It paints a horrible picture of McGinn using mostly his own words. It has him saying stuff like, “a superior person is not necessarily arrogant, but just superior”; and how he is “the most enlightened person in the world”; and how “his situation will fan anti-American sentiment” (in the words of the author, but attributed to McGinn). He complains, again, of everyone else’s lack of senses of humor and irony.
(Which is really old hat, right? “It's not that I'm a jerk; it's that your sense of humor sucks.” Y’all jerks need to work on your excuses.)
But as far as I can see, it doesn’t say anything new or groundbreaking, other than a few stray details, with one fairly notable exception. It does contain what would seem to be the verbatim text of the handjob pun: he says that he “had a handjob imagining you giving me a handjob.” First off, that’s awfully yucky. Secondly, even if his claim that it was a joke in which ‘handjob’ doesn’t mean “handjob” is credible, it seems to me that it’s still pretty clearly inappropriate. Thirdly, although he makes another attempt to connect the stuff with the handjobs to his research, it still seems to me like that entire avenue is complete bullshit. Fourthly, even if you interpret it as McGinn says he intended, it’s still really weird. He, McGinn, had a manicure while imagining her, his research assistant, giving him a manicure. What? A) who thinks about their research assistant while getting a manicure? B) who thinks about getting a manicure from their research assistant under any circumstances? C) what is he talking about? I mean, he’s free to insist that he had created a context in which ‘handjob’ is to be read as “manicure,” and where anyone who doesn’t see that is has an irony-related disability. But the fact is that if you read it that way, the message doesn’t make any goddam sense. And this is why nobody who has ever read it has read it that way.
It has him describe his relationship with the RA as an “intellectual romance.” Whatever that means. Seriously: what does that mean? Why would anyone ever say something like that? If I were in his position, I think I’d be very careful to avoid using the term ‘romance’ in any capacity whatsoever.
He seems to suggest that the “genius project” literally had that name while it was going on, in spite of what he says in one of his blog posts:
Another time, the professor says, the student expressed reservations about her job prospects in philosophy. He devised a solution, an undertaking he called the “genius project.” He describes it as an experimental learning endeavor in which he hoped to help the student improve her philosophical abilities by fostering creativity and encouraging taboo busting.I totally understand being worried about your job prospects. I could not be more sympathetic. I worried about that when I was in grad school, and my worries have not been assuaged since then. And I completely understand approaching your faculty honcho person with these concerns for advice and counsel and stuff. Makes perfect sense. And I totally get why the faculty member might start a formal or semi-formal project designed to put the student in the best position possible to go on the job market. I understand. With perhaps less explicitness, something exactly like that happened with me and with basically everybody I knew in grad school. We were all worried; we all went to our advisors for advice; our advisors all tried to help us get prepared. Nobody ever gave it a name, as though they were the first person to ever think of helping their students get ready for the job market, or they were really special for actually going through with it, but we were all engaged in some kind of Genius Project. If you twisted my arm, I would have just called it “My Graduate Training.” The “Ph.D. Project.” Whatever.
What I don't get is why “taboo busting” always so high on the list of Genius Project techniques. My “Ph.D. Project” consisted, in part, of various discussions with my advisor: what I should read; what I had read; how to approach the material; where my ideas fit into the larger literature/conceptual space; etc. Another substantial chunk of the project consisted of submitting written work; receiving withering criticism in return; revising the work in response; receiving more withering criticisms; and so on. We spent a lot of time working on my teaching, too.
Now, I understand that the Genius Project involved spending part of each day thinking about your own ideas without relying on outside texts, and that it also involved asking, “is that really true?” a lot, and that sounds good to me. And I don’t have any problem with the tennis or the paddle boarding. Seems basically normal. But I don’t get why busting taboos was such an important part of the project. Is there some reason to suspect that unbusted taboos cause problems for candidates on the job market? And what was the pedagogical purpose of agreeing that manicures will henceforth be called “handjobs”? That seems to come out of left field, as far as mentorship goes.
(Just kidding, kind of. I realize that the reason that the “taboo busting” aspect of the Genius Project has been getting so much press is that the taboo-busting stuff is what got him in trouble, and that the press its been getting is not necessarily proportional to its prominence in the Project. But seriously. It got him in a shit ton of trouble, and it served no clear pedagogical purpose. It was a bad idea, and he should have known better.)
There's also this passage,
When he saw the student, they would perform a “ceremony,” he says, during which they went through a series of “hand grips” simulating closeness and social interaction.Which sort of makes it seem like they had a secret handshake. What the hell? Is he a Mason? And what would it mean for a “hand grip” to “simulate social interaction”? Is that something people do?
Another passage reads,
“The relationship was difficult,” he says, speaking in his living room. “It wasn’t natural. It was constrained by the fact that I was a professor and she was a student. … We couldn’t just go in the way people normally would.”Which really makes you wonder. Hadn’t he been teaching for a long time? The ins and outs of the teacher/student relationship shouldn’t have been that bizarre for a senior professor like him. You’d think that it would be sort of normal. He’d been around the block a few times by then.
But it seems to me that the most substantial new piece of information is that according to the RA’s boyfriend,
McGinn once wrote to the student that they should “have sex three times in my office over the summer when no one else is around,” Mr. Yelle [her boyfriend, that is] says. He also says the professor once suggested that the student should wear shorts more often because he thought her legs were attractive.McGinn denies suggesting sex, and says that he merely told her that her legs were muscular. He also declined to share the emails.
Now, there are a lot of potential reasons why he might not want to share those emails, and the fact that he doesn’t share them doesn’t mean he said what Yelle says he said. And from our standpoint, there's a very real sense in which this is just a he-said/she-said thing. And if you just look at how he describes his style of interacting with people in general and her in particular, it’s fairly clear that the best-case scenario for these emails is that there's a lot of very borderline, easy-to-misunderstand material there, interspersed with a few things that are genuinely inappropriate (such as the oft-mentioned handjob pun). So, best-case scenario, releasing the emails won’t help him very much, and it makes sense for him not to release them.
On the other hand, on the best-case scenario, McGinn seems like the kind of person who wouldn’t realize how harmful releasing the emails would be. Case in point: everything he’s said up until now.