Thursday, October 22, 2015

Oh God, Not McGinn Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Mr. Zero

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Is this a bad year?

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

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

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

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

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

But that's probably just naive optimism.

EDIT, 10/18:

--Jaded, PhD

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The latest development on McGinn

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

--Jaded, PhD

Monday, October 12, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Philosophers' Cocoon Mentoring Project

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

You can find details here.

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

--Mr. Zero