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07 June 2013

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Guest
1.

I see what you did there. Also, this guy will just not stop making himself look like an insufferable knob.

Justin Marquis
2.

I think that we should stop giving this guy attention now that he is telling us personal information about the grad student. I think he is doing (more) harm here.

J
3.

5. In a subsequent comment, McGinn implies that the student only complained because of a subsequent academic failing, and in doing so makes this failing public knowledge to anyone who happens to know the student's identity.

Julie Klein
4.

McGinn's comments make me think that he is fortunate that Donna Shalala's office is silent.

Erin Tarver
5.

I think that what you say here is correct, though I'd like to add that I think the point you make in 2 adds an important layer to 3. That is, the notion that the student is being made into a genius by the relationship (and not, say, that both parties are understood to be enriched or philosophically developed by it) makes the power imbalance between the two parties quite salient, and thus makes pretty clear that the blurring of lines between personal and professional will almost certainly not result in anything that could be plausibly described as the mutual respect of friendship. Rather, what is much more likely (and what I have seen many, many times in Philosophy) is a relationship that is outwardly casual, and that may resemble a friendship, but that always carries with it the unspoken understanding that the student is beholden to the teacher in some way. Thus, grad students wind up with "friends" whose invitations to social events they know they decline at their peril, whose requests for help around the house are not so much requests as requirements, and (in this case) whose sexual banter they are expected to tolerate, if not enjoy.

In other words, I don't think that the problem is simply being overly personal and unprofessional, but doing so in a relationship in which there is an unequal distribution of power (even if some philosophers like to pretend it isn't there).

albertr
6.

It's just like Pygmalion, you see, but with handjobs.

Lisa Shapiro
7.

I agree with Justin Marquis. However, I do want to note that Mr. McGinn is trying to shift the discussion so that the whole issue is about two emails. The response of the university, informal reports as relayed by Brian Leiter, and the fact that the issue is about harrassment, all strongly suggest that there was a pattern of behavior. Indeed, Mr. McGinn's own narrative (Eric's points (3) and (4)) point towards patterns of behavior. Mr. McGinn seems to fail to recognize that one can 'bust taboos' within a discipline, and thereby forward philosophical work, without failing to act in a professional manner.

I will also note that the U Miami Philosophy website seems to be down, no doubt a result of the lifting of the veil of anonymity in Mr. McGinn's post.

Jon Cogburn
8.

The phrase "following the several months in which I was attempting to make her into a genius" is just damned creepy in all sorts of awful ways.

Anonymous Coward
9.

I've just sent Donna Shalala's office a note. I think McGinn's latest post included plenty of information to pretty clearly identify his victim.

Mark van Roojen
10.

His use of initials, if they are the actual initials is really, really slimey.

AGS
11.

Two things of note in this latest missive from Dr. McGinn:

1.) The behavior, and indeed the very project, he describes, both manifest classic grooming behavior by a practiced sexual predator.

2.) The inclusion of identifying information on the accuser is plainly retaliatory and should fall squarely in violation of most universities' AA/EEO policies concerning retaliation against reporters of harassment and discrimination.

LAD
12.

"It should also be noted that it was explicitly agreed between us that if anything in our relationship was felt to be unacceptable it could be stopped simply by saying so."

If this is true, and if the student did not inform Dr. McGinn about her emergent discomfort but instead went straight to the administration, then she would have wronged him.

Of course it may well be the case that one or both of the two facts are false.

That said, the Genius Project (TM), even granting Dr. McGinn his facts, seems awfully weird to me.

Jon Cogburn
13.

"Awfully weird" is an understatement. AGS has it.

I realize that McGinn's victim is an adult, which is a huge difference. This being said, after the terrifying expose with Penn State and Sandusky just about every parent I know read everything we could on how such a thing could be possible, and it was "Genius Projects" in every single case, and Sandusky's projected cluelessness is weirdly similar as well. This is just beyond creepy.

I know that there's some far away possible world where something else was going on besides what his behavior indicates. This isn't relevant though. Even in that world this man should have been kept away from students long ago. God help us if this is unclear to anyone in a position of authority in our discipline who has read his last two missives.

anonymous
14.

Am I the only one who thinks that a comparison of McGinn to Sandusky is a bit unnerving? It seems to me there are lots of important facts about between these two cases that put them in quite different moral categories. I also find it hard to see how it is supposed to be obvious that McGinn "should have been kept away from students long ago."

Jon Cogburn
15.

No. The comparison isn't unnerving (and don't pretend that I didn't clearly mark that the two cases are obviously dis-analogous).

What's unnerving is that a full faculty member would have the kind of relationship he describes with the student and then follow through by actually punishing her in this way when she doesn't go along with it. That's incredibly unnerving.

What's unnerving is the way he describes the student as if she has no agency other than to say yes or no to his messed up intrusions that were going to magically transform her into a new kind of person. That's pretty damned unnerving.

What's unnerving is how he presents the relationship having worked as him "making her a genius" which only fell apart because the student didn't keep doing what he said.

Finally, AGS was clearly too charitable in assuming we know how the classic grooming behavior works. A key part of the grooming behavior of serial predators is the way they emotionally blackmail their victims with the threat of exactly the kind of punishment he's committed in a public forum.

I feel like Wittgenstein when Norman Malcolm said the British would never try to assassinate Hitler because that wasn't "the English way." Jeez. Any kind of beating around the bush at this point is just using your philosophical education to make yourself stupider.

anonymous
16.

I wasn't pretending; I know you mentioned one difference. That's why I said there are lots of facts about this case that seem, to me, to place it in a different moral category from Sandusky. First, we're talking two emails, three months apart, and the last one was five months ago. No sexual encounters in a shower, so far as I know. It doesn't even look like anything so disgusting as "I was thinking about you when I masturbate" was ever said. And if what McGinn said was correct, there was an agreement between them that if anything unacceptable came up, they'd mention it to the other and that would be the end of it. That seems to put some prima facie default responsibility on the woman's shoulders to say something to McGinn if she was bothered.

We can agree about McGinn's tone, but I just don't see that this talk about "sexual predator" is apt. We're dealing with two adults who had a close working relationship, close enough that she'd spend time at his house. To bundle this up with talk of "grooming" behavior by "sexual predators," and to think that modulo the difference in age this is relevantly similar to Sandusky, just doesn't seem to hold up. I'm open to being convinced otherwise, but as of now I just don't see that the moral outrage is well-founded.

r
17.

One can explicitly invite criticism (if you don't like my X, just tell me!) while nonetheless being in a position where criticism is not a genuine option (because one is a boss, a relative, a partner, whatever). Sure my crazy racist cousin might preface his jokes with "tell me if this goes to far...," but if I actually told him it went too far I'd be dealing with the fallout every thanksgiving and christmas for the rest of my life. This sort of pseudo-invitation to criticism is, I dare say, more common that the genuine kind. People are not very good at refraining from retaliation against people who call them out on their shit.

I concur with @4: McGinn's posts at this point seem to be substantially exploiting the silence of the university and the accuser. It is also difficult to get his story to square. If all he were even under investigation for was failing to report a nonsexual relationship--and if the reason that charges were raised in the first place was because a failed student was retaliating against him with dated complaints--then why would he ever step down? In that case, a university hearing would have vindicated his reputation, not destroyed it. So the natural suspicion is that things are not quite as he reports.

Xlp Thlplylp
18.

What kind of professional relationship between faculty and a graduate student would require an explicit "...agreement between them that if anything unacceptable came up, they'd mention it to the other."? It is clearly grooming behavior. The use of indirect speech to plausibly deny sexual interest is prohibited in faculty-student relations.

Skef
19.

Sounds like McGinn was selflessly offering his disciple some crazy wisdom, which does sometimes have an outward appearance confusing to the unenlightened.

Jon Cogburn
20.

anonymous,

Do you have kids? I think that one's tolerance for certain kinds of dangerous nonsense declines precipitously when one becomes so responsible for others' well-being.

Ideally, that wouldn't be relevant, but we're not ideal.

Josh
21.

I tend to agree with 16. This whole thing seems to be becoming a bit of a witch-hunt.

First, the a-symmetrical friendships are probably better cast as mentorship or quasi-mentorship relationships. They're common in most professions. While I appreciate that the parties and social occasions that involve such significant power imbalances are often quite difficult, I don't see how you could have any type of social function in a department (or any other work place) without recognizing the power dynamic exists.

Second, why I suspect some people are suggesting the harassment was relatively benign, is that it appears to be. While I don't envy the student and would never suggest she brought this on herself, she is not prey. She isn't a naive undergraduate student; but a graduate student, likely at least in her late 20s, who has likely experienced an unwanted advance before. Realistically, the attention McGinn lavished was likely, at least to some degree, appreciated. Conversely, McGinn appears so deluded, he seems to be absolutely unaware that his e-mail evidence sexual feelings. Frankly, it is unrealistic to expect McGinn not to ever have sexual feelings; what is relevant is that he is aware of how to deal with those feelings. He seems so oblivious to the issue, he seems to be a poster boy for rehabilitation.

Finally, the student clearly didn't come forward for a long time. I don't think, as I suspect was implied by McGinn, that she was okay with the e-mails. The time delay does suggest she was uncomfortable speaking to someone that could have perhaps nipped the behavior in the bud. Given how large this has becomes, I doubt any reasonable person would come forward in a more overt situation. Frankly, her concern with coming forward when the behavior was mere annoyance was that she didn't want to make a big deal of it. She likely didn't want her career or name tainted by the issue. If every sexual harasser is Sandusky, can we really expect people to come forward?

Basically, there are two types of sexual harassment. The first involves unwanted advances that don't stop despite normal behavior that should put an end to the advance. The second involves where a power differential makes it difficult for the harassed to respond appropriately to the harassing behavior. Some sort of institution is required to deal with both types of behaviors, as some predators will exist and some oblivious individuals will exist. McGinn seems to be totally oblivious, as there is currently no evidence of past behavior, foresight, planning or anything else of that manner. Basically, some mechanism should have existed to intervene without harming the student and stop this from blowing up to the point McGinn and the student were so publicly affected.

David Merli
22.

How does all of this cohere? McGinn now says the only rule violation he would have been charged with is failing to report a nonsexual relationship; he was advised by a lawyer; he resigned rather than face university investigation; he would have preferred to stay employed at UM. This doesn't make sense. One leading candidate for the best explanation involves McGinn misrepresenting things, deliberately or not.

Agreed about predatory behavior. The "genius project"?

anonymous
23.

A few things real quick--I don't think it's dispositive, but something to consider.

First, while I grant that there can be institutional pressure against confronting someone in power when offended by them, I do not think it right to suppose that, as a result, the weaker party's commitments to the one in power are no longer binding. Supposing that there was some such agreement as McGinn says there was, then as an adult she has some obligation to live by the commitments she's entered into. To suppose otherwise is, I worry, to minimize her agency. It may be that you are right and, indeed, she was under some kind of onerous pressure not to confront him directly. But from the facts as they stand, I do not think we can simply take this for granted.

Second, I don't think McGinn's desire to speak publicly can be simply attributed to a smearing of the accuser. He has been plowed through the mud over the last couple of days, and some people have said some very malicious things about him on the basis of very little information. If the facts of his testimonial stand, and there was no sexual advance that was rebuffed, then the situation strikes this observer as insufficiently to warrant accusations of 'sexual predator.'

Finally, in response to Cogburn's question: no, I don't have kids. And perhaps you're right that if I did I'd have a different view. But the important thing is, as you note, the graduate student is not a child. And as things stand, I just don't think there's sufficient evidence to warrant some of the accusations and characterizations that are being proffered (e.g., comparisons to Sandusky).

jbeer
24.

The first rule of Genius Project is that you don't call it Genius Project.

Canadian Grad Student
25.

"If the facts of his testimonial stand..."

And therein lies the rub. Why place any credence on his testimonial over the graduate student's complaint? McGinn's account is a bizarre, slightly unhinged narrative ostensibly crafted to make him the victim of quasi-conspiratorial machinations, but which reveals instead a staggering narcissism and inability to conceptualize how others might perceive him in this situation (the cult of the hand? the genius project? 'breaking taboos' with hand job jokes?).

If one finds what he has written compelling and plausible rather than strange, abnormal, and flatly pathological I begin to worry: who reads this and thinks, "yes, of course: a genius project--now finally this whole thing makes sense!" Why not a more mundane story where a serial sexual harasser cows graduate students with his stature until one brave soul reports him? What is more plausible, that an entitled, narcissistic jerk fabulates a Pygmalion back-story, or that a famous tenured scholar with legal representation is victimized by the local feminazis? Come on. Talk about a litmus test for one's grip on reality.

scott
26.

"Any kind of beating around the bush at this point is just using your philosophical education to make yourself stupider."

Thank you! This is just a wonderful expression ('using your philosophical education to make yourself stupider'). I'm borrowing it; I hope you don't mind.

Justin Marquis
27.

What Canadian Grad Student said.

I must admit that I'm baffled by McGinn's apparent unawareness about how odd, unhinged, and tone deaf he comes across when he attempts to defend himself.

As a recent grad student, I am so grateful I had sane, caring, and professional (yet personable) mentors. I really feel for this particular grad student. Whatever else McGinn did, it seems like drawing attention to her in a shaming and victim blaming way is his worst offense.

Josh
28.

Canadian Grad Student,

The answer is because that's all you have. Concluding McGinn is "unaware... odd, unhinged and tone deaf" and apparently can't identify harassment when he sees it is damning in an of itself. His victim isn't coming forward (likely because she doesn't want to be associated with the whole mess), and the university (and police) didn't think they could prove misconduct.

Also, while there are certainly implications of victim blaming, what he's said falls far short of the worst conduct. He hasn't suggested she initiated the relationship to fool him, that she's a tease, that she's a fool. He has indicated he felt the e-mails were received as jokes, that the complaint came months after the e-mail and that he felt the academic failing (presumably the disagreement over work) was the cause. Basically, he's maintained that it wasn't harassment and presented an alternative explanation. That's a long way from the worst of victim blaming, but does likely flow from his apparent inability to understand the e-mails were inappropriate.

I'd suggest his biggest issue appears to be his ego, which apparently has rendered him with a total lack of self-awareness. By resigning and then responding in such a bizarre manner, he's attracted undue attention to himself and the instance. I can only imagine the nightmare this has become for the student.

Jon Cogburn
29.

anon 23,

Sorry, one more thing.

I'm not concerned about minimizing what Sandusky did or (on the other hand) being too rough on McGinn by equating hostile environement harassment with torturing children. This is because (1) I think the similarities in M.O. with respect to predators and the "genius project" are highly, highly relevant in correctly assessing this, and (2) I don't see a high potential for people concluding an equivalence from similarities in M.O.

But this being said, I should say that I do think your and Josh's point about it being wrong for all sorts of reasons for us discussing this to treat the graduate students in question as if they have no agency or are children, and I think that you are absolutely right that me noting the similarities between predators like Sandusky's standard MO and "the genius project" (including the emotional blackmail that I take his posts to be strong evidence of) is dangerous in this regard. Thanks for articulating this.

Please, feel free to have the last word (at least with respect to our conversation) on this part of the issue if one is needed.

Jon Cogburn
30.

Just realized that the first sentence of the second paragraph is above ambiguous. I meant to say that I am not worried that noting strong similarities in modus operandi will lead people to draw a false equivalence between hostile environment sexual harassment and child torture.

Jon Cogburn
31.

O.K. Zombie said it best at the the philosophy smoker thread (http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=6986017020085172340&postID=8139274610178403335)

The reason Sandusky came to mind is that:
-------------
He (McGinn) comes off sounding like a pedophile who really, truly, deep in his heart believes that what he is doing is consensual and educational for his victim.
--------------
He does and it's sickening.

Jon Cogburn
32.

And Anon 7:50 from the Philosophy Smoker:
--------------
Today's post is particularly vile. What he describes sounds a lot like grooming - he picked her out of a crowd of the merely 'good' and told her he could make her fortune: all she had to do to become truly special was give herself over to his every word of counsel. She could come over to his house and see his phsyique in action: no-one else was special enough for that. But most of all, always, she could become the genius she wanted to be, as long as she just accepted him as her fellow/superior Genius (who just happened to wield huge institutional power over her). The 'oh we were just equals having a laugh' tone throughout is pure slime.

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

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

Dave2
33.

The "Genius Project" reminds me of Thomas Day, the self-styled philosopher of the 1760s who used his wealth and social status to adopt two prepubescent girls, so that he could train them à la Rousseau's Emile into potential wives, choose one and discard the other. It's a super-creepy story, and I've been reading this excellent book about it, How to Create the Perfect Wife.

Kathryn Pogin
34.

"...and the university (and police) didn't think they could prove misconduct."

And why would one think this is true?

Kathryn Pogin
35.

"Frankly, her concern with coming forward when the behavior was mere annoyance was that she didn't want to make a big deal of it."

And why think this, too?

Xlp Thlplylp
36.

It is inconceivable that McGinn is acting on the advice of his legal counsel. Now there is the innuendo that the student retaliated against him for failing to conduct research for which she was paid $4000.
http://mcginn.philospot.com/index.php?story=story130607-141401 McGinn is clearly no stranger to innuendo.

marcus
37.

Any comparison to Sandusky is crazy. Sandusky was forcibly sodomizing little kids! This guy is just being creepy and a jerk. You can disapprove of a behavior without losing all distinctions between types and degrees of inappropriate behavior.

J
38.

Those who seriously think there is any reason to believe that the graduate student may be morally responsible for harming McGinn need to have their heads examined.

First, no matter what may have been laid out explicitly as part of some fucked-up agreement, it's entirely understandable that a young female graduate student would hesitate to confront COLIN BYGOD MCGINN directly over perceived improprieties in his communications with her, preferring instead to address the matter immediately through administrative channels. This is especially understandable in light of McGinn's recent blog posts, which make it clear that he is a vindictive jerk with absolutely no sense that there was anything wrong with his words, and no compunction about attacking the character and intelligence of someone who dared to accuse him of wrongdoing.

Second, even if we stipulate that the student SHOULD have pursued the matter directly with McGinn before going to the administration, her decision to take the latter course does not therefore make her responsible for any sanctions McGinn may have faced (and as he has taken pains to note, there WERE no such sanctions!). The most the student could do was to CHARGE McGinn of sexual harassment and present evidence in support of this charge; the decision to sanction him would then be made by an administrative body, through proceedings that would provide McGinn ample opportunity to defend himself. That McGinn chose not to go through such proceedings, but instead to resign his position and use his personal blog to attack his accuser in telling his version of the story, is ample evidence that the charges against him are likely to have stuck, because he apparently DID behave in a way that a reasonable person would judge to have created a hostile workplace environment. And clearly it's MCGINN'S fault that he acted in this way, not the student's: all she did by charging him was put him in a position to have his behavior sanctioned in a manner stipulated by the terms of his contract.

The only way these points could be invalidated would be if the student either (i) knew or should have known that the administration would treat McGinn unfairly, or (ii) brought up the charge not because she felt she had been harassed, but just in an attempt to destroy McGinn. Clearly (i) is ridiculous. McGinn's recent posts have been clear attempts to imply something like (ii), but whose word are we going to take here? In any case, the student's claim to have been made uncomfortable by McGinn's language deserves AT LEAST as much credence as his claim that he didn't mean to be doing anything wrong in joking with a female RA about hand jobs.

Jon Cogburn
39.

And one can note important commonalities without "losing all distinctions between types and degrees of inappropriate behavior."

As Joe Bob Briggs says, "I shouldn't have to explain this."

Another Anon Grad Student
40.

But I take it marcus is responding to the Smoker comment you linked to by zombie, which was that McGinn is "the Jerry Sandusky of Miami." This is more than noting commonalities, isn't it?

Xlp Thlplylp
41.

Is that really worth a debater's point? The University of Miami is subject to FOIL disclosure (Freedom of Information Law). Maybe this sophisticated mental giant should have thought this through. The man does not seem to be acting on the advice of legal counsel, and if he is staying until the end of the semester, he is still subject to disciplinary action, including termination.

Marcus Arvan
42.

I just want to point out that the "Marcus" above is not me.

ODAL
43.

Why would anyone be afraid of "COLIN BYGOD MCGINN"? He's just some dude. If you can't stand up to an older fellow, probably a little weird, whose "power" consists of giving lectures and grading tests and offering his thoughts on funky philosophical thought experiments and writing recommendation letters and whatnot then you're going to have a hell of a hard time in life. Maybe I'm just less awed by obscure academic philosophers than you are. It seems pretty sexist, though, to imply that this graduate student would have wilted in standing up to the great COLIN BYGOD MCGINN! Give her some credit.

Assume that McGinn's account is true (I think it likely is not). Then the student and McGinn explicitly agreed, within the context of their close relationship, to let the other know if one was feeling uncomfortable. And then McGinn sent an e-mail like the one he described; an oblique reference to handjobs or whatever. And then she felt uncomfortable. Now, if that WERE the case (note the subjunctive!), then yeah: Her going straight to the administration, breaking her word, and basically getting all up in arms about a slightly dirty e-mail would have been an act of moral injustice on her part. People have to take personal responsibility: You, me, McGinn, the grad student. Were that the case (subjunctive!) it would, simply, have been a totally shitty thing for her to do.

Now, do I think that's what happened? My best judgment is "no", but I basically have no idea. Just like all of you.

Jon Cogburn
44.

In the context, no.

Also, (1) in this thread, the only reference to Sandusky is comment 13 above, (2) marcus explicitly said that "any comparison to Sandusky" which would include the comparison I made in 13.

NNN
45.

The comments in this thread (and by Leiter, and comments on McGinn's blog) make me glad I left academic philosophy. This is a clear cut situation. McGinn has revealed himself to be a deranged, pathological sexual groomer and harasser. No sane person would even dream of suggesting that the victim is at fault, after reading McGinn's surreal blog posts.

And yet - what do we find? Pointless debates about whether McGinn can be compared to Sandusky. Inane hypothetical speculation about the motive of the complainant. Useless argument about whether poor old McGinn was treated too harshly, or with "due process". So much for common sense. All those years of arcane, fatuous debates about the trolley problem have blinded many philosophers to obvious ethical truths. If this is a good reflction of the sexual politics of your discipline, then your discipline is fucked.

scott
46.

ODAL seems to be the same individual who derailed the discussion at the Philosophy Smoker. He seems not to understand that the anxiety and fear a graduate student might feel towards a senior and prominent faculty adviser is quite reasonable -- that, indeed, it would be slightly bizarre not to experience such anxiety. He seems not to understand that it is not in any way "sexist" to suggest that the graduate student was under no moral obligation to take her concerns to McGinn before talking to the administration. I hope this discussion won't be similarly derailed.

Anon, good nurse
47.

ODAL said..."Why would anyone be afraid of "COLIN BYGOD MCGINN"?

Irony much? Sounds like exactly the sort of tone-deaf lack of empathy and understanding that people are complaining about here. It can be easy for people in positions of authority to exploit people with less authority, and to make them look bad at the same time. Which is why people in authority are held to really high standards and are expected to show self-awareness and rectitude.

C'mon, yo, it's not rocket science here.

John Protevi
48.

Maybe he is the same as at PS, but he's banned from here for a day for sock-puppetry, having posted to the same thread as LAD and as ODAL. He can contact me by email if he doesn't want the ban to be permanent.

Josh
49.

Kathryn Pogin and Jon Cogburn,

(1) I suppose there is no evidence that she didn't want to make a big deal of the matter (the only evidence being McGinn seeming to think it was well received and the fact no complaint was made), but I know I wouldn't. While I certainly wouldn't want to be known to people as the person that was harassed by Colin McGinn. That's not to say that is acceptable, it isn't, but it also isn't to say that tar and feathering McGinn is going to encourage people to come forward and stop these situations before they lose all proportion. I'd really rather see oblivious people like McGinn become less oblivious than ran out of their profession of several decades.

(2) The police, and I'm assuming a university, do proceed if there are sufficient grounds to prove misconduct. According to McGinn, the University only raised the issue of him not disclosing the relationship. While that might mean they asked him to resign, I don't think any such evidence has come out. Again, while McGinn was accused, and has admitted, to sending what most people would consider an inappropriate e-mail, he hasn't been accused of being a liar. While it is possible McGinn was forced to resign, it is equally possible he didn't want to pay what was likely hundreds of thousands of dollars to a lawyer and go through a disciplinary process.

(3) To my knowledge there are no further allegations of misconduct with respect to McGinn or any allegation he did anything other than two inappropriate e-mails were sent to a single student. While pedophiles often try and hide their conduct behind charitable activities, etc. there is no suggestion that McGinn is a pedophile or even a serial sexual harasser. There is however ample evidence that McGinn has an extremely high opinion of himself, is attracted to unconventional theories and ideas, and is totally oblivious to what sexual harassment is.

I'd also note, again, there is a big difference between children and adults. Children can't consent and are vulnerable in a way most adults (even graduate students) are not; that means they can be preyed on. Conversely, a women who has been through an undergraduate degree has likely been "preyed" on for at least 4 years (likely more including high school) by men. While that doesn't excuse the power imbalance or McGinn, comparing his activities to a m.o. is premature at best.

Again, it is likely that adults will continue to have sexual ideas about other adult (even if the adult is the other adult's mentor). I tend to agree McGinn is clueless as to why what he did was wrong or even that it was non-consensual. But that's also the reason it is difficult to punish him. If he genuinely clueless, he needs to be educated. What is wrong is less that McGinn was sexually attracted to a philosophy student, but that he didn't know how to deal with it. While there might be a serial pattern of abuse, there is no public evidence of it yet. So the issue is what does drumming a clueless, albeit, famous professor out of the profession for two e-mails get you? Would it make someone think twice about it any more than the PR already did? I doubt it.

Jon Cogburn
50.

He's not the only clueless one.

Laurence B. McCullough
51.

McGinn's latest installment is self-destructive, as many have pointed out here. As I read through it, I came to a darker, altogether repellant hypothesis: He is trying to provoke the graduate student to enter the public arena by publicly responding to him and thus place herself at risk of litigation by him.

Xlp Thlplylp
52.

University administrations are known for backing away from litigation, even when the law is clear. While the arbiters of Thought are denying the obvious and cautioning others to withhold claims so they can advance exculpatory counterclaims, one should not take the failure to press charges as evidence that there were no charges to be pressed. The University of Miami may find itself in serious legal difficulties if it has failed to act in accordance with the law. The administration may not have been in a legal position to make any offer whatsoever to McGinn.

Kathryn Pogin
53.

Ok, I don't have time right now to detail every where I think your reply is missing the mark, but let me just quickly point out that he wouldn't have needed a lawyer. A university would run an investigation, come to a verdict, determine sanctions if necessary, there would be an appeal process if any of the parties were so inclined, and then--only then--would any one need a lawyer, and even then, it would only likely be needed if McGinn were dismissed and he wanted to fight dismissal. On the other hand, where it looks like dismissal is eminent and there wouldn't be a strong case to be made against it, it's not uncommon for someone to resign and avoid the whole mess. And when someone so resigns, the investigation stops as dismissal becomes a moot point, and it's the strongest sanction a university can, itself, impose.

Kathryn Pogin
54.

*imminent (and N.B.: In case it was unclear, where a lawyer would come in would be after the appeal process, not during).

And forgive me if you're being serious, but actually, rereading your response, I genuinely can't tell if you're trolling.

Felonius Screwtape
55.

some side reading, for amusement's sake ... first, a hilariously negative review of his 2011 "The Meaning of Disgust" is at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~humean/strohmingermcginn.pdf. Second, an interview that reveals the depth and bredth of his narcissism is at http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/brief-encounter-with-the-mysterian/. The first speaks to his scholarship, and how it is received by his peers; the second to his character. Neither have direct bearing on the case at hand, but both are of incidental interest.

logkaiero
56.

McGinn's now provided a list of reasons why he resigned. (http://mcginn.philospot.com/index.php?story=story130607-175637)

I would say this one sticks out the most: "7. I didn’t know whether my old enthusiasm for teaching would survive my disenchantment with graduate students"...

But really the last one does: "10. I felt insufficiently intellectually stimulated in Miami anyway." ('It's okay, I never really liked that department, anyway.')

Also, just a thought: for someone who is "sick and tired of the whole thing and just wanted not to have think about it anymore or waste my time on it," he sure is blogging about it a lot.

Josh
57.

With respect to your first point: The issue is that a disciplinary proceeding is extremely invasive, and, as one can see, the allegation extremely damaging. His lawyer likely advised him that a lawyer was desirable at the disciplinary hearing, especially for a famous professor and given other potential legal ramifications. Legal advise would likely cost at least $10,000.00 for the initial disciplinary hearing alone (likely a lot more), and if an appeal or further legal action was required, likely a lot more. I suspect such a case could easily wrack up a few hundred thousand in legal fees.

(I also suspect he's been advised by counsel against saying: "yes, the e-mails were inappropriate," which is what we probably all want him to say.)

Generally, while I think sending the e-mail was a pretty scummy thing to do, but in a few short days McGinn has gone from a respected philosopher to a pariah. While I've never met McGinn and am not aware if the were rumors floating around before this incident, without more evidence it looks more like an error in judgment than the conduct of a serial sexual predator.

That doesn't mean the graduate student did anything wrong, she was brave and right to come forward. However, the accusations should fit the misdeed and saying publicly that McGinn is like Sandusky or that he is deranged, pathological sexual groomer and harasser is a bit much. He's a dirty old man that made a mistake. Granted, much of the hoopla comes from him now being seemingly hell bent on destroying what little reputation he has left.

Kathryn Pogin
58.

I find it dubious that if all he were guilty of was causing a graduate student "mere annoyance" that he would resign, without pursuing the investigation. I also find it dubious that a lawyers presence would be needed, were the situation aptly so described.

Canadian Grad Student
59.

Hi Josh,

Some of your statements seem like deliberate attempts to muddy the waters. You say that "university (and police) didn't think they could prove misconduct." This is misleading in two distinct ways.

First, law enforcement plays essentially no role in sexual harassment cases unless the behavior also crosses into criminality. The legal remedies available to individuals who are exposed to harassment or a hostile work environment do not involve police. You seem to insinuate the because law enforcement did not seek to prosecute McGinn, there must be little evidence of a pattern of behavior. This is false and misleading. In the US you may lodge a complaint through the appropriate channels internally (e.g., with your employer), you may pursue legal action at the federal level with the EEOC or at the state level via FEP statutes. You don't go to the cops and they don't get involved:

"Criminal Remedies: If the harassment crosses over into the criminal realm (e.g., sexual assault and rape), you should report the incident(s) to the police.

http://www.feminist.org/911/harasswhatdo.html

This is from a site that provides advice to victims of harassment.

The second way in which the statement I quoted from you is misleading is that you appear to suggest that the university was not able to prove misconduct. But not hearing or internal investigation occurred. According to the CHE, McGinn chose to resign rather than go through any formal investigation. We do not know what would have been the outcome of such an investigation. Given than sexual harassment case law places the burden of proof on the complainant to demonstrate that the harassment was consistent, severe, and affected their ability to work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostile_environment_sexual_harassment) if McGinn's story is to be believed, two so-called "isolated emails" would not have been sufficient to meet this burden.

The process might be personally painful, but his exoneration would be inevitable. He would have come out of the process gold with the student ruined. But he chose to resign. And we are supposed to believe that a graduate student deliberately sabotaged an innocent, famous, senior professor over $4,000 and some interpersonal sour grapes, as if there were no risks incurred doing so. Every complaint of sexual harassment results in a show trial and kangaroo court. This is nonsense, of course, but it is directly implied by McGinn's attempt to defend himself. At this point he should hush up before it becomes academic philosophy's own little version of the Amy's Baking Company social media meltdown.

I note, too, that it is characteristic of pathological personalities to derail lines of inquiry into patterns of behavior by making the debate about one or two specific examples which can be explained away, gaslight-style. I fully expect that McGinn's next move will be to cement his 'victim' status by pointing to the damage his reputation has suffered, quote-mining these blog threads for material and cloaking the discussion in terms of lofty moral principles violated in a debased witch-hunt.

Andrew
60.

I'm not sure if this point has been made, but the use of "NN" as initials is I think a hat-tip to Wittgenstein's frequent use of "NN" as initials for an interlocutor in his later writings.

Elizabeth Sperry
61.

Like most other people in the philosophical community, I've been reading all of the McGinn-related comments here and on other blogs. There are some posts that leave one with the marked impression that their writers have no clue about sexual harassment in general or the climate for women in philosophy in particular; but there are more posts written by people who absolutely do get it.

I have been trying to imagine what the reaction would have been to this sort of episode if it had happened (or vastly more likely, if we had publicly learned of it when it did happen) twenty years ago (ignoring the fact that the internet wouldn't have been so central to philosophers' interactions then), and it strikes me as very likely that there would have been far more people blaming the victim and exonerating McGinn then than there are now, while far fewer people then would have been able to respond as effectively to the victim-blaming and harasser-exonerating. There's a lot to be upset by in the entire matter, but there's also reason to believe that the profession has (slowly) been changing for the better.

Jon Cogburn
62.

Josh,

This is the last time I'm feeding the troll here.

(1) This whole thread is in reaction to his blog posts, and to pretend that we're inexplicably picking on him because of two e-mails is appallingly besides the point.

(2) Your speculations about the process and what a lawyer would advise him bear absolutely no resemblance to reality (and I have relevant administrative experience here). Of legal necessity, institutions do much to protect the accused in these kinds of situations. The bar would is very, very high for someone to get sacked. If he's even talking to his lawyer now after the blog posts the guy is screaming at him for being such an idiot.

(3) Unless someone has hacked his blog account, nobody is destroying his reputation (which was already that of being a nasty piece of work largely because of offensive things he's published) for him.

(4) Do you have students? If so, you should be furious after these blog posts. If not, try to use your moral imagination here. You do not treat your students this way, no matter what.

ChrisTS
63.

Indeed, in a prominent professor-grad student relationship, no threat need be even intimated.

ChrisTS
64.

I'm sorry, but what you have written is nonsense. IF you are in academia, especially philosophy, you know perfectly well that the star professor has incredible power over grad students in the program.

ChrisTS
65.

I'm afraid I have to vote for 'trolling.'

Michael Kremer
66.

Andrew @#57 and others:

First of all let me just say I think McGinn's behavior is reprehensible. And his supposed explanations just go from the bizarre to the more bizarre.

That said, I am really surprised that people don't seem to realize that "NN" means "no name" or "anonymous". (Wikipedia: "NN, for Latin Nomen nescio or, equivalently, No Name, a person whose name is unknown"). McGinn has given out plenty of hints as to the identity of his victim, but the initials NN were not such a hint. (No hat tip to Wittgenstein is needed here. This is just slightly old-fashioned English.)

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
67.

Felonius Screwtape, your link @54 to the interview that reveals the depth and breadth of McGinn's narcissism *does* have a direct bearing on the case. Narcissism is one of the classic "red flag" signs of a sexual predator.

Given that Josh, anonymous, and presumably others in our discipline are apparently clueless about the warning signs of sexual predators who prey on adults (and typically exploit power asymmetries in doing so), here's a partial list:

* Refusal to take responsibility for actions and tendency to blame others or external circumstances for failures
* A sense of entitlement
* Need for power and control
* Low self-esteem, sometimes concealed by arrogance or over-confidence
* Lack of empathy
* Difficulty with commitment and inability to form genuine intimate and loyal relationships with other adults
* Often married or in a relationship which makes the predatory behavior seem implausible
* Skilled at manipulating and explaining
* Often succeed in isolating the woman (or man) who is the object of interest
* Overly self-indulgent
* Sometimes genuinely believe that the victim is seducing them
* Tendency to sexualize and objectify women (or men)
* Users of various types of pornography
* Typically known as rationalizers, intellectualizers, justifiers
* Instinctively use vulnerabilities to "help" and thereby insinuate themselves into the victim's life
* Frequently exhibit narcissistic tendencies
* Skilled at testing the waters gradually, and at gaining access to their victims through deception and enticement which escalates over time
* Often use "trust" as the grounds for developing a relationship which they typically believe is genuine

This last point is particularly important in understanding why sexual harassment is so poisonous. (And sexual harassment, by the way, does NOT need to involve any physical contact -- either in the legal/Title IX sense of the word, or in the common sense use.)

Even if there is no physical contact -- or in cases in which the physical contact does not produce any lasting harm -- the violation of trust that accompanies most instances of sexual harassment has been shown to dramatically increase the level of trauma the victim suffers. Emotional and psychological injuries cause harm that can last much longer than physical wounds.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a graduate student who has been lucky enough to be admitted to a PhD program in philosophy, and that, after working hard in the first and second-year graduate seminars, you find yourself in good stead with one of the top researchers in your field. He suggests that you stop by his office hours; you have sustained conversations with him about topics in your area of interest; he invites you to dinners after colloquia; he tells you you've got real talent/potential/interesting ideas; you go to lunch and engage in animated and intellectually satisfying discussions about your prospectus; he laughs and puts his hand on your knee and repeats what he has already said about your potential; he invites you to his office to give you a manuscript and stands slightly too close behind you as you're looking at the books in his office; he gives you one of the books you were looking at, despite your embarrassed protests; he sits next to you at a public dinner and leans too close but you can't say anything because it's in public; he introduces you as a rising star to a visiting luminary; the relationship returns to normal for a while and you convince yourself that you were imagining the earlier inappropriate maneuvers; he sends you a mildly inappropriate email but you laugh it off.

Eventually, something happens that is unambiguous. And you feel shattered, foolish, gullible, an idiot. You wonder whether this is a pattern, whether you should say something to protect other women. You quietly ask discreet questions about his past, but don't get any clear answers. You suddenly realize that everything he said might have been motivated by lust or romantic attraction or whatever the hell the feeling is (if there is any) -- and that all of his remarks about your talent and the worthiness of your thesis and ideas, may have been grounded in something other than truth. You begin to wonder how transparent this is, and whether your gullibility has been on display for his colleagues to laugh at. You feel angry, cheated, cheap, an outsider.

Perhaps worst of all, you don't know how to extricate yourself from the situation. If you confront him, you know the result will be (at best) that he will deny the inappropriateness of the relationship and perhaps even the facts of what you've experienced -- or (at worst) that he will seek retaliation or retribution by quietly discrediting you, making it impossible for you to get a job, and perhaps even for you to work with anyone else to finish the degree. You decide to confide in a female graduate student, or in one of the female faculty members. She tells you about the options for reporting sexual harassment, and either honestly warns you that the process will not be anonymous and is often a hopeless mess (particularly in cases in which the emails are ambiguous or in which the harassment was not quid pro quo and you can't prove that it was unwelcome) -- or naively encourages you to report because it's the "right" thing to do. You decide to report because you don't want this to happen to other female students. It doesn't occur to you until many months later that you had absolutely *nothing* to gain by reporting, other than the satisfaction of knowing that, in the best case scenario, you might succeed in protecting future students from similar harassment. (Or at least future students at your university. Most harassers -- even those charged with assault -- are able to find employment at another institution more or less immediately, provided that the offense was not assault and no criminal proceedings were initiated.)

This is all hypothetical, of course (and NOT a reflection of my own experience with my dissertation adviser!!). But hopefully it will help those who are unfamiliar with cases of harassment to understand the complexity and range of emotions that the victim feels -- and also why it typically takes months, or even years, before a woman is ready to step forward.

There are, of course, cases in which a faculty member is the subject of unwanted attention from a graduate student -- as some comments have noted. I'm less familiar with that scenario, but invite someone who is to provide a vivid description viewpoint of the faculty member in those cases.

As Elizabeth Sperry notes, one good thing about the discussions is that there are posts and comments written by people who get the fact that the climate for women is a problem. Hopefully this whole incident, as awful as it is, will help a few more to get it. And hopefully the graduate student in question understands that she has literally hundreds of philosophers applauding her courage and rooting for her future success in philosophy.

Eric Schliesser
68.

One thing has changed: the folk eager to defend McGinn -- and are we sure these are really professional philosophers? -- now hide behind anonymity and are rebuked by folk who are willing to speak in their own name in public. Things may be improving.

John Protevi
69.

I'm very uncomfortable with the Sandusky analogy, even granting the attempts at caveats and distinctions. Just introducing that name is unwarranted. McGinn has destroyed himself; we should just stick with the facts, his words, and close inferences from them. Decrying the creepy narcissism of the Genius project is fine, and vivid descriptions of the psychology of manipulation many cases of sexual harassment involve is also very helpful, as in HHL's superb comment at 68. That's all we need do however.

Justin
70.

I've been having trouble deciding what I think about a claim several people made above, namely that it was objectionable for McGinn to provide as much identifying information as he did. On one hand, I think it would be clearly bad for him to name and shame her, and I can see how providing even some quite limited identifying information -- e.g., that he was her mentor in a "genius" program, and that she was paid to supposedly do research for him -- might be close enough to "naming and shaming" as to be objectionable itself.

But, on the other hand, thanks in large part to the internet-fueled rumor mill, he has just had his reputation completely dragged through the mud in front of virtually every professional in his field, not to mention virtually every potential future employer. In a circumstance like this, it seems like he *must* have some legitimate recourse for making his side of the story heard. And it seems like the fact that he had been working closely with her as her mentor in this special "genius" program should be relevant to conveying his side of the story, as should the (alleged) fact that she had had a recent grievance involving work that she was supposedly supposed to have done for pay.

So, I have a really hard time deciding whether he has a legitimate right to bring up such details as he is being tried in the court of public opinion (and make no mistake, that is exactly what is happening here), or whether he is morally required to keep such details private. Ultimately the right answer is probably that the court of public opinion is simply the wrong place to try such cases, but for better or worse that boat has already sailed, so now we're stuck asking how to make the best of this bad situation. What do y'all think?

Jeff H
71.

"What kind of professional relationship between faculty and a graduate student would require an explicit "...agreement between them that if anything unacceptable came up, they'd mention it to the other."?"

While I find the whole "genius project" thing very weird and more than a little presumptuous - indeed, the word "douchebag" does not seem out of place - this seems like its *least* objectionable aspect to me, and certainly an odd thing to single out for special criticism.

Susan
72.

I could not agree more with NNN / #45, who writes, "All those years of arcane, fatuous debates about the trolley problem have blinded many philosophers to obvious ethical truths. If this is a good reflction of the sexual politics of your discipline, then your discipline is fucked."
Sadly, NNN, this is still my discipline and this is still how it is.

Michael
73.

With apologies to those philosophers, students and readers on here with good sense and sympathy.

I completely agree with posts 25, 26, and 45, summarised in 72: "All those years of arcane, fatuous debates about the trolley problem have blinded many philosophers to obvious ethical truths. If this is a good reflction of the sexual politics of your discipline, then your discipline is fucked."

I cannot believe the crap I'm reading with (some) posters trying to intellectualise this, getting lost in their own little world of 'what if', playing with esoteric devices on matters for which they were never intended.

Have you taken leave of your senses?!

Does this game of hypotheticals about a serious problem in the profession, and worldwide, make yourself feel clever? You think you are being applied philosophers? Wanting certainty about what is 'merely' obvious? Or is theory all you have to (try to) relate (and fail) to other humans?

Here, try probability theory. A flimsy excuse is more likely than a good story. And we are reading some 'brilliant' stories by apologists. Fact is, improbable good stories are more likely to be believed. Keep it up, you water-muddying clowns.

"Assuming x, granting y, supposing z...". Typical mental gymnastics of the arrogant, defeated speaker: taking refuge in the merely possible without bothering to pay attention to what is probable. You do realise that 'possible' sets the bar to the absolute lowest level whatever, right?

Maybe this is why sexual assaults on women are so poorly reported and dealt with in so many countries and institutions? They need you idiots to help them 'analyse' the claims and evidence with your favoured hypothetical technique? It could all be a dream you know. Better go through the entire space of reasons, since they are all possible, after all. Don't dare commit, even with an open mind - you might be wrong!

I have a family member who was victim to an unprovoked, violent attack, and then intimidation during the trial. We had to move house. The defence lawyer tried all these cruel, devious tactics to twist the situation and blame my family member, stopping just short of calling them a liar. 15 years later I think about it every day.

When this happens to your loved ones, be sure to filter their claims through the same pseudo-philosophical nonsense that you mentally hand-job each other with on some of these posts. Maybe they misinterpreted the playfulness as an 'attack', or they gave implicit consent by not stating clearly: 'I am 100% serious, cease and desist immediately or there shall be legal repercussions. This is not a joke. I repeat...'.

Some of the posts here show a complete inability to relate to the real world. You wonder why so many people hate us. Nowadays I don't even tell people I have a philosophy degree.

Xlp Thlplylp
74.

Why would you find it an odd thing to single out? Is it because you see nothing wrong in making such an explicit agreement with a student, with the intention to test the boundaries of this relationship in the direction of something less professional? Perhaps you are certain such agreements have nothing to do with sexual predation.

Jon Cogburn
75.

John,

I realize that tone is often misinterpreted on internet. I'm not trying to be belittling. I've really been busting my brains trying to figure out why introducing his name in this context is bad. I honestly don't get it.

HHL's suberb comment describes mechanisms in common between sexual harassers and child rapists. This is just a fact and one that it is necessary to recognize if we have a hope of preventing both. Do you disagree with either of these claims? Should one not point that out, or should one point it out without mentioning Sandusky's name (even though he was so successful because he did the same things and because people reacted to him the same way people are reacting to McGinn; in particular by demanding Cartesian certainty of the perpetrators detractors)? If so, why?

Please have the last word on this. I'm genuinely interested in what reasons there are for different answers to the above questions. Nobody in this thread has said provided any. Instead they accuse those of us who use Sandusky's name in pointing out the similarity of "grooming" behavior and emotional blackmail in harassers and child rapists of saying that McGinn and Sandusky are morally equivalent, which would be stupid and morally repugnant, but I can't see how anything any of us who noted the important commonalities have come anywhere near close to doing this. So I know that you have other reasons. It would just be really helpful for me and the people at the Smoker if these were explicated.

I'm happy to drop reference to Sandusky's name, if there's some reason to do so. It's hard for me to imagine a good reason to drop reference to the fact that serial harrassers and child rapists share a modus operandi in how they select victims and emotionally blackmail them, and to note that any reasonable person would take McGinn's blog posts to be overwhelming evidence of this. Are you against that?

Again, I'm not trying to be snippy. Please if you have the time have the last word on this one issue. We both agree that HHL's comment is suberb, and I think both agree that she articulates the important points with respect to this. So this isn't that huge an issue.

Jon Cogburn
76.

What Michael (73) said.

John Protevi
77.

Hello Jon, I think what McGinn has done is bad enough. I'm sure Jeffrey Dahmer groomed his victims too, but bringing his name into close association with that of McGinn would be clearly seen as excessive. the same with associating McGinn and Sandusky; it just opens us to the charge of smearing him by association. There's a specific pattern of sexual harassment, elucidated by HHL and others, that can and should stand on its own. There's really no need to explicate the mundane by means of the extreme, which it seems to me the "common MO" line of thought does.

So, yes, it's not the case that you claim S and McG are morally equivalent, but my objection is to the effects of association, rather than to any explicit claim of equivalence.

Justin E. H. Smith
78.

I just wanted to point out that 'Justin' at 70 is not me. I know there are a lot of Justins out there, but still.

goodluckwiththat
79.

I'm thinking wow, these people have an awful lot to say about a case about which very little is actually known, but then again, they are philosophers: many of them have written entire books on the basis of no information, so two or three facts are more than enough to decide this matter.

Jon Cogburn
80.

John,

That seems absolutely right to me. I see now how the "common MO" talk is misleading.

This being said, I don't think my initial bringing of Sandusky into the discussion was bad though. All I meant to (and as far as I can tell did) say was the following.

(1) After the Sandusky case all of the parents and staff at my kids' day school did research into how he got away with it. I think this happened all over the country. What we found out was that he was a genius at exploiting the mechanisms HHL explained, and that this was common to child rapists.

(2) Other parents I know, as well as the schools their kids go to, went through exactly this process after Sandusky in an effort to keep kids safer. They also found the exact mechanisms HHL talks about.

(3) Any reasonable person would take it to be overwhelmingly likely that McGinn is instantiating these mechanisms.

Finally, if HHL is correct, then (1)-(3) is correct.

I think there's a real disconnect here between parents who desperately researched child predation after the Sandusky thing and everybody else commenting on this. When we read his blog we thought "oh shit" because we recognized the mechanisms (which, fwiw, are *not at all* the same with serial killers like Dahmer and Derrick Todd Lee, who do not typically kill those they have sustained relationships with). And if HHL is correct then so were we.

This being said, your comment about phrases such as "common MO" being misleading is spot on and I hope that we can cut it out. One of its vile aspects as is clear from the above is that it gives too much of an opening to the Cartesian defenders of McGinn.

NN
81.

of course you need a lawyer when you go up against university admin., esp. in a situation like this.

Jon Cogburn
82.

Again, goodluck you don't have kids or I would gather students.

This stuff is real, not a fricking gedankenexperiment. We are dealing with the well being of actual human beings. In such circumstances you do *not* adopt Cartesian standards of knowledge (to "decide this matter") with respect to someone who has harmed those with less power.

In real life you have to be aware of the mechanisms to which HHL calls attention and recognize instances of them. You have to. Predators systematically exploit our unwillingness to do so as well as the asshattery of those willing to play with far away possible worlds in real life situations. See Michael's comment above.

Please don't misinterpret this as a claim that the law should be changed so that the accused have less legal recourse. I'm not even talking about that. I claimed that anyone who posts what McGinn did about their own student should not be in front of a classroom. And this should be obvious.

Of course we all know what almost certainly will happen. Some second tier department with Leiterific aspirations will hire the guy. But that's the topic for another day.

Jon Cogburn
83.

NN, what you write is absolute nonsense. Go read Miami's procedures and then talk to some people like us who work (and have been administrators) under those procedures.

As far as I can tell (and this is somewhat anecdotal) in the overwhelming majority of such cases there are no lawyers involved and the HRM office effects a reconciliation between the perpetrator and harassed.

The idea that it is at all plausible that someone would get fired because of one e-mail joke has been ridiculous from the get-go. And with the "genius project" blog post McGinn unwittingly has clearly admitted as much.

goodluckwiththat
84.

"you don't have kids"... ah I forgot to mention, in addition to the philosopher's "I don't need facts" approach, the time-honoured although less distinctively philosophical "I will make up facts" approach, super effective when used in an ad hominem.

Justin Marquis
85.

I would like to note that I, too, am not the Justin at comment 70. McGinn ought not to have publicly identified her in any way. He should have either publicly apologized, or barring that, he should have kept his mouth shut to keep the harm done to the grad student from being increased.

Unintentionally, I think the silver lining here is that McGinn is making it less likely that another department will pick him. I hope!

Canadian Grad Student
86.

Hi Josh,

Some of your statements seem like deliberate attempts to muddy the waters. You say that "university (and police) didn't think they could prove misconduct." This is misleading in two distinct ways.

First, law enforcement plays essentially no role in sexual harassment cases unless the behavior also crosses into criminality. The legal remedies available to individuals who are exposed to harassment or a hostile work environment do not involve police. You seem to insinuate the because law enforcement did not seek to prosecute McGinn, there must be little evidence of a pattern of behavior. This is false and misleading. In the US you may lodge a complaint through the appropriate channels internally (e.g., with your employer), you may pursue legal action at the federal level with the EEOC or at the state level via FEP statutes. You don't go to the cops and they don't get involved:

"Criminal Remedies: If the harassment crosses over into the criminal realm (e.g., sexual assault and rape), you should report the incident(s) to the police.

http://www.feminist.org/911/harasswhatdo.html

This is from a site that provides advice to victims of harassment.

The second way in which the statement I quoted from you is misleading is that you appear to suggest that the university was not able to prove misconduct. But not hearing or internal investigation occurred. According to the CHE, McGinn chose to resign rather than go through any formal investigation. We do not know what would have been the outcome of such an investigation. Given than sexual harassment case law places the burden of proof on the complainant to demonstrate that the harassment was consistent, severe, and affected their ability to work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostile_environment_sexual_harassment) if McGinn's story is to be believed, two so-called "isolated emails" would not have been sufficient to meet this burden.

The process might be personally painful, but his exoneration would be inevitable. He would have come out of the process gold with the student ruined. But he chose to resign. And we are supposed to believe that a graduate student deliberately sabotaged an innocent, famous, senior professor over $4,000 and some interpersonal sour grapes, as if there were no risks incurred doing so. Every complaint of sexual harassment results in a show trial and kangaroo court. This is nonsense, of course, but it is directly implied by McGinn's attempt to defend himself. At this point he should hush up before it becomes academic philosophy's own little version of the Amy's Baking Company social media meltdown.

I note, too, that it is characteristic of pathological personalities to derail lines of inquiry into patterns of behavior by making the debate about one or two specific examples which can be explained away, gaslight-style. I fully expect that McGinn's next move will be to cement his 'victim' status by pointing to the damage his reputation has suffered, quote-mining these blog threads for material and cloaking the discussion in terms of lofty moral principles violated in a debased witch-hunt.

Jon Cogburn
87.

I'm sorry. I was trying to be charitable. I couldn't imagine anyone of good will writing you did if they had children or taught students. I'm of course open to the fact that you are not operating in good will, or that I'm mistaken in my premises. Anyhow this is an ad hominem, it's based entirely on what you wrote. No facts were made up.

Xlp Thlplylp
88.

The Feminist Philosopher's blog gets it. They write, "Pro tip: Be cautious of any pedagogical approach that requires a safe word." So, no, it is not certainly an odd thing to single out for criticism, but it is decidedly obtuse to think so.

Cameron Keys
89.

If a philosopher of language and mind who taught a course on the use of the hand were to tell his graduate student that he actually masturbated while thinking of her, would anyone expect him to do so through a univocal speech act? The situation is absurd, almost in a technical sense: there is deliberate ambiguity structuring the offense/misinterpretation. Rather than relying on the truth value of the utterance, which would require knowing whether McGinn actually masturbated, we have to rely on the feelings and values of the woman accusing him, and the institutional context of the utterance. In the end I think the practical effect will be that McGinn leaves the university and subsequently writes a series of articles or books that will define his legacy as either a weirdo philosopher or a brilliant taboo-breaker. In any case the ambiguity remains, and the feelings are real.

candid_observer
90.

I should think it pretty obvious that whether it is right for McGinn to have revealed the details regarding the student hangs on whether he is also presenting a reasonably accurate picture of those details and of the original emails and any related incidents. If, instead, he has greatly distorted any of this, then he is compounding his moral failure and culpability.

But if he is presenting the facts mostly fairly, I just don't see how he has done anything wrong by revealing these further details. I should hope that we are not yet in a position in our culture in which an individual is not allowed to defend himself with facts against false, or grossly exaggerated, accusations that are greatly damaging to his reputation.

Such a culture would be a sick one indeed.

Josh
91.

CCanadian Grad Student and Jon Cogburn,

I'm not disagreeing CM did anything wrong. What I am disagreeing with, and what is becoming a bit of a witch hunt, is saying what he is evidence he is a serial sexual harasser or equivalent to a child molester (a serial child molester at that). By suggesting every instance of sexual harassment, we: (i) confuse absolutely morally outrageous individuals with those that are socially inept; (ii) suggest facts exist that we can't prove; (iii) create a chilling effect on interation; and (iv) undermine the actual experience of harasser and harassee (neither harasser or harasee's view of the facts should be forced into a specific set of generalities; if we do that we've undermined the parties ability to define themselves).

For example, it is unclear whether many of the items listed at comment 67 are predictive or informative or just stories we like to tell ourselves. Some criteria like "skilled at manipulating/explaining", "genuinely feel seduced" and "test the waters" undermine the ability to the harasser to explain the conduct. If the manipulations are presumed manipulative, how does someone defend him or herself. Criteria like "watches various types of pornography" are so general they are non-predicative. "Difficulty with relationships" just explains someone likely to seek a romantic encounter.

There are two non-exclusive concerns we should have: (i) punishment and (ii) preventing the conduct. We should always be concerned with preventing this type of behavior so students don't experience what was described very well in 67. However, the punishment/denunciatory aspect requires manners of degree. If the harasser lacks planning, foresight or a history, it is equally plausible he or she is merely socially inept. We typically do not punish people (at least not criminally or quasi-criminally) for conduct they did not intend, and we typically examine the nature of the ethical breach in making judgment about the degree of moral condemnation required.

Here, the context suggests the strongest condemnation is inappropriate. The victim is a graduate student, which is likely among the least vulnerable type of person because his/her role is more akin to a job than a true student. The graduate student's role is almost a quasi-apprenticeship. The graduate student has experience in the world and is likely of significantly above average capabilities; a child is usually someone of significantly below average capabilities (in that they are not even an adult). (In fact, that's likely why this was reported.) The perpetrator appears to be inept at defending himself, and has already likely destroyed his reputation (and likely faces the prospect of civil liability). The conduct itself, while part of a laughable program, doesn't suggest (at least to the public's knowledge) that anything other than two e-mails were sent, or that the student couldn't conclude CM was only after one thing.

What then is the point of throwing out comparisons to child molesters, alleging serial conduct when no evidence of the conduct exists or making allegations of CM being a predator? If CM is a predator he seems to lack the skill of the majority of frat boys. There are plenty of middle age men that pursue a subordinate.

CM's conduct was bad, an embarrassment to his institution and profession, and a breach of the code of conduct that should exist between student and teacher, the conduct is far from the worst thing that could be described as harassment. I do tend to agree that the biggest issue is that CM appears to have caused the scandal to become larger than it needed to be, and has likely placed his himself, his institution and most importantly his victim bad position.

I'd also note that a lawyer is never going to advise a client to go through a hearing without counsel (yes, there are procedural formalities, but lawyers should be used), and in the face of potential civil liability he'd be a fool to testify without a lawyer present.

Anyway, I'm done with this subject.

Josh
92.

Basically, if CM did give an accurate statement as to what occured, then he deserves reprimand and needs to reflect on why what he did was stupid and how he could have prevented it (possibly seeking professional help). If CM is lying, he likely deserves significant moral condemnation. That being said, it is grossly inappropraite to call someone a serial sexual predator and compare him or her to a child molester without sufficent evidence.

goodluckwiththat
93.

Thanks for the charity. Apparently I am in your books someone who has children and has students and is therefore evil for saying that many of the claims put forward here with such relish go way beyond what we know about this case. On the other hand, you praise as "superb" a post that presents an apparently made-up list of "signs of a sexual predator" that includes, among other things, building trust in a relationship, then spins a fiction meant to somehow educate us all about what transpired between McGinn and a graduate student over the last year or more.

So yeah, good luck with that, over and out.

JR mint
94.

NNN (45) wrote: "And yet - what do we find? Pointless debates about whether McGinn can be compared to Sandusky."

I just want to draw attention again to NNN's comment at 45 that this way of "discussing" the situation (ie, arguing about tangential issues, such as whether certain non-crucial comparisons should be made) is extremely unproductive and loses sight of the broader and more important issue here.

I think this way of failing to properly address the situation is typical of the way philosophers approach many issues, both personal and professional. This is why I advise my undergrad students not to major in philosophy, and why I often considering quitting myself (I'm a grad student, but this is a reason I'd continue to find compelling even if the job market got better). It's also a phenomenon that may not be unrelated to McGinn's behavior, which also seems to be marked by an inability to address ethical and practical issues appropriately.

JR mint
95.

I should add, just to be clear, that I totally agree with NNN.

Peter Devereaux
96.

Goodluckwiththat, your replies to Jon Cogburn are petulant, and you are being dense. No one disagrees with you on the point that we don't have all the facts of the matter on the McGinn case. However, what Jon is suggesting, is that having all the facts is not a precondition for engaging in effing discussion. Talking about stuff before "all the facts come in" is not only not objectionable, but something we ought to be doing. (Analogy: we must make decisions under risk and uncertainty). That not all the facts are in is not a good reason to not act, nor is it a good reason to not discuss, especially pressing issues.

Also, it's uncharitable at best to suppose that the intended effect of HHL's post is to describe the details of the McGinn case. That's obviously not the purpose. It's nutty to suggest that it was.

Philstudent
97.

As a philosophy student who is reading this blog and as someone who actually has been through child abuse, I find the comparison between McGinn and Sandusky offensive and repulsive, to say the least, no matter how it is intended. Please drop it, thank you.

Having said that, my feelings are with the victim and I totally agree that anyone who knows something about harassment and harassers would recognize in this situation almost a textbook example of it. And shame on anyone who tries to come up with hypothetical scenarios to excuse McGinn but doesn't give the victim the same benefit of doubt.

candid_observer
98.

Let me make the obvious extension of the point I argued for earlier.

If McGinn did indeed harass the student, then it is fair to describe what he did as "grooming".

But how is it fair to describe it thus if his own account of what took place was basically accurate, and it is not reasonable to describe what he did as harassing the student?

I don't think it's fair to characterize what McGinn did as "grooming", with all the ugly moral connotations that labors under, unless at some point he genuinely crossed a pretty bright line into actual harassment. While I suppose that one can claim that his behavior was intended to lead up to harassment, that is hardly the only explanation of it. Absent true harassment, we have no reason to conclude that the previous behavior was grooming. And even if, in his own mind, McGinn was entertaining harassment, he can hardly be held responsible for those ideas (unknowable to us anyway) until he acts on them.

Or have we truly entered the age of crimethink?

anonymous
99.

I second candid_observer's remarks, and I'd like to ask that we refrain from accusations of trolling and attacks on the moral character of those in this discussion. There are lots of facts about this situation that, frankly, no one is in any position to measure. It is not sophistry to point out that if McGinn's reconstruction of events is factually accurate then the situation is far less obviously a case of sexual harassment. And it is not victim-blaming to question whether the accuser is entitled to be recognized as a victim in the ways that some people seem to think she is (she's hardly one of Sandusky's victims). And pointing *that* out is consistent with recognizing that she has been harmed.

It would also be nice if people would be a little more understanding of the fact that some of us are posting anonymously. Some folks in these discussions are making some pretty nasty remarks about the moral character of others. I would think it would be obvious that being publicly subject to that kind of behavior is something that no one wants to put themselves through. Given the willingness of some to cast stones, then, it should be expected that those who are critically engaging with you will want to remain anonymous.

Xlp Thlplylp
100.

"I should think it pretty obvious that whether it is right for McGinn to have revealed the details regarding the student hangs on whether he is also presenting a reasonably accurate picture of those details and of the original emails and any related incidents."

It is not obvious, depending on the terms of the settlement and University procedure. The settlement may require that the University and McGinn agree not to disclose any "...details regarding the student..." or "...the emails and any related incidents." The spate of Philospot communiqués on "recent events" suggest that if there was such an agreement, one party has violated it. I agree with Feminist Philosophers "Pro tip: Be cautious of any pedagogical approach that requires a safe word."

The suggestion by others that the student is an adult whose prior experience ought to have developed her defenses against the sexual predation rife within the upper echelons of philosophy is so outrageous that I am tempted to blow the lid off some of the cases Leiter alludes to. There simply is no excuse.

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