Remember the Colin McGinn case? Famous philosophy professor at the University of Miami behaving extraordinarily badly? There’s a very good, very thorough review of the story online — the only problem with it is the bad editor who slapped a really stupid title on it: Is it ok for a UM professor to burden a student with sexual advances? I’m pretty sure the answer to that one is NO.
The story describes an awful situation in which a woman was sexually harassed by a man in a position of power, and the end result was that her career was wrecked, and he resigned from the university…but he continues to natter on smugly, publishing books, and retaining the support of other famous philosophers. The University of Miami does not emerge smelling of roses, either.
So on September 14, 2012, Claire did what she calls “one of the most difficult things I have done.” She accused the most famous philosopher in the department of sexual harassment. She submitted his offensive emails to Wilhemena Black, the coordinator who oversees the university’s compliance with Title IX, a landmark federal statute that prohibits schools receiving financial aid from the Department of Education from discriminating by gender or allowing sexual harassment.
Thirty-five days later, UM officials ruled there was insufficient evidence. Instead, they accused McGinn of the more tepid “failure to disclose a consensual romantic relationship.”
McGinn didn’t tarry. He resigned before he could be found officially responsible for anything, then took to the internet to proclaim his innocence. This spurred a spate of high-profile stories about the case from Slate, the New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere. Claire — whom New Times has given a pseudonym because she is an alleged victim of sexual harassment — declined their requests for comment but spoke to New Times for the first time.
“I never slept with him or had sexual contact with him. I never even kissed him. So how was his obsession consensual or romantic?” Claire says. “I came to UM to learn and grow as a philosopher, not to have my professor tell me he had an erection when he thought about me and found me a stimulating mental construct to masturbate to.”
The article includes many examples of their correspondence: he is being smarmily suggestive, she is clearly uncomfortable and struggling to keep the situation professional while not offending the Powerful Man in her discipline. I can’t imagine interpreting any of it as a “consensual romantic relationship”. The university blew it in their management of this problem.
Philosophy doesn’t come off well, either.
Colleagues also came to his defense. In a letter posted on the blog, UM philosophy Professor Edward Erwin wrote: “These two people had developed romantic feelings toward each other which deepened as time went on. Theirs was a true romance.” Asked for comment by New Times, Erwin declined, citing a “lawsuit.”
Philosophers Oliver Sacks, Esa Saarinen, Stephen Schiffer, and Steven Pinker also spoke publicly in McGinn’s defense.
It would have been nice if they’d even tried to get a woman philosopher to comment. Maybe they had a hard time finding one who wasn’t exhausted from battling her male colleagues? Also, if philosophy is supposedly one of the humanities, how come so many philosophers are oblivious to humanity?
It’s a good article, but I keep coming back to that lousy title. What kind of incompetent ninny wrote that? Did they even imagine that the answer could be “yes,” and that this was an interesting topic to debate?