University of Miami’s “Star Philosopher” Sexual Harassment Scandal

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Jennifer Schuessler (The New York Times) writes about Dr. Colin McGinn, a star philosopher at the University of Miami, who has agreed to resign after grievance by a graduate student and accusations of sexual harassment. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

[. . .] Today, many in the field say, gender bias and outright sexual harassment are endemic in philosophy, where women make up less than 20 percent of university faculty members, lower than in any other humanities field, and account for a tiny fraction of citations in top scholarly journals. While the status of women in the sciences has received broad national attention, debate about sexism in philosophy has remained mostly within the confines of academia. But the revelation this summer that Colin McGinn, a star philosopher at the University of Miami, had agreed to leave his tenured post after allegations of sexual harassment brought by a graduate student, has put an unusually famous name to the problem, exposing the field to what some see as a healthy dose of sunlight.

“People are thinking, ‘Wow, he had to resign, and we know about it,’ ” said Jennifer Saul, the chairwoman of the philosophy department at the University of Sheffield in England and the editor of the blog What Is It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy?  “I think that’s unprecedented,” she added.

The case, which was first reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, has set off voluminous chatter among philosophers on blogs and social media. The discussion has been fueled partly by Mr. McGinn’s own blog, where his use of the cryptic language of analytic philosophy in attempts to defend himself seems to have backfired. Two open letters, posted online in mid-July and signed by more than 100 philosophers, including a majority of Mr. McGinn’s colleagues at Miami, criticized some of the posts on his blog as “retaliation” against the student. Meanwhile, some of Mr. McGinn’s posts — including one meditating on the difference between “suggesting” an action and “entertaining” it, and another (since removed) riffing on alternate meanings of a crude term for masturbation — have struck even some of Mr. McGinn’s onetime supporters as less philosophical than self-incriminating.

[. . .] The McGinn case is short on undisputed facts, beyond that Mr. McGinn agreed in December 2012 to resign, before the matter was to be put to further inquiry by Miami’s faculty senate. (The university declined to comment on the case, citing confidentiality in personnel matters.)  But it does have an unusually colorful protagonist in Mr. McGinn, an Oxford-trained philosopher of mind known for his eviscerating book reviews and blunderbuss personal style.

Mr. McGinn, 63, rose to public prominence in the early 1990s as one of the so-called New Mysterians, a group of philosophers who challenged the notion that human consciousness could ever be fully explained. In recent years, he has pursued a more popular bent, writing books on movies, sports and Shakespeare, along with cheekier projects like a short 2008 volume subtitled “A Critique of Mental Manipulation” (the title is unpublishable here).

In Mr. McGinn’s telling, his relationship with the student, a first-year doctoral candidate who worked as his research assistant during the 2012 spring semester, was an unconventional mentorship gone sour.  It was “a warm, consensual, collaborative relationship,” an “intellectual romance” that never became sexual but was full of “bantering,” Mr. McGinn said in a telephone interview. The terms of his agreement with the university, he said, prevented him from saying much more. But “banter referring to sexual matters,” he added, isn’t always “sexual banter.”

The student, through intermediaries, declined to be interviewed for this article, citing concern that it might damage her academic career. But Benjamin Yelle, the student’s boyfriend and a fifth-year graduate student in philosophy at Miami, said she had been subject to months of unwanted innuendo and propositions from Mr. McGinn, documented in numerous e-mails and text messages of an explicit and escalating sexual nature she had shown him. In one from May 2012, Mr. Yelle said, Mr. McGinn suggested he and the student have sex three times over the summer “when no one is around.”

Both Mr. McGinn and the student declined to provide any e-mails or other documents related to the case. But Amie Thomasson, a professor of philosophy at Miami, said the student, shortly after filing her complaint in September 2012, had shown her a stack of e-mails from Mr. McGinn. They included the message mentioning sex over the summer, along with a number of other sexually explicit messages, Ms. Thomasson said.  “This was not an academic discussion of human sexuality,” Ms. Thomasson said. “It was not just jokes. It was personal.” [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/03/arts/colin-mcginn-philosopher-to-leave-his-post.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

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