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Prominent philosopher resigns, blames confusion over philosophical puns.
June 6, 2013 6:21 PM   Subscribe

Colin McGinn, a distinguished philosopher at the University of Miami, is resigning his post due to allegations that he sent sexually explicit e-mails to his research assistant, a graduate student in philosophy.

Sexual harassment is widely acknowledged to be a problem in philosophy departments, with philosophers debating what to do about harassers in their midst. (Previously on Metafilter: a call to shun harassers in philosophy.) Brian Leiter, who closely watches news in the profession of philosophy on his blog, reflects on the McGinn case and considers the importance of tenure as an academic institution, and he reminds readers of the value of due process when allegations like this are made against professors. McGinn responds and says the allegations are false and that "graduate students are not what they used to be." McGinn suggests that his e-mails were misconstrued, and that rather than committing harassment, his research on the philosophy of the hand included punning on how any task completed by hand constitutes a "hand job."

A blog is devoted to what it is like to be a woman in philosophy and there are efforts to improve the situation for women in philosophy. (Previously on Metafilter: about the gender gap in philosophy. And more from MeFi about quantifying the gender gap in philosophy.)
posted by Unified Theory (153 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
"graduate students are not what they used to be."

... all men? Not all adoring subservients? Actual people with rich and fulfilling lives outside of graduate school who aren't pawns or wageslaves?
posted by Apropos of Something at 6:28 PM on June 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


oh god philosophy departments. and philosophy department culture. *shudder*.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:32 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's kind of awesome that one of his books is called The Meaning of Disgust.
posted by something something at 6:33 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


people with rich and fulfilling lives outside of graduate school who aren't pawns or wageslaves?

We might be more wage-enslaved now than people were in whatever nostalgic past McGinn is imagining or remembering.
posted by clockzero at 6:33 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


McGinn suggests that his e-mails were misconstrued, and that rather than committing harassment, his research on the philosophy of the hand included punning on how any task completed by hand constitutes a "hand job."

My own research on the philosophy of email includes punning on how any professor sending a joke that poor to a student constitutes a "wanker".
posted by flabdablet at 6:36 PM on June 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


like seriously I look at most philosophy departments and think "well there's a bunch of guys who post on reddit."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:37 PM on June 6, 2013 [45 favorites]


He does research on the "philosophy of the hand"? That is simply mental masturbation.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:39 PM on June 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


I wanna Foucault your Kant
posted by exlotuseater at 6:40 PM on June 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


pics or it didn't happen!
posted by cjorgensen at 6:41 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


to be fair, though, there's a long history of public philosophical masturbation tracing all the way back to Diogenes the Cynic, who when asked by his fellow Athenians to stop masturbating in the agora responded "if only I could satisfy my hunger by rubbing my stomach."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:41 PM on June 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Research on the philosophy of mind ! = sufficient mind to avoid sending "witty" sexual banter to one's students.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:42 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


pics or it didn't happen!

It's just Humean nature...
posted by ennui.bz at 6:42 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can be a philosopher or an animal, and not both. Sex doesn't make sense.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 6:45 PM on June 6, 2013


forgot to add: it's important to note, though, that it's probably a good thing that Diogenes the Cynic never got tenure anywhere.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:46 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


pics or it didn't happen!

Also known as "Empiricism or GTFO."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


I miss my days of studying Philosophy tremendously. I miss my days in Philosophy Departments not one bit.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder if once you abstract or extrude a concept for study, it is hard to live within it. And then it's like "How bout a hanjo?" But from the comments the guy wrote a book right? Bad press is press etc.
posted by casual observer at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2013


“I had a hand job yesterday”. The astute student, suitably linguistically primed, responds after a moment by saying: “Ah, you had a manicure”. Professor P replies: “You are clearly a clever student—I can’t trick you. That is exactly the response I was looking for!” They then chuckle together in a self-congratulatory academic manner. Academics like riddles and word games

He goes on to say an observer, not having a keen philosophical mind, may mistake his remark, since they aren't in on philosophy humor.

So what happened here? he emailed a graduate student "I had a hand job yesterday" meaning some kind of non sexual job performed on his hand? The student was like "loblolo good one doc!" Then someone else complained?
posted by Ad hominem at 6:50 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


God, McGinn's defense (such as it is) on his blog is so preeningly self-congratulatory, and so painfully, hubristically in denial about the very simple fact that "hand job" means precisely one thing in modern vernacular English. What a buffoon.
posted by clockzero at 6:50 PM on June 6, 2013 [15 favorites]


Suppose now a professor P, well conversant in the above points, slyly remarks to his graduate student, who is also thus conversant: “I had a hand job yesterday”. The astute student, suitably linguistically primed, responds after a moment by saying: “Ah, you had a manicure”. Professor P replies: “You are clearly a clever student—I can’t trick you. That is exactly the response I was looking for!” They then chuckle together in a self-congratulatory academic manner. Academics like riddles and word games.
It's astounding that he's unable to perceive the multiple levels of sick manipulation he's trying to play with here. Oh, you clever student!

Lesson: reported speech is a bitch (a female dog—be careful how you paraphrase me!).

Uh, yeah, in that context there's no reference to a female dog. I think most of us had ironed this one out by 6th grade. Be careful right back, friend.

The comment below, from "gadfly," is interesting.

Nothing new here, just sorry to see it continuing. I'm pretty tired of the "too clever by half, so smarter than you one-level philistines and cold rejecting students" stance from these folks, especially now that I'm more of an age peer with most of them. Smokescreen attempts are just bullshit.
posted by Miko at 6:54 PM on June 6, 2013 [18 favorites]


I mean the entire joke hinges in the sexual connotation of "hand job" it's not like he can say lol you dumbasses don't know what a handjob is, it's a manicure idiots. Cuz if it wasn't sexual it wouldn't have been a joke.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:56 PM on June 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


Clearly you are not sufficiently clever!
posted by Miko at 6:59 PM on June 6, 2013


Clearly I was not sufficiently clever to land a teaching post in Philosophy, where I could engage in this bullshit. Thank goodness I wound up in Law, doing more honest work.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:02 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hand job puns are really some "I think therefore I am" caliber stuff.

I'm not even sure that's a pun. "My cock went off at dawn" might be a pun, but this is the equivalent of saying "can you blow me", getting a horrified reaction, and THEN introducing a balloon that needs inflation.
posted by gjc at 7:04 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Suppose now a professor P, well conversant in the above points, slyly remarks to his graduate student, who is also thus conversant: “I had a hand job yesterday”. The astute student, suitably linguistically primed, responds after a moment . . . .

I have a few academic colleagues (including one philosopher who fortunately has gone off somewhere else) who insist on speaking in this exact same pretentious anachronistic oh-aren't-I-just-so-very-articulate? tone as if they're Chip and Fucking Dale sipping highballs on the poopdeck of the Lusitania or something, and it gives me a pain in the spleen. Which is extra hilarious in this case when the speaker's people skills and sense of humor are reminiscent of Beavis and Butthead.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:05 PM on June 6, 2013 [27 favorites]


Perhaps he was about to be fired as a professor of philosophy for describing this as "refutation." That would have been entirely justified.
posted by edheil at 7:05 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


McGinn may have written Prehension but he clearly lacks comprehension.
posted by Bromius at 7:08 PM on June 6, 2013


Unsurprising description from a man who thinks this is a manifesto.

I think he needs a hand.
posted by flabdablet at 7:09 PM on June 6, 2013


TOBIAS FUNKE. That's what that style of joke reminds me of. but without Tobias' baffling innocence.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:11 PM on June 6, 2013 [31 favorites]


Just another asshole trying to justify his asshole-ishness
posted by freakazoid at 7:18 PM on June 6, 2013


So, his defense is that yes, he constantly makes crude sexual jokes by way of double entendre, but his double entendre is so sophisticated that only someone intimately (heh) familiar with his work will understand that he is making a dirty joke and not merely saying something dirty that is not a joke?

If his sexual harassment is not a sufficient basis for giving him the boot, maybe they can rely on the fact that he's a dumb as a bag of rocks.
posted by The World Famous at 7:23 PM on June 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


Maybe he should look into a career as an analyst/therapist...
posted by thack3r at 7:25 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


He strikes me as a less witty version of the Sean Connery character on SNL's "Celebrity Jeopardy."

Asshat.
posted by mosk at 7:31 PM on June 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Maybe he should look into a career as an analyst/therapist...


Given the evidence at hand, McGinn would make for an even worse analyst than professor.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 7:35 PM on June 6, 2013


So, first this guy sounds like a tool.

But to play devils advocate, is it sexual harassment to make a sex joke in general? Like is sex such a completely verboten topic that you can't talk about it? I don't see anything in the joke that was either against women or trolling for sex, it just was sort of lame. I see an over reaction by the student and faculty (smelling a lawsuit) rather than the guy purposely harassing her. It's probably a good idea he doesn't teach there anymore because his writing sounds insufferable, but I feel a little sorry for him. Losing your livelihood over an email seems harsh and unjust.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 7:42 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ew, I feel like I need a shower after reading his creepy response.
posted by desjardins at 7:43 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's probably a good idea he doesn't teach there anymore because his writing sounds insufferable

Speaking strictly academically: not at all, considering he by his own distinction raised the ranking of the University of Miami's PhD department from 40th or so to 31st. And for the next few years, a number of students who chose to attend UMiami solely for Professor McGinn are now in a tough spot.
posted by SollosQ at 7:45 PM on June 6, 2013


Writing sexually explicit emails to your RA is pretty textbook sexual harassment.
posted by jeather at 7:45 PM on June 6, 2013 [15 favorites]


is it sexual harassment to make a sex joke in general?

It can be, and it entirely depends on the policy where he is working.

I don't see anything in the joke

We don't have access to the actual set of emails. But he doesn't have to be against women or trolling for sex. Many of these policies are written in such a way as to prohibit people from creating a hostile environment, and jokes can contribute to that.
posted by Miko at 7:46 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Asshat.

Ah, but you see, in some parts of the world, there are individuals who, because of their line of work, must wear a protective headgear made from the hide of a donkey. And when those workers say the word "asshat," their colleagues understand that they are literally referring to a hat made of ass, and no offense is taken. Thus, a casual listener to a professor's conversation with a young protege might misunderstand when she hears the professor refer to another professor as an "asshat," and take offense - thinking the term to be a mere insult. But the astute student who is familiar with my obscure but insightful writing on the philosophy of ass-hat workers will understand that the speaker is actually referring to his fellow professor metaphorically as the protective covering that a professor uses to protect his head - or his intellect, as it were, and that the more colloquial meaning - that the colleague is an offensive imbecile who has no place in the profession and who should be treated with disdain and contempt - is merely a secondary metaphorical meaning (graduate students are not what they used to be).
posted by The World Famous at 7:46 PM on June 6, 2013 [42 favorites]


Why would the speaker use the rather odd construction “I had a hand job” (which sounds like he paid for one) if he merely meant to say that he masturbated?

Indeed!

MetaFilter: Will you masturbate me and pass the salt at the same time?
posted by mazola at 7:48 PM on June 6, 2013


Like is sex such a completely verboten topic that you can't talk about it?

When there is such a power imbalance, and you're in a professional environment? Yes. I work with my husband in an office and we never talk about sex at work because it'd be fucking inappropriate. It's a million times creepier when it's a boss talking to an employee, and that boss has a disproportionate influence on the employee's career path.
posted by desjardins at 7:48 PM on June 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


These reflections take care of certain false allegations that have been made about me recently (graduate students are not what they used to be). Lesson: reported speech is a bitch (a female dog—be careful how you paraphrase me!). One has to be very careful about getting it right. Lives can turn on it. One has a duty to take all aspects of the speech situation into account and not indulge in rash paraphrases. And one should also not underestimate the sophistication of the speaker.



Here ends this sermon in morality and the philosophy of language. (And yes, there will be a test.)



Colin McGinn

gadfly
06.06.13, 09:23 PM

What if prof P has a past full of romantic engagements with graduate students? Perhaps one would be less likely to take the good professor's explanations about "reported speech" at face value. Even more than reported speech, reported romances are a bitch.

Guy's toast.

There's a history here, and he's on the wrong side of it.
posted by jamjam at 7:49 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well sollosq that is a huge bummer and strengthens my argument (although his writing still gives me hives). He should have been forced to say that he acknowledged how his words could be construed poorly and been a better philosophy professor in the future and not shit the bed. But punishing the students and university ranking out of legal cowardice is a crass move by the admins.

Side note: whenever people call out to thing being good or not based on "appropriateness" I die a little on the inside. It's like we all have to be sufficiently boring so that no one could be possibly offended ever. Ugh. There's of course a line but the appropriateness people always seem to draw it on the line of the terrible sad boring rut of the everyday. I hate hate hate it so much.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 7:50 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a big deal and I am very interested to see what details will come out. Prima facie it seems that if his emails were as innocent as all that, he would do well to just publish the contents of them and then let other philosophers judge his sophisticated jokes. Given the potential cost to a grad student of being the person who got Colin McGinn fired, and the cost to the university of losing him (he is prestigious), I have to think the evidence has to be pretty damning.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:50 PM on June 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


I swear to god philosophy is the most sexist discipline outside science right now. I say this as an AND in the field.
posted by syncope at 7:58 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


oh professor mcginn you're just such a handsome guy I can't handle it and I have to hand it to you for emailing me about hand jobs because I like hand jobs too I used to be an esthetician
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 7:58 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Apparently he doesn't have a great rep as a philosopher either--here is an epic takedown of his book: on disgust (pdf)
posted by PinkMoose at 7:59 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


These reflections take care of certain false allegations that have been made about me recently (graduate students are not what they used to be).

Those reflections appear to be an enthusiastic admission that the allegations are true and an admission that his statements were intentional sexual innuendo. The man's a complete idiot.

Prima facie it seems that if his emails were as innocent as all that, he would do well to just publish the contents of them and then let other philosophers judge his sophisticated jokes.

As innocent as all what? He has admitted that he made - and will apparently continue to make - intentional sexual innuendos that are not only not masked or hidden, but that are, on their face not even innuendos and that, on further inspection, are still explicit sexual innuendos and not at all innocent.
posted by The World Famous at 8:00 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Brian Leiter, at the bottom of the third linked page in the FPP, added this:

UPDATE:  I have heard from a number of different sources claiming that there are, indeed, more allegations than those that appear in the CHE piece, which is often the case in matters like this.  Several correspondents also defended the care with which the University has handled this matter. 

(Emphasis added.)

The CHE piece Leiter cites is behind a paywall but can be read here (PDF).
posted by Unified Theory at 8:02 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's simultaneously exhilerating and depressing that I find myself caring infinitely more what MeFites think about ethics than what a philosophy professor thinks.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:06 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Apparently he doesn't have a great rep as a philosopher either
posted by PinkMoose at 7:59 PM on June 6 [+] [!]


Well this is just... an incredibly incorrect statement.
posted by SollosQ at 8:07 PM on June 6, 2013


From my discussions w/ people in the field, and this review...tell me I am wrong SollosQ?
posted by PinkMoose at 8:08 PM on June 6, 2013


Reading all the posts on that What It's Like to be a Woman in Philosophy blog makes me glad I quit philosophy graduate school in 1992.
posted by matildaben at 8:10 PM on June 6, 2013


From the paywalled article,

Mr. McGinn received the John Locke Prize at the University of
Oxford in 1973—a prestigious honor in philosophy—and has
worked at the University of London, the University of Oxford, and
Rutgers University. Over the past few years, some colleagues say
that the focus of Mr. McGinn's work has shifted noticeably, moving
increasingly away from traditional philosophy and taking on more
of a public-intellectual role.


Such universities having top-tier philosophy departments. Being a PhD student there, much less an actual professor, is an incredible accomplishment.

and

When Mr. McGinn joined the University of Miami, in 2006, faculty
members applauded the hire as a major step toward improving the
philosophy department's national reputation.
"He was a prolific and well-known scholar, and we were all excited
to hire him here," said Amie Thomasson, the only tenured female
professor at the University of Miami whose sole appointment is in
the philosophy department. "It did a lot for our departmental
ranking."


So as someone actually in the field, yes. I'd say you are wrong.

The quote:

the focus of Mr. McGinn's work has shifted noticeably, moving
increasingly away from traditional philosophy and taking on more
of a public-intellectual role.


is probably an important one. As his book, The Meaning of Disgust, is not a traditional philosophical piece. And might also explain the disconnect between McGinn being a distinguished philosopher, but yet working on some bizarre "philosophy of hand" project which lets people in this thread laugh at the whole philosophical field as if the latter was the sort of work that is done.
posted by SollosQ at 8:10 PM on June 6, 2013


thanks.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:11 PM on June 6, 2013


I see an over reaction by the student and faculty (smelling a lawsuit) rather than the guy purposely harassing her.

1) Given the realities of academic/departmental politics, most people (women and men) will report sexual harassment as an absolute last resort. I'm in English, not philosophy, but I still know a lot more people who were harassed (ranging from faculty spreading malicious gossip to outright sexual propositioning) than people who felt comfortable enough to turn the harasser in.

2) We don't know what was said. We have descriptions of what was said. The descriptions do not appear to support McGinn's position, but perhaps he would care to release the e-mails so that we can all admire his scintillating wit?

3) There are times when you have to talk about sex--for example, when the novel in front of you is clearly talking about sex. That's professional. (If you're discussing 19th c. fiction and poetry, one frequently has to point out to students that, yes, there's sex happening. "Folks, what's Porphyro doing when he's melting into Madeleine's dream here? Any guesses?") It is not, in fact, all that difficult to a) discuss sex while b) refraining from anything that could be remotely construed as a come-on.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:16 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


When Mr. McGinn joined the University of Miami, in 2006, faculty
members applauded the hire as a major step toward improving the
philosophy department's national reputation.


Asked to comment, McGinn said: "What arouses me most about University of Miami's faculty is how well-endowed its members are. These are truly members in line for fellowships - or 'MILFs' as I like to call them."
posted by The World Famous at 8:18 PM on June 6, 2013 [25 favorites]


Interesting interview with McGinn in 3AM Magazine, where McGinn says this:

I am a moral and intellectual elitist of the most extreme and repellent kind.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:19 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Moral and intellectual elitists are not what they used to be.
posted by mazola at 8:22 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


But to play devils advocate, is it sexual harassment to make a sex joke in general?

As someone who was made deeply uncomfortable by a senior colleague's pun based sexual joke in an academic setting, and deeply embarrassed by a different sexual pun based joke by another senior colleague in another, short answer, yes.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:24 PM on June 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


Just for argument's sake, set aside the handjob comment.
Mr. Yelle, along with two professors with whom the student has worked, described one message in which they said Mr. McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating.

Advocates of Mr. McGinn, however, say that the correspondence may have been misinterpreted when taken out of context.
Okay, I'm listening. What's the context that makes it appropriate for a philosophy professor to tell a graduate student he had been thinking about her while masturbating?
posted by cribcage at 8:33 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


But is uncomfortableness a sufficient standard? I think it's necessary but not sufficient. What if a coworkers flamboyant gay manner makes someone uncomfortable. Is that sexual harassment then and, if not, outside of your belief in the equality of people regardless of their sexuality (which I also believe), what makes someone claiming an argument of harassment on grounds of "uncomfortableness" incorrect?

This is my problem with these arguments in favor of comfortableness and appropriateness. It allows someone to make a claim to stifle or punish a person they may not like for unrelated reasons. There's no grounds to contest the claim because it's based on the subjective opinion of the person making the claim.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 8:33 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought we went over this decades ago: double entendre jokes and then playing innocent like you had no idea that it could be taken the other way doesn't work. Where the hell has this guy been? Doesn't HR at the university do a mandatory annual EEO training that probably uses this scenario almost verbatim as an example of ABSOLUTELY NOT ACCEPTABLE?
posted by ctmf at 8:34 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


as a wannabe English major/general useless person who briefly considered Philsophy I sorta assumed this kind of thing was endemic just based on reading reviews of Great American Novels where Great Old Men lust after their students. the whole thing just feels... musty, and there needs to be some sunlight to destroy the mold
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:36 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


But is uncomfortableness a sufficient standard? I think it's necessary but not sufficient. What if a coworkers flamboyant gay manner makes someone uncomfortable. Is that sexual harassment then and, if not, outside of your belief in the equality of people regardless of their sexuality (which I also believe), what makes someone claiming an argument of harassment on grounds of "uncomfortableness" incorrect?

You know, there are actual legal standards for what does and does not constitute sexual harassment. There's no need for MetaFilter to hash out a new legal regime on the issue and argue about whether the MetaFilter-manufactured standard would apply to various hypothetical situations.

I thought we went over this decades ago: double entendre jokes and then playing innocent like you had no idea that it could be taken the other way doesn't work.

He is not playing innocent like he had no idea that it could be taken the other way. He specifically and unambiguously stated - in writing - that the only way a person could take it any way other than as a sexual advance is if the listener was both well-versed in McGinn's own scholarship and trying extra hard to find the non-sexual meaning.
posted by The World Famous at 8:41 PM on June 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


I am a moral and intellectual elitist of the most extreme and repellent kind.

He doesn't understand himself very well; he is actually a repellent man, but of an extremely common and not at all elitist variety.

But is uncomfortableness a sufficient standard? I think it's necessary but not sufficient.

You realize, I hope, that there are actual laws relevant here which answer this question? Sexual harassment is defined in law.

What if a coworkers flamboyant gay manner makes someone uncomfortable. Is that sexual harassment then

No, that's not sexual harassment. Obviously.

outside of your belief in the equality of people outside their sexuality (which I also believe), what makes someone claiming an argument of harassment on grounds of "uncomfortableness" incorrect?

Sexual harassment is basically unwanted sexual attention being directed at people in the workplace. Is this making sense so far? If a co-worker or boss says or does something to you that is sexual in nature, that can be considered sexual harassment whether or not it makes you feel uncomfortable. This is not complicated.
posted by clockzero at 8:45 PM on June 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's really an unambiguous definition of what constitutes sexual harassment that doesn't depend on who has more legal fire power or he said/she said comfortableness vs intentions dichotomy? Like a straight talk this is it "sexual harassment" do not pass go do not collect $200?

I would be curious what that definition would be. Are there any lawyers who can cite the most straightforward law and comment on this instance?
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 8:46 PM on June 6, 2013


It sounds like McGinn agreed to leave in order to avoid an investigation, and so the university has agreed not to further investigate, and now he gets to say that he's "never been charged" with harassment.
posted by jeather at 8:49 PM on June 6, 2013


ishrinkmajeans, I'm trying to articulate why I find this line of 'reasoning' so irritating, and I think it's because this is not new ground. This is all established law with lots of precedent which can be found by a simple Google search. Pretending to find virtue in this sort of extremely basic pedantic whatiffery seems like you'd rather count the hairs in the beard than discuss the actual case at hand.
posted by KathrynT at 8:50 PM on June 6, 2013 [18 favorites]


I would be curious what that definition would be

"Sexual harassment is basically unwanted sexual attention being directed at people in the workplace" seems pretty clear cut to me.
posted by mathowie at 8:50 PM on June 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


There's really an unambiguous definition of what constitutes sexual harassment that doesn't depend on who has more legal fire power or he said/she said comfortableness vs intentions dichotomy? Like a straight talk this is it "sexual harassment" do not pass go do not collect $200?

I would be curious what that definition would be. Are there any lawyers who can cite the most straightforward law and comment on this instance?

The EEOC's plain-language explanation of the standard under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (colloquially known simply as "Title VII") is not legally-binding precedent, but it encapsulates the current state of federal case law on the issue pretty well for a lay person's understanding. Here it is (see the site for some more explanation):
"Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."
There's a lot more to the law than that, obviously, and that's just the EEOC's current public-facing summary of the standard from their website and according to their own interpretation. I could go into more detail and cite cases and all that, but I'm not your lawyer and this is not legal advice (I am an employment litigator and I do handle a lot of sexual harassment cases - most of which are brought under state law in my state).
posted by The World Famous at 8:53 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


McGinn also has some public backstory that nonphilosophers may not be familiar with. (that page begins with a back-and-forth of negative reviews, but gets into the interpersonal as you go along)

This specific story -- this guy, this profession, this actual set of allegations -- has a lot more interesting angles to discuss than revisiting "what counts as harassment" 101.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:55 PM on June 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


One of my first jobs I had two female direct reports who were close friends.

One was kind of naive and one was into some kind of fetish lifestyle although I never really wanted details.

They sat next to each other and when I walked past to get lunch I'd asked them if they wanted anything. One day the naive one said "yeah I want a DP", her friend burst out laughing and said something like "yeah I bet you would".

The woman who asked for the DP just kinda looked befuddled, I was like "wait, what do you want?" She said "oh a diet Pepsi." she really didn't know what DP meant.

This was a startup with no HR so it was kinda like the wild west but the next time I was alone with the joker I said "you really shouldn't make jokes like that".

Over the next couple weeks this kept happening, just non stop snickering and eye rolling. I didn't really know what to do. Eventually we all went to happy hour and I suggested she look up DP on the Internet when she got home. She never asked for a DP again.

I get training every 6 months these days and I still don't know if this was harassment, and if so who was being harassed.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:56 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kathryn

Not at all. I think that there's a good chance that this guy made some comments that his listeners didn't like but not liking doesn't necessarily constitute harassment per se in my opinion. I think there needs to be shown bad intention as well which isnt clear. This guy could just be incredibly uninsightful of how people would take his comments. Incredibly socially awkward introspective people can be that way. I brought up the law to articulate that I don't think this case is very clear cut. Im suspicious of arguments to law that don't rely on winning but throwing around the most money.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 8:58 PM on June 6, 2013


Incredibly socially awkward introspective people can be that way.

Incredibly socially awkward people don't make 'clever' double-entendres in a way that they can claim plausible deniability if someone voices offense. That's the exact opposite of socially awkward.
posted by KathrynT at 9:00 PM on June 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


Thanks the world famous

Ok I think that based on what you cited this guy probably broke the law.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 9:01 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there needs to be shown bad intention as well which isnt clear

It's crystal clear to me. You don't talk about "hand jobs" over email with people that work for you, full stop. Even if you're trying to make a dumb joke, it's clearly stepping over a legal boundary to email your subordinate and include that.
posted by mathowie at 9:01 PM on June 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think there needs to be shown bad intention as well which isnt clear.

Legally-speaking, intent is irrelevant to whether or not conduct constitutes sexual harassment. To use a pop-culture example, Michael Scott on The Office is constantly sexually harassing people and subjecting Dunder Mifflin to potential exposure in spite of the fact that he never actually intends to sexually harass anyone.
posted by The World Famous at 9:02 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


To use a pop-culture example, Michael Scott on The Office is constantly sexually harassing people and subjecting Dunder Mifflin to potential exposure

There is an HR blog that over the last several years reviewed every episode of The Office and gave estimates on legal fees to pay for the laws they broke in every episode.
posted by mathowie at 9:05 PM on June 6, 2013 [19 favorites]


He is not playing innocent like he had no idea that it could be taken the other way.

You're right. I kind of assume that that was his original plan, but that he couldn't resist the "if you were more intellectual (like me), it wouldn't bother you a bit" angle once he thought that one up.

i.e. "I'm sorry I didn't choose my target more carefully."
posted by ctmf at 9:05 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


…one should also not underestimate the sophistication of the speaker.

It's like rain on your wedding day, buddy.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:10 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I knew an English professor who wrote an essay that rued the fact that English professors had a reputation for being pervy.

It went something like "you are watching a movie where a male professor has an affair with a bright young female student. Is he a physics professor? A biology professor? No of course not. He's an English professor. He's always an English professor."

I'm sad that I've lost his email address so I can't ask him about this situation. I'm sure he'd have nothing but scorn for McGinn, but I'd also like to think that he would be relieved that this creeper was not an English professor.
posted by mcmile at 9:19 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


It went something like "you are watching a movie where a male professor has an affair with a bright young female student. Is he a physics professor? A biology professor? No of course not. He's an English professor. He's always an English professor."

Of course, that could also be commentary on the way movies tend to portray female science students.
posted by The World Famous at 9:23 PM on June 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


" that this guy made some comments that his listeners didn't like but not liking doesn't necessarily constitute harassment per se in my opinion. I think there needs to be shown bad intention as well which isnt clear. "

Fortunately you don't get to define what counts as harassment for other people. If a person feels harassed, then (with very, very, very few exceptions) they have been harassed.
posted by oddman at 10:00 PM on June 6, 2013


odd man

There was a woman who ordered a drink at a bar and got a girlier version than she was expecting from the bar tender. There was an askmeta post about this a few days ago where she seemed upset. While the bartender wasn't her employer it was at a commercial business open to the public. Does she have a right to legal recourse because she felt that there was sexism in how she was served? In my opinion she does not - I feel that there needs to be a higher standard for being wronged than simply feeling you have been. I understand that the law does not agree with me but I don't have a lot of respect for the law as a standard of moral authority.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 10:21 PM on June 6, 2013


You know what is most outrageous about this? He went with hand job=manicure as his defense instead of claiming it was a reference to Here Is One Hand. I mean my god, he calls himself a philosopher! It was RIGHT THERE. He could have just been like, see, the hand job was what Wittgenstein was working on. But manicure? That's what you're going with?
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:53 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


It went something like "you are watching a movie where a male professor has an affair with a bright young female student. Is he a physics professor? A biology professor? No of course not. He's an English professor. He's always an English professor."

Of course, that could also be commentary on the way movies tend to portray female science students.


It would also be completely wrong since half the biology professors I know are married to a former student or employee.
posted by fshgrl at 11:00 PM on June 6, 2013


There is an objective and subjective standard for sex harassment; both must be met. The EEOC citing Harris (1993 U.S. Supreme Court case) notes: "To violate Title VII, the challenged conduct must not only be sufficiently severe or pervasive objectively to offend a reasonable person, but also must be subjectively perceived as abusive by the charging party." That guidance document describes the relevant standards under federal law; different state laws may alter the standards somewhat.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:01 PM on June 6, 2013


ishrinkmajeans, it would, in fact, be actionable in California under the Unruh Civil Rights Act for a bartender to refuse to serve women the drink they order based on the fact that they are women. It is discrimination, though, rather than harassment.

And you are mistaken when you say the legal standard is merely feeling like you've been wronged. That is not the standard at all.
posted by The World Famous at 11:01 PM on June 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


In a sectarian, completely and utterly petty way, I am hugely relieved that the guy's specialty was in traditionally analytically dominated fields of philosophy.

Beyond that immature relief, while I'm not a retributivist, I do believe that Mr. McGinn should not be left in a position of power (of any sort).
posted by donquixote at 11:14 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh my gosh, I just caught this gem:

"The case made its way to Donna E. Shalala, a president of the University of Miami, who had a 'strong' personal reaction to the allegations," said Edward Erwin, a supporter of Mr. McGinn [and another philosophy professor at U of M].

I see. The lesbian man-hater is bringing you down.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:16 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also want to add, and certainly not to discount anyone's experience or diminish the fact that some philosophy departments may be hostile to women, but many philosophy departments are very progressive, feminist places. When I was doing philosophy as an undergrad, my thesis adviser was a woman and was and is perhaps the most respected philosopher in her field, the chair of the department was a woman and President of the Kant Society, female grad students outnumbered males. There is hope - at least for women in philosophy. Though for philosophy itself, well...
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:34 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perhaps the professor is merely flamboyantly heterosexual.
posted by chaz at 11:38 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Serious I am so annoyed that he thinks everyone will just agree that he can totally control the appropriate interpretation of his statements. He must be so high on his own privilege...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:47 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, McGinn has done some top-notch work in philosophy. Really first-rate. About 10 years ago he decided to start writing pop stuff. That stuff I haven't really read, so I can't speak to its quality.

Obviously this bears not at all on lechery and harassment, which should be denounced in the loudest possible terms. For too long women in philosophy have had to endure this kind of thing, and worse. It's about fucking time for it to stop, and this is a great place to begin.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:23 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Obviously this bears not at all on lechery and harassment, which should be denounced in the loudest possible terms. For too long women in philosophy have had to endure this kind of thing, and worse. It's about fucking time for it to stop, and this is a great place to begin.

I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree with this statement.

On the other hand I can't help hoping that when I'm 74, somebody still sees fit to refer to me as no slouch in the womanizing arts.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:34 AM on June 7, 2013


He should brush up on what the masters did in these predicaments:

"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the--if he--if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement....Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true."
posted by wallstreet1929 at 3:56 AM on June 7, 2013


While the bartender wasn't her employer it was at a commercial business open to the public. Does she have a right to legal recourse because she felt that there was sexism in how she was served?

What is the point of your act here? This has no relation to the issue we are discussing--which is sexual harassment in the workplace.

The University should be applauded for firing this creep this early on--usually Universities and departments will try at least to cover these things up. Good on them.

And the woman who reported this is an absolute hero. She undertook great professional and personal risk to report harassment by someone who has much much more power than her. She made philosophy departments a slightly safer place for women everywhere.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:28 AM on June 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Wow, I finally get what my dad was talking about when he'd come down on me as a teenager for being a "Sea Lawyer"

(My father is a retired Marine Lt. Col.)
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:28 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


> McGinn also has some public backstory that nonphilosophers may not be familiar with.

Thanks very much for that; it was a fascinating read (well, I skimmed quite a bit of it, but what I read was fascinating).

> This has no relation to the issue we are discussing--which is sexual harassment in the workplace.

Right, so it would be great if everyone could ignore the guy farting to attract attention and focus on this very interesting case.
posted by languagehat at 6:44 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some of the discussion of this case in this thread is sort of weird, people aren't really reading most of the links and jumping to McGinn's defense sorta / in principle? I guess I've read a bit more about it because I know some of the backstory and am in a cognate field so I follow all these blogs.

First, his reference to a "hand job" is at odds with what we know about what was in some of the crucial emails. Reportedly, his email(s) clearly indicated to his female supervisee that he was thinking about her while masturbating, and this tenor of email was not a one time occurrence. (Philosophers being what they are, this of course has led to a side discussion in the comments on new apps about what "hand job" means.) There would seem to me to be absolutely no question that this is sexual harassment if this is the sort of email he was sending, and as far as I know, McGinn's post itself is the only public statement from any source that is at all at odds with that characterization.

Second, another set of facts is very clear. McGinn had legal representation, he and his attorney were presented with some part of the evidence, and he agreed to resign in exchange for the university not going further with an investigation. I think this speaks for itself. The gag order is discussed in various of the links but some more detailed information about it is in this comment from another grad student in that department. In light of the gag order, McGinn's post reads to me like a big FU to people who are basically not permitted to investigate / comment further in exchange for getting rid of him, especially the female grad student that came forward (whose career I _really_ hope isn't impacted by this).

Finally, and this is repeating rumorish but I think fairly credible information, McGinn is widely believed to have had a history of this kind of thing, and reportedly was asked to leave Rutgers (before he went to Miami) for similar reasons. Unfortunately, if this occurred (and I would judge it is highly likely, rather than just random internet rumor), it was all back room dealing and it is hard to confirm for an outsider. I think that one of the few positive things about this case is that, despite the gag order, some of these facts are coming into the light in public this time.
posted by advil at 7:35 AM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


> Some of the discussion of this case in this thread is sort of weird, people aren't really reading most of the links and jumping to McGinn's defense sorta / in principle?

What?! Did you read any comments other than those by ishrinkmajeans (aka "the guy farting to attract attention")? This thread is basically a (well-deserved) piling onto McGinn.

That said, thanks for the rest of your comment, which is a useful addition to the thread.
posted by languagehat at 8:27 AM on June 7, 2013


everyone's heard that power corrupts, but I think this guy serves as a great illustration of exactly how power corrupts — by making/letting the person who holds it turn stupid.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:34 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reddit has some good excerpts.

McGinn explains that he just offered to make her a genius... she didn't have to accept.
posted by mdn at 8:40 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not that he really needs parodying, but this does capture the tone.
posted by mdn at 9:20 AM on June 7, 2013


What?! Did you read any comments other than those by ishrinkmajeans (aka "the guy farting to attract attention")? This thread is basically a (well-deserved) piling onto McGinn.

I apologize for sounding critical of the thread as a whole, I think you are right that I was overreacting to what is mostly just one poster. I think I was mainly disconcerted that McGinn's post, despite its overall offputting nature, seemed to have succeeded in its (apparent) goal of setting up the conditions for a "what counts as harassment 101" discussion (as LobsterMitten put it), not to mention the victim blaming now developing from his latest post, when it just seems absolutely clear from other sources that what occurred was harassment.
posted by advil at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Just to be perfectly clear, I don't mean to suggest that there has been victim blaming happening in this thread.)
posted by advil at 9:40 AM on June 7, 2013


So, in his own words, McGinn leverages his professional stature to sexually prey on vulnerable graduate students, hiding behind thinly veiled double entrendres and calling them stupid bitches when they don't play along with his amazing brilliance. Yeah, I can see why this asshole resigned.
posted by leopard at 9:41 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


but with the extra bit that the purpose of this particular speech act is to demonstrate that he can say more or less whatever he wants without punishment, thanks to the gag order he negotiated (which he probably feels quite proud about). Total reddithole behavior — making the world worse for no good reason as a bafflingly pointless demonstration of personal power.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:15 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have had some jokes bomb before, but I have never had to publish a public refutation to defend them.

Small victories, they is the best.
posted by mazola at 12:12 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is why I don't crack jokes about tits and ass at work. It's not hard.
posted by thelonius at 12:38 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


This, from fauxphilnews, is quite funny.
posted by Unified Theory at 12:46 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eric Schliesser comments on the matter here, with a bevy of responses that follow.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 2:18 PM on June 7, 2013


McGinn is widely believed to have had a history of this kind of thing, and reportedly was asked to leave Rutgers (before he went to Miami) for similar reasons.

Thanks for saying this, advil - I had heard the same from different sources, so I'll back up that this is the widespread understanding. That he was allowed to just shift from one fancy place to another and continue doing this (which has been the case for other bigtime philosophers too) speaks to how this shit persists in the academy. I hope it was Shalala who insisted on making the general outlines of the allegations public.

Also, to the analogy with workplace harassment... Grad students are in an even more more powerless position than employees, since the subjective impression people have of them -- informed by what their advisor or other senior people say of them -- can make or break their chances of ever finding an academic job. You can see McGinn trying to smear this student for being not just humorless but also a dummy who wasn't up to par. That is the shit that goes on behind the scenes, and can ruin a developing career, and that is why this doesn't get reported.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:26 PM on June 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


McGinn responds again: "Some basic facts"
Some basic facts

I have not been fired from the university.

I have never been charged by the university with sexual harassment; nor did the student accuse me of that. The lack of such charges can be attributed to the simple fact that I have not been guilty of sexual harassment (which I deplore).

There are no findings of any kind against me by the university.

The only charge the university considered that involved a (putative) violation of university rules was that of failing to report a consensual (though nonsexual) relationship.

The student’s accusation was made many months after the alleged offenses (as much as seven months).

The student’s complaint occurred soon after a dispute between her and me over research work she was supposed to do over the summer (for which she was paid $4000) that she failed to do.
posted by Unified Theory at 2:27 PM on June 7, 2013


Is there any point at which the gag order can be lifted in light of McGinn continuing to toss counterclaims? This is ridiculous.
posted by daveliepmann at 2:39 PM on June 7, 2013


Right, he hasn't been charged with things because they stopped investigating because he agreed to leave the university if they would agree not to investigate. That the grad student didn't use the words sexual harassment is meaningless; that the university didn't charge him with anything is even more meaningless.

This isn't even particularly good obfuscation.
posted by jeather at 2:41 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


For posterity:

What do you call a man who exposes himself to women for pleasure? A philosophy professor, of course. Why does this joke work? Because sexual harassment is so common in academic philosophy. But also because of the tension between the image of the lewd “flasher” (a certain type of harasser) and that of the staid professor. When you think about it, most times that you are naked it’s not even about sex: when you bathe, dress, or are examined by the doctor, for example. The ancient Greeks used to wrestle naked and artists still use naked models. Indeed, without the body human culture would not exist. So really the body is very respectable and vital to human flourishing. We are a corporeal species.

I have in fact written a whole book about the body, Pretension, in which its ubiquity is noted and celebrated. I even have a cult centering on the body, described in this blog. I have given a semester-long seminar discussing the body and displays related to it. I now tend to use nudity in the wide-ranging manner just outlined, sometimes with humorous intent.

Suppose now a professor P, well conversant in the above points, slyly exposes himself to his graduate student, who is also thus conversant. The astute student, suitably primed, responds after a moment by saying: “Um… you’re not trying to proposition me, right?” Professor P replies: “You are clearly a clever student—I can’t trick you. That is exactly the response I was looking for!” They then laugh nervously together. Academics like mind games.

But suppose a naïve onlooker, seeing this witty display, jumps to the conclusion that the nudity is indicative of something sexual. He then reports the act of Professor P as follows: “Professor P propositioned his student.” He has failed to see the joke and has no knowledge of the intellectual background of the display he is trying so ineptly to report. He clearly misreports what Professor P did, missing both the content and the humor. We might accurately describe P’s action as follows: P exposed himself to his student. Completely innocent.

http://fauxphilnews.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/2449/#more-2449
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 2:43 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, if you haven't, read McGinn's post about the genius project, linked above. Wow, wow. Talk about not knowing how you are coming across.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:47 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reflecting on the McGinn case and the culture of academic philosophy, philosopher Jason Stanley has an interesting comment on another blog. He says there's a "casting couch culture" in philosophy:

Here is my two cents about our field. It's all anecdotal, and I cannot speak comparatively about other fields. In philosophy there seems to be a 'casting couch' culture. There is an obvious reward culture for younger women in philosophy who sleep with older male philosophers. Too many of my female colleagues have told me that male philosophers have used the "I can help your career" comment with them, and I have heard from more than one female grad student that she felt the need to hook up with a senior male distinguished philosopher before she hit the job market. Furthermore, the men who are engaged in this culture perpetuate it by male bonding with other men, which makes even the non-bad actors reluctant to do anything about it. A second separate and distinct issue is that there is an overly personal and unprofessional aspect to the friendship and socializing in the profession. This makes personal relationships between younger and older figures more acceptable. A third factor I wonder about but have not verified is that there appears to be a disproportionate number of female philosophers who are married to male philosophers. Obviously love is a wonderful thing but it does send a certain message to male philosophers. I wouldn't mention this third factor, except for the fact that I have heard male philosophers admit in my presence that they are pretty hopeless on the dating scene, and that their chances to be with an attractive women are much higher if they focus on female philosophers. The time I'm thinking of was a kind of male bonding moment, and though I threw up in my mouth, I'm ashamed to admit I didn't throw up in their faces.
posted by Unified Theory at 3:21 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Four thousand whole dollars?! Well, that certainly entitles him to do whatever he wants with her.
posted by Apropos of Something at 4:22 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


He's certain there's gotta be a way to make this her fault. "Bitch is gold-digging, amirite? Note: I mean a female dog, digging for actual nuggets of gold (Au)."
posted by Miko at 4:37 PM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


From the blog Feminist Philosophers:

Colin McGinn here offers further elaboration of “recent events.” Apparently, it was all in the name of pedagogy!

Pro tip: Be cautious of any pedagogical approach that requires a safe word.

posted by Unified Theory at 6:49 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, if you haven't, read McGinn's post about the genius project, linked above. Wow, wow. Talk about not knowing how you are coming across.

No shit. It's mind-boggling to consider that any prof who is not, say, smoking crack would conceivably think it appropriate to form the kind of relationship he describes with a student under your pedagogical supervision, let alone one who is or soon will be your employee -- and then brag about it publicly in gory detail as if such a confession is going to vindicate you. Man, all that gross paternalistic condescending "make her a genius by breaking taboos" hooey sounds as if he lifted it directly from some lurid Victorian porn novel, ugh.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:14 PM on June 7, 2013


I yank, therefore my hand.
posted by anothermug at 7:22 PM on June 7, 2013


McGinn's posts reminded me of the New Yorker article from earlier this year about the Horace Mann sexual abuse scandals (formerly on MetaFilter). The central character profiled in the piece was an English teacher, Robert Berman, who would generally belittle students but highlight some of them as potentially brilliant ("the next Dickens"). If someone "disappointed" him, he would say things like "You are no longer a possible Milton... the door is closed."
posted by leopard at 8:20 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Totally reminded me of that, too, leopard. It seems like kind of a common gambit in this sort of case to suggest that acceptance of harassment is the mark of greater intellectual powers, and that if the peons object, it's because their puny minds cannot understand the sophisticated interaction taken place.

It's a particularly insidious kind of academic manipulation that takes profound advantage of the teacher/student relationship. Even though the emperor really has no clothes, someone in the thrall of supposed brilliance, who is being told is very special, is all too likely to go along with it.
posted by Miko at 8:25 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


http://mcginn.philospot.com/index.php?story=story130607-175637 -- Blames Donna Shalala again
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:06 AM on June 8, 2013


Link to URL provided by ClaudiaCenter

It surprised me to learn that he has a wife.
posted by Unified Theory at 5:40 AM on June 8, 2013


McGinn keeps digging:

Eparter les bourgeois


My cultural heroes are: Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell, Vladimir Nabokov, Jean-Paul Sartre, Philip Larkin, Kingsley and Martin Amis, Peter Cook, John Lennon, and Larry David (among many others). What they all have in common is the quality captured by the French phrase “eparter les bourgeois”, which the OED defines as “shock people regarded as conventional or complacent”. We might paraphrase this in a number of ways: taunt the prudish and prim, ridicule the conventional and boring, outrage the pious and conformist. The cultural tradition that falls under this description sees itself as in favor of art, freedom, creativity, spontaneity, playfulness, life, and experience; it casts itself as standing against stifling social norms and dull conformity. It is given to provocation, controversy, and shock tactics. Accordingly, it is often pilloried and persecuted, and of course misunderstood. It does not see itself as against morality as such, but it does view conventional pieties with a beady and skeptical eye. It is on the lookout for hypocrisy, dogma, intolerance, suppression, and sheer dullness of spirit. These to me are admirable values that I try to bring into my own life. I am particularly fond of provocative irony, which has got me into trouble on more than one occasion (especially in irony-deficient America). I am often amazed that people fail to see the irony in this or that utterance of mine.

I trust readers will see the relevance of these remarks to current events.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 4:38 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the update, whyareyouatriangle.

It made me think of this.
posted by sophieblue at 7:42 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


What strikes me about his little anecdote about "Professor P" and the grad student is that it's completely irrelevant to the incident in question. It's not that somebody overheard a conversation between two consenting people and took offense and complained, it's that the grad student to whom the email was sent complained.

Apple. Orange.
posted by Lexica at 8:40 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am often amazed that people fail to see the irony in this or that utterance of mine.

What a pretentious shitcock.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:31 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lest that be too offensive a phrase, I'm also down with identifying him as a droning assmunch or a ragged twat. Boring cunt and delusional fuckface will also do the trick.

Someone please go pull that fool's head out from his spincter and slap some sense into him. Gahd.

And to think, there is a community of supposedly intelligent and educated people who respect that asshole. What the fuck.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:40 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


On second thought, I am over-reacting. This wankstain's inflated ego and buffoonish hyperbole gets deep under my skin. I really shouldn't let such a grotesque person yank my chain.

On the other hand, he has abused his position and power, so maybe it's appropriate to react with disgust and loathing.

Gah. I guess I can just hope that karma comes 'round and bites him in the ass. He's such a contemptible piece of shit.

[spit]

goddammit, over-reacting again…
posted by five fresh fish at 10:40 PM on June 8, 2013


More on McGinn's blog:

McGinn: "Support" (or, women love me... they really do)

Elizabeth Sheldon, editor of McGinn's website/blog, responds to the allegations and suggests that McGinn's relationship with the grad student was a way of correcting the imbalance of attention in philosophy to men to the detriment of women (at least that's how I interpret her response). Please read the whole thing, it's extraordinary, but here are choice bits:

"...From personal experience, I know that certain disciplines in academia are inclined to foster environments that favor male students; philosophy has such a reputation. I am not inclined to explore the myriad causes or offer a remedy but know from first-hand experience that part of the cause is because students who tend to pursue advanced degrees are encouraged, nurtured and mentored. More boys than girls receive the necessary encouragement and attention. I believe, based on my professional relationship with Colin that has spanned fifteen years in a non-academic context, that this was his intent with graduate student NN...

--there was no due process and an immediate assumption of guilt. I am sympathetic to Colin’s choice not to pursue an inquiry by the Faculty Senate Committee as he believed that the ruling would be overturned by the administration despite their findings and lack of evidence. I don’t blame Colin; I served on a grand jury and all that the prosecutor had to say was ‘kiddie porn,’ for the jury to vote guilty regardless of evidence. I also initially assumed that there were additional complaints that Colin did not want to surface. It is my understanding that there were none and the administration could not find any evidence to support the claims of innapropiate correspondence, when taken out of context, beyond the two e-mails.

--the context of the conversation was completely ignored by the administration in regards to the subject of the research.

--the punishment far exceeds the 'crime' Colin has been accused of.

--there is an immediate assumption of abuse of power due to Colin’s position and sex but a graduate student is an adult, not a powerless victim. She consented to be his RA and understood the subject matter.

--... NN has learned that if you are terminated for not performing the work that you were hired to perform, you can always sue your employer. Happens every day."
posted by Unified Theory at 7:12 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Grrraaaaarrrr! So much impotent stabby rage! Why is there no Remove From Activity link for the mobile device view? Grar!

What horrible people.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:39 AM on June 9, 2013


Some modest proposals in the wake of Colin McGinn's exit from the University of Miami

(also contains good round-up of links to other blogs)
posted by Unified Theory at 7:40 AM on June 9, 2013


She was on a grand jury and has no idea what grand juries do, apparently. Nor does she understand what power means.

Here is some of McGinn's self-published novel. He describes it as such:

“Alex is a gleefully evil character who narrates his own depravity in unforgettable prose. My antihero Dave also narrates the less spectacular story of his merely poor character–in what I hope is pungently memorable prose….Was I writing another version of Clockwork Orange without being aware of it (Cockwork Blue)?”
posted by jeather at 7:41 AM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I served on a grand jury and all that the prosecutor had to say was ‘kiddie porn,’ for the jury to vote guilty regardless of evidence.

Odd that a grand jury would be voting "guilty" since they only vote whether there's probable cause for indictment.
posted by Unified Theory at 7:43 AM on June 9, 2013


Wow, I guess it's easier than I thought to become a Fulbright scholar.
posted by Miko at 8:01 AM on June 9, 2013


Okay, this is really interesting to me. I've Googled Elizabeth Sheldon because I was puzzled about why McGinn would have an editor for his blog. It appears that Philospot is Sheldon's site and that McGinn is just a contributor there. An administrator made an announcement when he joined Philospot as a contributor.

Now here's where things get interesting. She appears to head or be closely involved with Alive Mind Cinema, devoted to personal transformation and enlightenment, which has recently been promoting a documentary about of Chögyam Trungpa, who she describes as "the bad boy of Buddhism" (see her Twitter account, which references both McGinn and the Trungpa film). In her own lengthy description of his accomplishments, Sheldon has this to say about Trungpa:

In Britain, realizing a cultural gap prevented his students from any deep understanding of Buddhism, he renounced his vows, eloped with a sixteen year-old, and lived as a westerner.  In the U.S., he openly drank alcohol and had intimate relations with students. Was this crazy wisdom?

This may seem far-fetched, but I'm wondering whether McGinn has fallen in with Trungpa acolytes or has at least been influenced by the freewheeling Crazy Wisdom pedagogical style. After all, this Sheldon connection establishes at the very least a plausible link between Trungpa's ideas and McGinn. At the very least, we know that the one woman he linked to as a supporter is a Trungpa acolyte. And this Trungpa acolyte edits McGinn's blog.

Check out the "controversies" section on Trungpa's Wikipedia entry.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:58 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the 21st century, "epater les bourgeois" means you have a nose ring and your lawyer parents don't really approve of the person you're sleeping with. It's the type of expression that's always accompanied by an eyeroll.
posted by leopard at 11:14 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


UT, interesting find! If McGinn has indeed taken on some view of himself as a mystic guru, that would be (I am guessing) more damaging to his reputation in philosophy than the sexual harassment charge.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:30 PM on June 9, 2013


This may seem far-fetched, but I'm wondering whether McGinn has fallen in with Trungpa acolytes or has at least been influenced by the freewheeling Crazy Wisdom pedagogical style.

That seems implausible to me. McGinn is a gross self-deluded sybarite, but he's also a self-avowed atheist who hasn't exhibited any spiritual impulses that I've seen. He demonstrably has no problems with writing about whatever is on his mind, and he's never mentioned Trungpa. And he prides himself on being a renegade, so he doesn't seem like the sort of person to follow any religious or spiritual group (to found one maybe, but not to follow one).

More likely, someone into Trungpa would be enticed by mysterianism, and so one of them invited him to join her general philosophy blog.

Apparently he doesn't have a great rep as a philosopher either
posted by PinkMoose at 7:59 PM on June 6 [+] [!]

Well this is just... an incredibly incorrect statement.
posted by SollosQ at 11:07 PM on June 6 [+] [!] [quote]


Well, I beg to differ: his reputation is mostly terrible. I doubt that there is a single professor in a top-twenty department who takes him seriously, and I have heard many of them openly mocking him for years. His very old phil mind papers are useful, his book on logical properties was apparently good, and mysterianism is a position that needed to have been articulated by someone, but since about 2000, he hasn't done anything that is remotely worthwhile. It's all mostly laughably bad, and it is known to be laughably bad. I suspect that once he realized he had reached the upper echelons of professional philosophy, he decided to call it quits, leaned back in his chair, and ate his own brain.

This is one reason that the philosophical community might have made this event into such a big deal. He's a big name that no longer deserves a big name, so everyone is relishing his comeuppance. There's good and bad in this. The good is that someone needed to be made an example of, and McGinn was a perfect clown to take the fall. Everyone was predisposed to think he was a buffoon. This beating will hopefully scare other predators and signal a public change in attitude. The bad is that it is less clear that a sexual creep who was good philosopher would have encountered the same outcry. If you admire someone for their writing and thought, that admiration will naturally tend to extend to their character as well. There are plenty of important philosophers who are also known to be predatory, but I doubt this story would have broken in quite the same way if they had been outed.
posted by painquale at 1:19 PM on June 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Perhaps the Genius Project was an outgrowth of his earlier work on mindfucking, of which "[t]he essence is psychological upheaval or disorientation, often abetted by the weaknesses of the victim. Jealousy, insecurity and prejudice can aid the mindfuck."
posted by Unified Theory at 1:49 PM on June 9, 2013


This just in: the Genius Project was tongue in cheek
posted by Unified Theory at 1:58 PM on June 9, 2013


Via Leiter, another case: You Can't Say That
posted by homunculus at 12:33 PM on June 10, 2013


Scott Lemieux refutes Sheldon. The comments, for once, are worth reading.
posted by jeather at 12:48 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just to back up my claim that McGinn hasn't been taken seriously by philosophers for some time, here's a 2004 piece on Crooked Timber by a very good philosopher. It's not explicitly about McGinn's worth as a philosopher, but you can read between the lines.

This should be obvious, anyway. Who could take seriously all that ridiculous stuff about the hand? It's garbage! It's like what somebody completely uninformed about philosophy would think philosophers do. Talk about bad press.

Also, the site that is posting snippets from McGinn's novel is getting to the salacious material. Ugh.
posted by painquale at 5:16 PM on June 11, 2013


the salacious material

As I emailed her I wondered if she did this kind of thing often. Not that I cared: I wanted a hand job, not a hand job with someone who hasn’t manicured anyone else lately. I put my fingers into it and fapped up a useful sweat. My modem heaved and then spat out the usual gunk. It felt exactly like an orgasm. That was good, because there are times when it feels more like pus squirting from a pimple. So good, an orgasm, convulsive, full-throated, right up her inbox. She made some female noises after I whooshed it out….
posted by flabdablet at 10:30 PM on June 11, 2013


Truly he is the Dan Brown of slash.
posted by flabdablet at 10:31 PM on June 11, 2013


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