A Detailed Account of the McGinn Affair (updated)


The Miami New Times has a long and detailed account of the events leading up to Colin McGinn’s resignation from the University of Miami. It is based on hundreds of messages reviewed by the Times, “many of which have never been publicized,” a first person account from the student McGinn allegedly harassed, and conversations with McGinn.

UPDATE (4/30/15): University of Miami President Donna Shalala responds in a a new Miami New Times story here. (via Tim O’Keefe)

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David Sobel
David Sobel
6 years ago

I am astonished that Miami found that there was not sufficient evidence against McGinn.Report

Jennifer Frey
Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

Here’s the thing about unwanted sexual advances from someone with institutional and professional power over you: you’re damned if you defend yourself and you’re damned if you don’t. You’re damned if you defend yourself because you risk alienating those who hold the keys to the professional kingdom. You’re damned if you don’t because then your silence is understood as consent. This explains why women walk away most of the time: they’d rather put up with this harassment than risk losing their place in the profession.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

UM’s response to McGinn and “Claire” is also a disaster that merits not only scrutiny but scorn. If this report is an accurate representation, UM failed in its response here.Report

Jon Trerise
Jon Trerise
6 years ago

“I’ve been involved with brilliant women academics for some time,” McGinn says. “I don’t have trouble with that concept.”
Well, isn’t that broad-minded of him.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

From the University of Miami 2014-2015 Faculty Manual (https://umshare.miami.edu/web/wda/facultysenate/FacultyManual.pdf#page=109&view=FitB):

“DEFINITION
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual conduct, such as unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, or other conduct of a sexual nature when:

1. Such conduct is engaged in under circumstances implying that one’s response might affect
academic or personnel decisions that are subject to the influence of the person engaging in that
conduct; or

2. Such conduct is directed at an individual or a group and (a) is either abusive

[*]or would be considered severely humiliating by a reasonable person at whom it was directed[*],

or persists despite the objection of the person(s) targeted by the conduct; or (b) is so clearly unprofessional that it creates a hostile environment that may substantially impair the work or academic performance of colleagues, coworkers or students.”

“In any event, to constitute sexual harassment, the conduct must be severe, or persist despite the fact that the faculty member knew or

[*]should have known[*]

that the conduct was unwelcome.”

I’ve isolated the counterfactuals that would damn McGinn in spite of the fact that Claire apparently never explicitly told him to stop. I’m not sure whether this was the policy during the incident.Report

Yet Another Female Student
Yet Another Female Student
6 years ago

“The prime point here is that it involves the illegitimate exercise of power. The victim of the mindfuck is exploited, leaned on, invaded, imposed on, controlled and manipulated. Mindfucking is an inherently aggressive act. It is an act of psychological violence, more or less extreme. As such, it is clearly immoral. The intention behind it is morally objectionable: it is an intention to do harm. This is clearly the implied meaning of the term; the idea of domination is built into the concept.” — Colin McGinnReport

Sigrid
Sigrid
6 years ago

That all sounds very telling, (6), for the most part. Only, none of the accounts sound to me like there was an intention to do harm. More like, an intention to have fun combined with an inexcusable lack of awareness and consideration. (Leaving aside the subsequent blogging…)Report

AnotherOne
AnotherOne
6 years ago

I felt as if Claire had found my letters from my first year of grad school and read each one out loud.

In other words, I had a very similar experience. A professor asked me to work as a research assistant after my first semester too.

I was really excited about it initially- I thought he might have asked me because I wrote an interesting term paper or something. But after a few months of organizing his office, and even catching him chuckle after asking me if I considered myself a “logic person,” I started to have my doubts. These doubts were confirmed one day when he started complaining to me about his marriage and then upped the ante by telling me that I was “attractive as a woman.”

I reacted really well in the moment, and listed all the reasons why his comment was wildly inappropriate (I’m a first year grad student, you’re married, you remind me of my great uncle…). But don’t let that fool you- my confidence was shaken to the core.

I’m still surprised that it affected me as much as it did. After all, I’m an adult, I stuck up for myself, and to this day I wouldn’t change a single word of my response. But even two years later, I was unable to report it without breaking down like Tammy Faye Bakker.

If this happened to me and it happened to Claire, I’m curious how many other people have had this sort experience. And to anyone who has, were you also surprised by just exactly how damaging it was to you?Report

Another Anon Junior Person
Another Anon Junior Person
6 years ago

Re: AnotherOne

I, too, had so many experiences in grad school that I clearly have not yet gotten over, because when I try to describe them to people my voice starts to crack. I would share my stories in detail if writing them down wouldn’t obviously violate reasonable obscenity guidelines on blog comments. Some of the things said to me during that period of time in my life still rings clear as a bell in my memory.

What I struggle with is the sheer wastefulness of it all. So many hours that could have been working on developing ideas with a clear frame of mind have been lost to endlessly replaying my experiences and beating myself up about how I did or didn’t respond to them at the time. I think constantly about my experiences, and then spend more time feeling bad about how much I obsessively think about them, how I can’t seem to get over it.

I’m glad Colin McGinn gets to play on his professional trampoline and continue to churn out books without any institutional affiliation. Some of us (like Claire) don’t have the luxury of fully and completely moving on.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
6 years ago

I guess I think UM did a pretty good job in this case: after all, the most famous member of the philosophy department was forced to resign very soon after charges against him were raised. Of course, I understand the victim’s anger, and I would be angry too, but McGinn is gone and has apparently been rendered unemployable.

As the article points out, there were aspects of the case that would make sexual harassment charges challenging to bring against McGinn. While it is obvious that what he did was wrong, it is foolish to pretend that some of the victim’s correspondence with him didn’t pose a problem for the harassment case. This is not to blame the victim; I think she is a victim, but I don’t really understand the anger at UM. It seems to me that they did a fairly good job responding to an awful situation.

Perhaps my perspective is informed my the many, many cases I know of which are just as bad as the McGinn case but where the harassers are still well regarded members of their departments. One example: I once had to literally remove the hands of a male professor from a female graduate student. That is, I physically took my hands and removed his hands from her, at which point he called me a “cold bitch.” I have every reason to believe that this was not an isolated incident. This man is still a highly esteemed full professor at a “top five” department.

Of course, the deep problems with the culture shouldn’t lead us to look the other way when bad behavior occurs, but I think a recognition of just how bad some pockets of philosophy are should lead us to temper some of our criticisms of UM. Yes, their response wasn’t all we might want it to be, but at least McGinn is gone and reasonable people see that his behavior was grossly immoral.Report

anon lady grad student
anon lady grad student
6 years ago

I haven’t had this particular kind of experience, but I definitely have had multiple experiences that are similar in important respects, one of which, in retrospect, is horrifying in a similar sort of way to Claire’s. From talking with other female grad students and junior people, I don’t think this is uncommon. I’ve also struggled with the kinds of things Another Anon Junior Person discusses. But I think the thing I find the most frustrating is the following: I struggle with having any confidence in my work or ability as a philosopher, because so much of the time when I’ve thought someone was genuinely interested in my work they turned out not to be. And because it’s just demoralizing and disgusting and gross to go through these things. But it’s not that struggle that is the worst effect, it’s that I know that me struggling with those things is negatively impacting how the faculty who I work with, and more generally know, think of me. I know this partly because they *tell me* this. I constantly get people telling me to be more confident. But one can’t just suddenly “be more confident” in these kinds of situations. So I get into a horrible loop of panicking about what my adviser, committee members, influential people on my faculty think about me, knowing that they are thinking negatively about me in these respects, and that makes me even less confident in myself. The second worse thing is hearing people talk about how attractive women in philosophy “have an advantage”, that they are taking advantage of people thinking they are attractive, that they are playing the system just as much as the system is playing them. These people either have *no concept* of what it is like to be in a situation where one literally cannot get oneself to believe that anyone believes that one is competent or could ever be competent as a philosopher, or they are just horrible human beings. I constantly think about leaving the field, about not trying to get a job because what’s the point, if I do everyone will tell me that it’s because some guy on some interviewing committee thought I was hot, and maybe it will be because of that, and I don’t care how valuable everyone else thinks philosophy jobs are, I don’t want one if that’s the way I have to get one, and if I don’t it will just be evidence that my single contribution to the field is for middle aged men to stare at my chest and make lewd comments to me.

I feel horrible about the fact that this woman’s life has essentially been ruined, and I hope that she can find the strength and courage to rebuild it. She’s clearly more courageous than I am, because she actually reported things.

But I also hope that people will take other victims of this sort of thing more seriously, because I think that there are certain special features of this case–namely, that the “in crowd”, popular, influential senior people in philosophy largely had already abandoned and shunned McGinn–that make it easier for the philosophical community to condemn him and his actions. It really is true that all of you have friends and people you deeply professionally respect who do these kinds of things. And of course we want to stay loyal to our friends and believe that they are good people and all that. But if things are ever going to change in philosophy, we need to make sure that our priorities lie with finding some sort of peace and justice for victims of these things, and not with making excuses for our friends (or for people who have a lot of power in our own departments). I–and many other women–have been repeatedly *warned* about certain men in the profession. So I know that many senior people know what those men have done and what they continue to do. But they are the powerful/popular/important men, so no one encourages anyone to come forward, and, at least in my case, I would never dare say anything about those people who had harmed me in various ways, unless I had decided for once and for all that I was definitely leaving philosophy.Report

anon grad student
anon grad student
6 years ago

Echoing anon lady grad student: I did my undergraduate degree in a tippy top department. I was stunned at the number of grad programs professors told me to avoid because of serial sexual harassment problems with faculty there. And yet, all of these professors–powerful people, with tenure, at a powerful department–seemed like they were doing nothing. Why must change always bear down on the shoulders of the most vulnerable in the profession–young female grad students?Report

JAB
JAB
6 years ago

I’d been talking with friends about how hard it is to just ignore being hit on by someone you “work with” in response to Laura Kipnis’s ode to hitting on students in The Chronicle. One thing we’ve remembered is how scary it can be to be hit on. Our cases involved being hit on “out of the blue” by someone in some type of trusted position who didn’t actually know us that well. I think now, in hindsight, we were detecting that the same sort of personality that “falls” that hard for a near-stranger (or a person who has shown zero reciprocal interest?) is going to react very poorly to being rejected.

(I once had some professor (not ever one of my own, just “a professor” from another school) write a 10,000 word screed about me, calling me names, etc. because I rejected him. This was a total stranger I had spoken to, in group, just once. I still find it hard to believe. It is hard to believe. The second time he talked to me it was to express his interest. Then he wrote about how terrible I was and shared it. (I never thought to be grateful I wasn’t worried my reputation would be hurt by his “open letter” about me.) But even people who knew I didn’t know him had sympathy for him, seeing (I guess) nothing wrong with falling for a stranger. Anyway, I’m still very frightened of this person and worried a lot about where I’d move for a job. This was after two interactions that totaled no more than about 15 minutes– so yes, it affected me far more than I would have expected.)

Anyway, people like Kipnis think we should just brush off (or be flattered by?) being hit on by our teachers. That isn’t realistic for nearly anyone, in my experience. But if, as I am imagining, pretty often a professor hits on a student out of the blue, the approach itself might signal a person who is so off-kilter that they will react very badly to nearly anything else the targeted student does.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Professor Plum, I agree with you that it’s good the University of Miami at least did something, but a student was subjected to unnecessary, and what sounds like completely devastating, public humiliation, in part precisely because of how the University of Miami responded. A professor in her own department claimed that her harassment was a feature of a “true romance.” Other senior academics came to his defense. She was discussed in false and damaging ways in a plethora of public venues. Miami’s response served to underscore those narratives by framing this as a failure to disclose a consensual relationship. Sure, he’s no longer at the university, but what about her?

Obviously you’re right that there are many cases which go undealt with entirely–but ‘Claire’s’ friend says “If she could go back and grin and bear it, would she? Of course she would.” If the way of dealing with harassment is such that a victim would rather not have reported at all, then it’s not obvious that Miami’s actions here are much better (or even better at all on the whole) than those of universities which do nothing.Report

AnotherOne
AnotherOne
6 years ago

Wow- thanks for sharing ALGS, AGS, and AAJP. I know we have “What it’s like,” and that has been really helpful, but I appreciate people expressing their own surprise at how it affected them here, now. I think it goes to show that people have a hard time understanding just how harmful it is until they’ve experienced it for themselves- and I think that’s important to keep in mind when it comes to advising grad students who have gone through this sort of thing.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
6 years ago

@# 14: well, how do you think the victim would feel if UM brought harassment charges against McGinn, he fought them, and he won? I think that would clearly be a worse result for the direct victim, the department, and the wider philosophical community.

His defense is that this was all consensual and welcomed by the victim. I think he acted wrongly, and I don’t buy his defense, but some of the victim’s messages support McGinn’s interpretation ( I don’t want to go into details about messages expressing desires for more “intimate” grips–I leave it to readers to make up their own minds ). I can come up with a way of making sense of these messages, but I’m not confident that most committees would come to the same conclusion. Given all this, it seems we are left with an OK resolution to an awful situation.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Professor Plum, I think if they had sufficient evidence to be justified in pressuring him to resign on the basis of allegations of sexual harassment and evidence submitted in support of those allegations, they almost certainly had sufficient evidence of harassment. Whether or not they would have found him responsible is another matter, you’re right — but again, while it may be an OK resolution for some, it’s not for her. They need not have defaulted to misrepresenting the situation in any case — they could just as easily have taken the course they did on the basis of his defense, after conducting a more thorough investigation, and remained clear for the sake of the student that the proposed sanctions were proposed on the basis of his defense of himself rather than on the student’s allegations.Report

AnotherOne
AnotherOne
6 years ago

I just want to speak to the popularity thing that ALGS brought up. I’m pretty sure my harasser wasn’t as important as McGinn, but I do want to say something about my experience with reporting and its aftermath. Initially, I had no intention of reporting. I was under the impression that my harasser was retiring, and wasn’t going to teach any new students- and I just didn’t have time for it. I ended up having to report because I sort of bragged about my response to a new professor, and unbeknownst to me, under Title IX they had an obligation to report. I ended up having to have a few really embarrassing official meetings about it. But what made it worse was that one of the people I had to meet with really, really liked my harasser and told me how disappointed he was to hear of the case because they had plans to co-teach a grad course in the future. So this thing that hurt me really badly was treated as an inconvenience. On top of that, nobody but the two brand new female junior hires even thought to ask me how it affected me. I got some information about deadlines for filing formal complaints and the suggestion to, “go see a counselor or something.” It actually gets a bit worse from there, but I haven’t figured out how to express that part without feeling like I’m causing trouble for myself and others. But the last part almost ruined my chances of having any career in philosophy at all- which is an important detail. So when figure out how to explain what happened in a way that doesn’t rock everyone’s boat too much, I will.

Also, while I’m here, thanks to JAB for sharing your experience too.Report

Tim O'Keefe
6 years ago

They’ve published a followup story where Donna Shalala defends UM’s actions: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/um-president-donna-shalala-responds-to-new-times-story-no-good-deed-goes-unpunished-7583019

Her claim: “Most college and university mechanisms for dealing with claims of sexual harassment against tenured faculty are extensive and protracted. The University of Miami is an example of how one institution got it right, resulting in the resignation of this faculty member. The process was lightning speed – a rarity in the history of higher education. UM is a safer, better place for it.”

There is definitely something to that defense, although Kathryn Pogin’s point about their misrepresenting the situation still stands.Report

Paul Prescott
Paul Prescott
6 years ago

Shlalala is profoundly mistaken.

Jennifer Saul @ Feminist Philosophers has it exactly right: “The way Miami handled the case was immensely damaging to the victim, who has to live with her university having issued an official judgment of “consensual relationship” … And certainly her evidence makes it clear that the relationship was anything but consensual … [T]he university is in fact a worse place for the way this case was dealt with. Other victims will now fear to come forward, knowing that (a) even with vast reams of evidence the university may deem the relationship consensual for the sake of a quick resolution; and (b) the university will not protect them from retaliation.”

UM betrayed Claire, and did so unmistakably.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Let’s not forget, too, that the student was subject to extensive and protracted public commentary from McGinn via his blogging (and others) on this matter too. It’s not as if Miami’s handling this quickly meant the student quickly no longer had to deal with the impact of his presence on her life.Report

anon'
anon'
6 years ago

The university’s formal grounds for seeking McGinn’s resignation are not tantamount to, and were not presented as, a substantive finding of what actually occurred between McGinn and “Claire.” Apparently, it’s worth pointing out that the formal grounds represent the least that was necessary to pressure McGinn to resign, even accepting his (mis)interpretation of events. Shalala said as much at the time and has reiterated that by referring to UM being “a safer, better place” — a sensibility that wouldn’t apply to a merely undisclosed romantic relationship.

Moreover, it’s unclear why the university’s formal grounds for seeking McGinn’s resignation would widely be taken to be a substantive finding — especially since almost everyone realizes that high-profile, tenured professors don’t simply resign under shady circumstances when they don’t have somewhere else to go. (His spin about why he resigned is plainly absurd, particularly in light of his subsequent blogging.) It seems the consensus within the philosophy profession is that McGinn did sexually harass “Claire” and did unreasonably attempt to discredit her through his bizarre blogging — which is why, despite his pseudo-voluntary resignation, he appears (and takes himself) to be unhireable on even a modest, temporary basis.

Since UM was able to get rid of McGinn far more expeditiously than would have been possible through a sexual harassment proceeding, the claim that the university failed to “protect” the student can be hard to understand. He quickly lost his job; he seems to have mostly lost his professional reputation; the university had no control over him after he resigned, especially since he seemingly took himself to have nothing to lose; and his career in philosophy appears to be finished. By contrast, while the vast majority of us don’t know who “Claire” is, we bear her good will.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

I don’t think we should pass too much judgment on how UM handled the situation. I’m skeptical that UM’s handling of the case was anything other than sufficient. Surely they have more knowledge of both McGinn’s and “Claire’s” role, and human interactions are not always black and white situations that conveniently fit into a predator and prey stereotype. McGinn has suffered appropriately in relation to the charges advanced, he has been publicly branded a sexual harasser and is out of a job, and additional legal branding wouldn’t do much more to affect the situation. Barring silencing McGinn and what? removing his website? I’m not sure that the university should or could have done anything more for THIS case.

I hope this post isn’t silenced, I am merely expressing a mildly dissenting opinion and hope this isn’t misrepresented as a defense of McGinn or an indictment against “Claire.” I don’t think that the philosophical community should presume to be in a better epistemic position regarding the case than the administration, the people with all the relevant facts. All this coming from someone previously involved on the student side of a faculty-student relationship.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

The fact that the university’s grounds for asking him to resign were not the result of a substantive finding appears to be precisely why McGinn blogged about it, and precisely why in some spheres folks (within philosophy and without) have claimed that he was denied due process and skepticism that she was harassed is called for.

Whatever epistemic state we are in, the student is better positioned than we are; she has said she was harmed by their handling of it; McGinn says he was harmed by their handling of it; the university has admitted that they sought an alternative path from the ordinary process.Report

CWP
CWP
6 years ago

I really don’t think we need to avoid “passing too much judgment” on the university. The ways policies get better is by people talking about and criticizing them.

I agree that UM seems to have taken the situation seriously, and I respect that Shalala thought it was important to get McGinn off the campus as quickly as possible. But I have no idea why people think “UM was able to get rid of McGinn far more expeditiously than would have been possible through a sexual harassment proceeding.” They got rid of him quickly because he resigned when facing charges of failing to report. You think he would have stuck around if he was facing charges of failing to report *and* sexual harassment? Why?

Mistakes were made, and UM’s response is incredibly unfortunate. A victim is saying that she feels like the process let her down. She’s saying that if she could do it all again, she wouldn’t have made the report. When she emailed the vice provost about these concerns, he never responded. Now that she’s speaking publicly, Shalala responds by saying “No good deed goes unpunished.” Seriously? “Shut up and be grateful” is not an adequate response here.

To be clear, where UM went wrong:

1) Explaining the process: “Claire claims neither Black nor anyone else in her office explained the process of lodging a sexual-harassment complaint. She says she wasn’t told about the possibility of hiring outside legal help or that counseling services were available to her. Nor was she informed that her claim would be classified as “informal,” which lessened the university’s responsibility to investigate.”
This seems like an obvious problem. The university counsel’s response (“However we word it, it was investigated… Her concerns, however they are characterized, were brought to the university and investigated.”) does not begin to address it: they did not give her the information she needed to have agency over the process.

2) Framing the negative result: “Over the next month, Claire was dumbfounded. She says Black did not ask to see any more emails or look on her phone to verify texts. Though she suggested authorities speak to her boyfriend, Yelle, he was never questioned. Finally, on October 19, Black informed her there was *insufficient evidence to prove* sexual harassment.”
Meanwhile, according to McGinn (and uncontested by the university), the vice provost said in their meeting “Who said anything about sexual harassment? But you did not report your relationship.”
And, Isicoff, the general counsel, is still (in the response to the UM piece) saying things like “it was determined he did not violate the law or engage in any conduct that would reasonably be deemed unlawful.” (and so presumably did not engage in sexual harassment)
From everything I’ve read, the university did not, in fact, determine that McGinn did not engage in sexual harassment. At most, they found that there was *not enough evidence* to proceed with the charge, plausibly without doing enough to pursue it. Finding that there *was no harassment* at that point would have been impossible: their decision came on the basis of the student’s account and emails, seemingly before they ever talked to McGinn.
But they seem to have taken the insufficient evidence finding and started talking as though they did not think there was every sexual harassment. Especially by….

3) Charging McGinn with “failing to report a consensual romantic relationship.” Sending him a letter that said “The university believes that Professor McGinn’s conduct is unprofessional due to the amorous relationship that developed between a senior faculty member and his student,” citing a policy requiring reporting of *consensual* relationships, etc.
Charging him with this amounted to the university saying that the relationship was consensual. It was a slap in the victim’s face (“I felt as if all I believed in had been turned on its head.”), and it hugely enabled McGinn’s smears. People put a LOT of weight on the university having “found” it was a consensual relationship.
It is, I think, probably a very good thing for universities to be willing to impose significant sanctions on faculty for failing to report even when there’s not conclusive evidence it was non-consensual. But to do that, the university should have a policy forbidding *attempting* to engage in a romantic or sexual relationship without reporting. Then they could pursue these charges without passing judgment on the victim’s response, and without acting as though parties are consenting unless proven otherwise. This, obviously, wasn’t UM’s policy at the time, but if they were listening to the victim here, they would be thinking about changing it instead of praising themselves for their “extraordinary” performance.
Even with their actual policy, the university could have done so much better. Like Kathryn Pogin said, they needed to at least be explicit that this was a response to his version of events. They never should have sent him a letter saying “the university believes” there was an “amorous relationship.”

It’s incredibly unfortunate (though not unexpected) that the university isn’t willing to listen to the student’s experience.Report

CWP
CWP
6 years ago

One other thing:

It sounds like the student may have originally only submitted McGinn’s emails (“She submitted *his* offensive emails to Wilhemena Black, the coordinator who oversees the university’s compliance with Title IX”), and that the reason Black found there was “insufficient evidence” was that there was no evidence it was non-consensual. But Black “did not ask to see any more emails or look on her phone to verify texts,” and it sounds like they would have provided that missing evidence.

That may not be right. It’s not clear how to interpret things like “‘The university has full access to my extensive correspondence with Professor McGinn,’ she says now.” But if it is right, it would be a significant failure.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

This case is important in part because it shows that policies prohibiting secret amorous relationships can be a practical form of defense against sexual harassment. Some comments above support Miami’s approach while others believe it was damaging, but whatever one concludes about this, a lesson to be learned is that policies on unreported personal relationships can expeditiously resolve cases of faculty misconduct. I do not find it difficult to separate the reason for McGinn’s departure from conclusions about what actually transpired between student and professor; the fact that he was going to be investigated for failing to disclose a relationship does not entail that the student thought it was a consensual relationship. Nor must we assume that the relationship wasn’t consensual; all that matters is that she was his employee and student, and he propositioned her. It should be possible to remove from employment in straightforward fashion any professor who finds it acceptable to pursue a student or employee sexually without removing him or herself from responsibility for that person’s evaluation, regardless of whether the other party consents. In this case, judging from limited information, the prospect of career development seemed to be offered as a reward for indulging erotic overtures, which sounds like standard quid-pro-quo sexual harassment. It is beside the point how the target of such harassment chooses to respond. One easy and practical way of resolving or even preventing such situations is to have a policy demanding disclosure of personal relationships with any student or employee one evaluates or supervises. This approach also accomplishes the worthy goals of protecting adults who wish to have a consensual relationship in an academic or workplace environment, and protecting their colleagues from some of the impact; consent is affirmed and measures can be taken to prevent quid pro quo harassment and exploitation. I do not mean to suggest that pursuing sexual harassment claims in the usual way is a bad idea or impractical approach; I only mean that a relationship policy can be a very helpful solution, as this case illustrates.Report

CWP
CWP
6 years ago

Sorry about the string of posts, but

@27

I just want to emphasize that a policy requiring disclosure of romantic or sexual relationships, *overtures or attempts* would serve far better here.

With a policy that covers only relationships, that he propositioned her is not all that matters. It seems critical that the propositioning was sustained, because a single rejected proposition is not plausibly a “relationship.” A single attempt is often not considered sexual harassment, and students are left without any recourse. A reporting policy that covered attempts would be a really productive resource there, but a policy that covers only relationships is useless.

It seems clear that charging him with “failing to report a consensual romantic relationship” had serious consequences. By her own account, the student found it upsetting. The Roiphe piece, Ed Erwin’s statement, and the letters supporting McGinn (Stephen Schiffer, Esa Saarinen, Stephen Pinker, etc.) would plausibly never have happened without it. McGinn would have had much less to blog about, and his version of the story would have gotten much less attention.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

From Anonymous @ 27: “In this case, judging from limited information, the prospect of career development seemed to be offered as a reward for indulging erotic overtures, which sounds like standard quid-pro-quo sexual harassment. It is beside the point how the target of such harassment chooses to respond.”

Yes. Everyone saying “but what about her emails to him?” should consider this point very carefully.Report

Zara
Zara
6 years ago

Anonymous @ 27 makes a great point.

I tend to think that consensual relations among adults should be allowed, and — so long as the relationship is consensual — the primary worry is conflict of interest: thus, reporting requirements should be strictly enforced. I am now persuaded that a stronger policy should be in place: you are in a conflict of interest if you so much as make romantic overtures to someone over whom you have direct academic or employment authority; and you must report such conflicts if they are either actual or anticipated. As far as conflicts of interest are concerned, it is irrelevant whether the other party desires the attention. You would also be in a conflict of interest if you, for example, accept a romantic invitation for coffee from a subordinate. This applies not only to professors and students. It applies to chairs and other faculty members: any chair considering asking a colleauge out for a romantic evening should report this to her dean. This arguably applies to any faculty members of different rank: any Associate Professor at my institution could find herself on the tenure committee of any Assistant Professor; so even accepting a coffee date from an Assistant Professor in another department poses a potential conflict of interest. (Being in a conflict of interest is a morally neutral state that your institution should be aware of.)Report

anon'
anon'
6 years ago

“But I have no idea why people think ‘UM was able to get rid of McGinn far more expeditiously than would have been possible through a sexual harassment proceeding.’ They got rid of him quickly because he resigned when facing charges of failing to report. You think he would have stuck around if he was facing charges of failing to report *and* sexual harassment? Why?”

It’s called a pretext. Presumably, UM didn’t really believe that McGinn failed to disclose a romantic relationship, triggering a firing offense: Shalala’s comments indicate a paramount “safety” concern. Yes, McGinn might well have fought a formal sexual harassment charge, which would be much harder to walk away from and try to spin than resigning over an undisclosed romantic relationship. UM gave McGinn a pretext for resigning — presumably, motivated by the real possibility that without the pretext, he would have fought a sexual harassment charge that in effect might well preclude getting a job elsewhere. So a reasonable wager is that had McGinn not resigned, UM wouldn’t have forged ahead with the obviously uncomfortable duo of a relatively modest failure to disclose charge and a major sexual harassment charge.

But UM’s approach did put the broader philosophical community of women at risk. The failure to disclose pretext afforded McGinn the decent prospect of landing a philosophy job elsewhere. The university could not have anticipated that he would destroy this prospect by going public with the case, especially in the ridiculous way he did.Report