable. The Feminist Philosophers blog writes: "Be cautious of any pedagogical approach that requires a safe word." A little unusual professionally, but in the space of logical possibility, maybe it was just a couple of emails spaced months apart.

Anonymous said...

"Either you have no real contact with this culture or you are disconnected with a social reality that's in front of your face. Either way, it's embarrassing. It is patently false that faculty advisers don't have power over graduate students. High profile faculty can have students run out of a program very quickly."

--No, I do not agree. I, for one, do have "real contact" with that culture, and I am not disconnected with the social reality, as best I can tell.

I just believe that you are mistaken. But even if I am wrong about this, and I am the mistaken one (quite possible), why would that be "embarrassing" for me? Since when is it embarrassing to make a mistake?

In fact, I believe that you drastically overstate the power that faculty members hold over graduate students. In fact, as evidenced by this event, often times the graduate students hold power over the faculty.

If faculty member X is not going to write you a good letter stop whining and get one from somewhere else. Just make it happen.

I tend to find that the people "basking in privilege" are the same ones who are quickest to talk about "power dynamics" or the helplessness of poor graduate students in the face of Powerful White Men Faculty Members, and so on. Those of us who have had to make make our own way through life, and have faced real adversity, are not so easily derailed as by a dirty e-mail from an older man.

Puzzled said...

I’m worried that you are not being sufficiently careful in your reconstruction Popkin. CM denies that the university was formally raising an issue of harassment. But there can be no doubt that harassment was on the horizon for everybody. That’s how the system is set up, and right or wrong when the accuser is a woman she gets a lot of institutional support once she raises the issue at that level. Particularly if the accusation reaches the public, lots of ugly stuff gets said. Again, I grant that there is reason to suppose CM is painting himself in as best a light as he can, even perhaps to the point of obsfucation. But nothing you have said warrants discounting his testimony. And given what he has said, I think we should *all* be rather suspicious of the way the CHE article presents this.

As for the crack at feminism; I hope you would take it as a joke. I’m afraid the alternative would be to take offense. But there’s enough of that going around, and for some pretty petty stuff, that I would encourage people not to suppose that a disagreement about the merits of feminism is reason to think your interlocutor is not interested in the well-being of women. He simply disagrees with you about the relative merits of feminism in that capacity. We need more stalwart men and women of principle willing to be considerate in the particulars, not a socio-political narrative about the hetero-patri-cauci complex and a rush to shove every judgment into that frame. On that note, I think we should be more critical of the men and women who enable these persecution complexes.

Finally, can someone explain what the issue with conversational implicature is supposed to be? People seem to think there’s a point being made, but I’m sorry, I just can’t see what it is.

Anonymous said...

"I tend to find that the people "basking in privilege" are the same ones who are quickest to talk about "power dynamics" or the helplessness of poor graduate students in the face of Powerful White Men Faculty Members, and so on. Those of us who have had to make make our own way through life, and have faced real adversity, are not so easily derailed as by a dirty e-mail from an older man."

Says every racist, sexist, classist, ever. 'I did it and therefore those who couldn't do it must be lazy whiney failures.'

Congratulations on failing to understand.

Popkin said...

"CM denies that the university was formally raising an issue of harassment. But there can be no doubt that harassment was on the horizon for everybody."

McGinn says explicitly that the university did not consider a charge of sexual harassment. Presumably if a charge of harassment is not considered it is not on the horizon. (If the administrators look at the evidence but don't consider a charge of harassment, how can there be "no doubt" that such a charge be on the horizon?)

"nothing you have said warrants discounting his testimony."

I have provided two reasons for not believing the things McGinn says about the case. You've only expressed disagreement with one aspect of one of those reasons (you don't think the claim that the charges were minor and easily answered is in tension with the claim that McGinn required an expensive lawyer).

"I would encourage people not to suppose that a disagreement about the merits of feminism is reason to think your interlocutor is not interested in the well-being of women."

So it wasn't a joke. You really do blame feminism.

Anonymous said...

"Says every racist, sexist, classist, ever. 'I did it and therefore those who couldn't do it must be lazy whiney failures.'

Congratulations on failing to understand."

No, I do understand. I just do not agree with you.

I'm neither racist, nor sexist, nor classist. In fact, likely you've had a much more privledged life than I. We just happen to disagree on this issue.

Mr. Zero said...

In fact, I believe that you drastically overstate the power that faculty members hold over graduate students. In fact, as evidenced by this event, often times the graduate students hold power over the faculty.

I've been thinking about this since you posted your earlier comment, and the more I think about it, the more I think you have completely misunderstood the situation and its wider implications.

In general, faculty wield tremendous power over students in a variety of ways. Faculty directly supervise and evaluate students, and students progress through the program largely on the faculty's say-so. The job market is the same way--if the bigwigs in your department are luke warm on you (or worse), you will not get a job. Particularly in today's market. The fact that you seem not to understand this basic fact really is pretty extraordinary. It's as if you don't know what faculty members do.

Secondly, and kind of more importantly, this case doesn't "evidence" anything about the general nature of faculty/student interactions and the attendant power dynamics. McGinn's accuser didn't have any power over McGinn that didn't stem directly from McGinn's own misconduct. She was able to cause trouble for him only because he really had done stuff that actually was pretty seriously inappropriate. She had the emails to back it up. That doesn't show that the dynamics have totally changed such that the students now have all the power. That shows that inappropriate behavior in violation of institutional policy creates vulnerability to institutional discipline.

Now, as I understand things, this does represent a fairly significant shift. In the bad old days, students couldn't really expect to see these kinds of complaints taken seriously. But (a) insofar as things have changed, it's good, and (b) this change does not represent a substantial loss of legitimate power on the part of faculty.

Puzzled said...

How about this 3:12. You seem to think you've given reasons for distrusting CM's testimony. I contend that you have not; the "significant tensions" you claim to have seen did not withstand scrutiny, as his reconstruction of the situation is entirely consistent with someone who wants nothing to do with the witch-hunt these inquiries can turn into, given the power that a woman who has accused a man of unwanted sexual attention wields in these settings. Not only is there nothing inconsistent with what CM said; when contrasted with what the CHE reported it suggests that the story is rather more complex than we were led to believe. Now I'm actually having a difficult time pinning down just what it is you would have us reject from his account. So why don't you tell us which, if any, of the things CM has said that you think are unreliable. It can't simply be that there's more to the story; we've already agreed that this is probable.

And yes, it is true that I blame feminism for fostering a persecution complex mentality in young adults. That's not all feminism does, of course; that's part of why it's also a joke. And it's ironic that a group of people so interested in protecting the victim would devolve into a practice that encourages people to see themselves as victims.

Anonymous said...

@2:54 pm: I *assure* you that some of us share almost the the same view as 4:17, and are simply not any kind of privileged 'ist'. I've been perved on by a countless number of card carrying horndogs in this business; dismissed and demeaned consistently as a graduate student and pre-tenure; treated like shit and the object of some very disturbed department dynamics from pre-tenure to now (post-tenure). Hell, I've even been flirted at by Colin McGinn! While I think it's probably true that your own thesis advisor not writing you a letter would raise some eyebrows, and writing you a lukewarm letter would sink your chances, it's not just a hopeless quagmire of priviledge and sexism. I mean, it is a quagmire, but it's not hopeless. You.just.keep.going. My default attitude has tended to be "Fuck.You," not whining about short old Brits with boundary issues. Whining never got anybody published...

Anonymous said...

"In fact, I believe that you drastically overstate the power that faculty members hold over graduate students. In fact, as evidenced by this event, often times the graduate students hold power over the faculty."

A point we would all do well to remember next year, when people start complaining that bad letters of rec hurt them on the market, or a malicious advisor hurt someone on the market, or a student wonders how to change advisors without burning bridges.

Remember everyone, grad students hold the power. Use that to your advantage!

Popkin said...

Puzzled, see my post at 10:20.

"So why don't you tell us which, if any, of the things CM has said that you think are unreliable."

I think McGinn is unreliable, so I don't trust anything he has said. The main point is that, given that there are good reasons not to believe McGinn, it's unreasonable to reject the characterization of events in the CHE article on the grounds that it is incompatible with claims McGinn has made.

Puzzled said...

We seem to be talking in circles Popkin. I do not see 'significant tension' in what CM has said. Let me try to explain why.

You seem to think the issue is a clearcut one such that if CM had been innocent of any wrongdoing it would have been no task to show that. But in fact this process can be financially, emotionally, professionally, and personally very costly, even if one is in the end exonerated of wrongdoing. As such, the fact that CM would choose to resign rather than go through with the inquest is compatible with it being the case that, had the inquest occurred, CM would have been exonerated. And so there is no valid inference from the fact that CM chose not to go through the inquest to it being the case that, if he had gone through the inquest he would have been found guilty of something censurable. Still less is there a valid inference from what he has said to a pronouncement that he is guilty of anything. Too many people in this debate seem to have endorsed both those inferences. Whether consciously or not, they are paradigmatic instances of bad habits of thought.

Now if CM *had* gone through with the inquest then we would have had good reason to suppose he had nothing to hide (perhaps it's the validity of this inference that people are confusing with the inferences above). But the fact that he did not do so does not prove that he was hiding something. You may think it gives you some reason to be wary of what he says, to which I would agree. For we are also in agreement that CM's story has probably been whitewashed in his favor. But we have not been given a reason to conclude that his testimony ought to be disregarded.

And the accuser's narrative is not beyond question in this situation either. From what we have seen there are reasons to think that no one is telling a story that any of us ought to give all that much credence to.

BunnyHugger said...

Search Committee Member A: Check out this one. Lots of pubs and her dissertation adviser was Famous Faculty Member X!

SC Member B: Wow! How's his letter look?

SC Member A: Actually... she didn't get a letter from him.

SC Member B: What?

I'll leave it to Anon 2:17 to fill in the happy ending.

Popkin said...

Puzzled, you aren't responding to my reasons as stated. You are making claims about "valid inferences" and compatibility, but I was explicit that I am claiming only that it is not likely that everything McGinn has said would be true at the same time. In addition, the fact that McGinn has resigned is not the only fact that is in tension with his characterization of events. And you're still ignoring the fact that McGinn's narcissism and distorted view of reality are reasons not to trust his version of events. So, again, we have no reason to doubt the CHE article.

Puzzled said...

Popkin writes:

"I was explicit that I am claiming only that it is not likely that everything McGinn has said would be true at the same time."

You claim that we have some reason to believe that CM is not telling the truth. It's this claim that you've not offered sufficient justification for. And as I've argued above, CM's version of events, while probably a whitewashing, is not only consistent, it's plausible given the way female accusations of unwanted attention in a professional setting are treated in the U.S. That's precisely why we cannot infer from the fact that he chose not to go through with the inquest to the conclusion that we ought not to believe what he says. This is a bad inference. It's an even worse habit to get oneself into. Would that feminism was better at breeding more intelligent habits.

You seem to think the situation is a cut-and-dry case of "if you're innocent, prove it," but the institutions that support female accusations of unwanted sexual harassment in the U.S. are byzantine and costly, and the professional, personal, and emotional fallout that can result from them *even if one is exonerated of wrongdoing* can be onerous for people to endure. As such, there is no "significant tension" with CM noting that while the subject was two emails and the issue was an unreported personal relationship, he chose not go through with the proceedings. Still less is there reason to think it is unlikely that everything he has said is true.

Indeed, I think we ought to be a bit more critical of the people who enabled this situation, from the CHE to those who supported the accuser. Honestly, (trigger warning!) this strikes me as a pissy little bit of nonsense blown way out of proportion. But I understand that others will want to stand in solidarity with the accuser, and I respect that. What I object to is the unjustified claim that we have reason to believe it unlikely that CM is telling the truth.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this since you posted your earlier comment, and the more I think about it, the more I think you have completely misunderstood the situation and its wider implications.

In general, faculty wield tremendous power over students in a variety of ways. Faculty directly supervise and evaluate students, and students progress through the program largely on the faculty's say-so. The job market is the same way--if the bigwigs in your department are luke warm on you (or worse), you will not get a job. Particularly in today's market. The fact that you seem not to understand this basic fact really is pretty extraordinary. It's as if you don't know what faculty members do."

--No, I do know what faculty members do. I just believe that your analysis of the situation is mistaken. That does not imply that I'm an idiot, or that I don't understand the situation, or that my ignorance is "extraordinary". It just means that I think that you're wrong. That is, when you say that faculty members wield a lot of power over graduate students, I believe that you're saying something that is false.

I have, I assume, the same sort of access to the relevant data as you do (I am a philosophy graduate student) and I am at least a fairly intelligent person.

I just happen to think you've erred. I think you overstate the amount of power faculty--even prominent faculty--have over their graduate students. I cite the current McGinn case as an example of how it can in fact be backwards.

Note how dispassionately and modestly I state my claim. I do not think that you are an idiot, or don't have understanding of the current climate, or possess a hidden agenda, or whatever. I just give what is my best analysis of the situation. OF COURSE I might be wrong. Any of us could be wrong about anything.

But I speak as an outsider, as someone who has not had the benefits of privilege, as someone whose parents did not pay for his college, as someone who has had to work, tough jobs, dangerous jobs, to get where I am.

FROM MY PERSPECTIVE (which of course might be wrong), most of the talk about "privilege" and "white male faculty dominance" and whatnot is bullshit. It is whining. You are going to encounter all sorts of static in your life, all sort of injustice. As the poster above me wrote, "You.just.keep.going. My default attitude has tended to be 'Fuck.You,' not whining about short old Brits with boundary issues. Whining never got anybody published..."

I go further and say that those who are most up in arms against McGinn, and these "power dynamics" issues in general, are in fact the most privileged among us. Those of us who have had to make our own way understand that complaining is counterproductive and fighting through adversity is the best way to go.

This is just my opinion, and it is possible that I am wrong.

Popkin said...

Puzzled, it's probably a mistake to continue this, but you still aren't responding to the reasons I've offered. I won't repeat what I've said, but you can see my earlier comments if you're interested.

"That's precisely why we cannot infer from the fact that he chose not to go through with the inquest to the conclusion that we ought not to believe what he says. This is a bad inference."

It's also an inference I didn't make.

"the institutions that support female accusations of unwanted sexual harassment in the U.S. are byzantine and costly,"

Again, McGinn says a charge of harassment was not even considered, so this point isn't relevant.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Puzzled,

You write:

But there can be no doubt that harassment was on the horizon for everybody.

I think it's obvious that McGinn was facing more serious charges. But, as Popkin points out, McGinn doesn't say so. As McGinn tells it, the problem was that Donna Shalala was out to get him in spite of the fact that he didn't do anything wrong and there's no clear evidence that he did.

his reconstruction of the situation is entirely consistent with someone who wants nothing to do with the witch-hunt these inquiries can turn into, given the power that a woman who has accused a man of unwanted sexual attention wields in these settings...

Kind of, but kind of not. Because his reconstruction of the situation has him acting in a genuinely improper manner, although he doesn't acknowledge it. Which is one reason to be suspicious of McGinn's version of the story.

...when contrasted with what the CHE reported it suggests that the story is rather more complex than we were led to believe.

But the salient claims in the CHE article all come from at least two sources who claim to have seen the emails in question. And the CHE reports the McGinn line that the offending remarks were related to his research (which is pure bullshit), and has McGinn's colleague suggesting that the remarks might have been related to a joke taken out of context (although it does not specify the nature of the joke). So I don't think the CHE article is as untrustworthy as you seem to think it is.

McGinn's telling of the story, on the other hand, isn't corroborated at all.

Now if CM *had* gone through with the inquest then we would have had good reason to suppose he had nothing to hide

I don't believe this at all. Do you really believe this?

whitewash

I don't get what you're saying at all. If you think he's whitewashing, then you must think there's something for him to whitewash--some sort of improper conduct--and you must think he's whitewashing it--that he's concealing it or covering it up. If he's whitewashing, he is untrustworthy.

Puzzled said...

That use of "harassment" was a typo. Please replace it with "attention."

As to the substance of your claim. You referred me to your comment at 10:20 for its justification Popkin. It's this I'm responding to. In that comment you clearly infer from the fact that CM gave the reasons he did for not going through with the inquest to the conclusion that we ought not to believe him:

"The tension ought to be obvious: if the whole incident really came down to two easily-explained emails, and if his accuser had recently stolen $4000, then there would be no reason to hire an expensive lawyer, and there would be no motivation for the President to want to overrule the findings of the relevant committee (particularly given how important McGinn is to the philosophy department). And if the only charge the university was considering was failing to report a consensual, non-sexual relationship, then it would be unlikely for a lawyer to tell McGinn that the University was out to get him, and it would be unlikely for McGinn to conclude that the easiest thing to do would be to resign."

But as I've argued, this reconstruction ignores all sorts of things, not the least of which is 1) the need for a lawyer in *any* setting where professional censure is on the table, and 2) the fact that female accusations of unwanted attention are institutionally supported in all sorts of ways that would make such an inquest financially, emotionally, and personally onerous. Additionally, the sexual mores enshrined in these inquests can seem rather perverse to people not weaned on them. As such, the fact that he would resign rather than go through with the inquest does not suffice to show that we ought not to believe him about what he said. As such, the inference you are endorsing about the reliability of CM's testimony is a bad inference. As such, we should not adopt your reasoning. It is a bad habit of thought.

Puzzled said...

Hi Mr. Zero,

First, by saying that if he'd gone through with the inquest we'd have better reason to think he was innocent I meant that a willingness to go through with the inquest would lend support to the thought that he thought, of himself, that he had done nothing wrong. Whereas that thought is not supported if he refuses to go through with the inquest. Of course he still might have been found guilty of something. But the point at issue is whether the refusal to endure the inquest is evidence of guilt, and that doesn't follow.

My own view is that we just don't know enough to come to much by way of a settled opinion in this. Nevertheless, I suspect CM is whitewashing his version of events by downplaying the degree of attention he was giving the student. You also write,

"But the salient claims in the CHE article all come from at least two sources who claim to have seen the emails in question. "

And I think we ought to be a bit more critical of those sources now that we see the other side of the story. It's all fine and well to want to be a 'victim's advocate.' But not every person who makes an accusation is a victim in need of Big Brother's protection. The lives of independent agents seeking their own goals will always contain conflict; it is up to us how to handle that. I finish with something I said earlier:

Here's the problem, as I see it, of going to the administration as a mediator here. The events of this woman's graduate career, and the exit of CM from Miami, will now be shot-through with the impact of that move. Now I know there will be some who champion both these things ('she's a voice for justice!' 'he was a lousy cad anyway!'), and perhaps they are right. But from my view, a petty dispute between two adults fed into public speculation bloated with ignorance, setting the stage for some of the ugliest behaviors I've seen in my colleagues.

Now philosophers can be some pretty pissy people. Still, I can't help but feel that if there was a bit more interest on the part of professional academics to act like adults toward one another, this sort of thing could be dealt with in a more fruitful manner. Administrative inquiries, arcane university regulations, and the self-congratulatory petulance of certain political elements of the profession; these ought to be elements of last resort for a community of independent agents.

Anonymous said...

"the fact that female accusations of unwanted attention are institutionally supported in all sorts of ways"

Puzzled, what's your evidence in support of this claim? All the data I've seen, as well as up-close experience, strongly suggest this to be false. One of my colleagues left my institution several years ago after her well-supported claim of sexual harassment (including e-mails) was more-or-less ignored by the administration. (The perpetrator was told to get counselling, but retained his status as department chair and was given new responsibilities that gave him additional power over junior faculty.) Studies show that this anecdote is not isolated. Women often get no uptake from the administration, and often even experience retaliation. Again, there is a body of research showing that women are not institutionally supported when they try to redress "unwanted attention." There are official policies, yes, but those policies are more often ignored than not when it comes to applying them.

Puzzled said...

My evidence comes from both personal experience and attention to cases that catch the public eye (Adria Richards' complaints over 'dongle' joking jumps to mind). Sometimes a woman's accusation, simply because she's made the accusation, can lead to serious professional and social harms for the accused.

But I don't mean to discount the fact that many times it *is* hard to get these accusations taken seriously, and perhaps I spoke to rashly. What's at issue in this situation is whether we have reason to believe this is a case more like Adria Richards or more like your anecdote. And as with so much else here, we just don't, so far as I can see, have enough information to settle that question. Because of this, we cannot infer, as Popkin recommends of us, that CM's testimony is to be discounted.

Puzzled said...

Additionally 8:14, it's important to recognize that in this case the woman's accusations *were* taken seriously, at least so far as to warrant an initial inquest. As such, we actually have reason to suppose this is *not* a case where a woman was having difficulty receiving uptake from the administration.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Puzzled,

I meant that a willingness to go through with the inquest would lend support to the thought that he thought, of himself, that he had done nothing wrong.

Maybe it just means that he thinks he can destroy his accuser's credibility. I don't think we could tell anything at all from a mere willingness to face the charges.

But the point at issue is whether the refusal to endure the inquest is evidence of guilt, and that doesn't follow.

I don't think that's the issue and I don't think Popkin does. At least, it's not the whole thing. It's also important that, according to McGinn, the sole charge was his failure to disclose a consensual and non-sexual relationship and the University was not considering any more serious charges. As you point out, this is implausible in itself.

Popkin and I think it's also in tension with McGinn's willingness to resign--that charge seems like really small beer to me, and way out of proportion with McGinn's response. I could be wrong, because I'm honestly not sure what that charge is supposed to mean. So far as I can tell, the UM faculty handbook requires disclosure of "amorous" relationships between e.g. students and faculty, and doesn't require disclosure of other kinds of relationship. If the relationship was non-sexual but "amorous," and he did not disclose it, that would actually be kind of a big deal. McGinn is clearly trying to suggest that he wasn't in that much trouble, but it's hard to know whether that's true based on what little he's said.

You're right that he might have simply wanted to put the whole mess to rest. But the more he succeeds in minimizing the trouble he was in, the less he succeeds in explaining his resignation.

And I still don't understand how this is related to academic freedom. And I don't understand how the emails, as they have been described by McGinn, support this failure-to-disclose charge.

And I think we ought to be a bit more critical of those sources now that we see the other side of the story.

In what way, specifically? Do you see McGinn's side of the story as contradicting or being in tension with the CHE account? Because I see McGinn's version as substantially corroborating the CHE account. The only think McGinn adds is that he didn't intend the remark to be taken literally. But (a) Erwin hints at this, and (b) McGinn could have gotten the CHE to include this detail by telling them so, but didn't.

Do you see McGinn as being more credible than the combined account of CHE's several sources? Why? Because, as I mentioned before, all the main points in the CHE article were multiply sourced, whereas McGinn's account is uncorroborated story of a man whom you believe to be engaging in a whitewash.

I can't help but feel that if there was a bit more interest on the part of professional academics to act like adults toward one another

Maybe you're right, but if so I don't see why that doesn't start with McGinn. He's the one who really did act improperly here. The RA's career, and McGinn's exit from Miami, are shot-through with the impact of his misconduct.

For another thing, if McGinn's account is true, he was in the process of accusing her of defrauding the university out of $4,000, by accepting the money in exchange for work which she then did not do. (Do I have this right? She was his RA, and he says she didn't do the research.) Elsewhere, he claims that she'd recently suffered an academic failing. Hard to know if they're the same thing.

If McGinn's version is true, then what happened was his own misconduct compromised his ability to effectively supervise his RA. If it's not true, or if the truth is something more complicated, then there was no way to resolve the dispute mano a mano. She accuses him of misconduct, he accuses her of fraud. It was going to require the involvement of the administration no matter what.

Popkin said...

Puzzled, you continue to mischaracterize my reasoning.

"In that comment you clearly infer from the fact that CM gave the reasons he did for not going through with the inquest to the conclusion that we ought not to believe him."

I don't make anything like this inference. Rather, I make an assumption that it is not likely that all of McGinn's claims would be true at the same time, and infer that he's misrepresenting at least some facts, and I infer from that that it would be unreasonable to rely on anything he says (since we have no independent way of distinguishing his false claims from any true ones he might have made).

"female accusations of unwanted attention are institutionally supported in all sorts of ways that would make such an inquest financially, emotionally, and personally onerous."

Again, McGinn claims that the only charge the university considered was failing to report a consensual, non-sexual relationship. You are actively altering McGinn's version of events to make it more plausible that he would need a lawyer, be worried that the President would overrule the decision of the relevant committee, and end up resigning rather than going through the process. The fact that you continually alter McGinn's version of events to make his story more plausible suggests that you agree with me that it's not likely that everything McGinn has said would be true at the same time.

Puzzled said...

Truly Popkin, I do not think you are conversing in good faith. You have clearly inferred from what CM has said to the conclusion that we ought not believe him, and you give as your reason for this inference that it is unlikely everything he has said is true. But that is a bad inference, precisely because it is invalid. And it is invalid precisely because everything he has said is jointly consistent. And so we have not been given reason to disbelieve what he said. Now, if all you were interested in was the weaker claim that "we have reason to distrust CM's version of things as incomplete" you'd be fine and we would be in agreement. But you have explicitly said you think we have reason to suppose we should *disbelieve* what he has said. And that doesn't follow.

Mr. Zero: your comment is thoughtful and to the point, and again I don't think I'm much in disagreement, other than to say that when a woman's accusation of unwanted attention makes its way to an administrative inquest, there are institutions in place that afford the accuser all sorts of privileges. As to what, specifically, I'd have done differently--that all depends on the details, so I can't really say. Perhaps, in the end, this was just what should have happened, comparisons to Sandusky and all. But I do think we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that when these situations arise they are often far less obviously decided than some people presume.

Anonymous said...

"If McGinn's version is true, then what happened was his own misconduct compromised his ability to effectively supervise his RA. If it's not true, or if the truth is something more complicated, then there was no way to resolve the dispute mano a mano. She accuses him of misconduct, he accuses her of fraud."

Does anybody else think it was the other way around? I think that he got (1) really caught up emotionally/intellectually/fantastically with the student; (2) he convinced himself, and even her, that they had a fruitful, taboo-busting, professional relationship + close friendship; (3) he (most likely) sent her some emails, or something happened, that made her rethink the relationship; (4) she cut off contact; (5) he went a little stalker on her, mixing up the personal and the professional, acting more like a dumped boyfriend than a supervisor; (6) she gets further and further incommunicado; (7) other people get involved when he won't back off (and who could have possibly had an axe to grind with him as a colleague, and saw their chance); (7) he plays his trump card to get the student to respond to him, namely "by the way, what about the money you were paid to do X, Y and Z and you haven't done X, Y, and Z". (8) Say that was in an email. Putting something like that against some other XXX emails will sound like textbook quid pro quo harassment; (9) that's what the university threatened to can him on; (10) his lawyer wisely told him to the throw in the towel. I think this rendering is true to both tellings of what has been made public (CHE and CMG) which clearly both left something out. On her side, it was the closer (and perhaps riskier for both of them) nature of the relationship before it jumped the shark; on his, it was the part as to how it jumped the shark. Not that this is a defense of CMG. Students aren't lovers, and even if they are, you can't mix up actions appropriate to one with actions appropriate to another.

BunnyHugger said...

Mr. Zero writes: "So far as I can tell, the UM faculty handbook requires disclosure of 'amorous' relationships between e.g. students and faculty, and doesn't require disclosure of other kinds of relationship. If the relationship was non-sexual but 'amorous,' and he did not disclose it, that would actually be kind of a big deal."

I think you have it. The most sensible reading of his "failure to disclose" remark is that the relationship had amorous overtones but had not become physical. If this reading is correct, that would make his failure to disclose it a bigger deal than he wants to admit, yet he tries to hang his defense on the thin thread of a technicality: "but we hadn't had sex yet!"

If that is not what he meant, I am curious what he did mean, since I can't make any sense of the claim that he is being charged with failure to disclose a (mere) friendship.

Anonymous said...

We have seen some textbook examples of Gricean conversational implicature, in which the implicature is cancelled. Now let us consider another illustrative sentence, for the sake of argument, and attempt to cancel the implicature.

The sentence "I had a handjob and I thought of you" strongly suggests that I had a manicure before I thought of you, but the sentence would still be strictly true if I had a manicure after I thought of you. Further, if we add the qualification "— not necessarily in that order" to the original sentence, then the implicature is cancelled even though the meaning of the original sentence is not altered.

Now maybe it doesn't help if I thought of you and then had a handjob--I mean, manicure. That's all I could have meant. In any case, the implicature is cancelled, so there. I believe this should address any concerns.