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Colin McGinn (D-Philosophy): The New York Times Wants a ‘Debate Over Sexism’

Posted on | August 4, 2013 | 33 Comments

Long story short: Philosophy professor Colin McGinn has resigned from the University of Miami after being accused of sexual harassment by a graduate student. This, according to the New York Times, has caused a “Debate Over Sexism” because most philosophy professors are men and life just sucks for women seeking academic careers in philosophy. Patriarchy, oppression, and so forth.

Let’s distinguish between two phenomena:

  1. Alleged discrimination against female philosophers;
  2. Creepy old professors like Colin McGinn hitting on students.

Now, I’m going to take a wild guess that when Colin McGinn was a younger professor, he had at least a few affairs with his students that never became public scandals. The consensual (if unethical) affairs that a professor can get away with when he is 35 or 40 become problematic — his advances are unwanted — when he’s 63.

Therefore, Colin McGinn is a victim of age discrimination by coeds, who unfairly accuse a creepy old professor of “harassment” when they wouldn’t complain if the professor was young and sexy.

My point is that to invoke the concept of “rights” and “equality” in such situations is a mistake. There is no reason to suppose that the two phenomena — alleged discrimination, on the one hand, and creepy old professors, on the other — are related. Of course they may indeed be related, but only in the simplest way: In environments where women are relatively rare, a woman is more likely to attract male attention.

In the military, this is known as “deployment points”: Women who rated no better than a “6” stateside were at least an “8” if they were deployed to Baghdad during the Iraq War. So Professor McGinn is like a homesick and horny G.I. — women are so rare in philosophy that he hasn’t seen a good-looking woman at close range in years and doesn’t know how to behave himself in mixed company any more.

Really, he’s a victim — or rather, the New York Times would consider him a victim, if Professor McGinn can find a way to portray himself as a progressive Democrat, and suggest that his accuser is a right-wing Republican. “Phony scandal”! Instead, we get this:

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. . . .
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.” . . .
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.” . . .
Whatever the facts of the case, many philosophers say that the accusations of misbehavior against Mr. McGinn are the edge of a much bigger problem, one that women have long been unwilling to discuss publicly, lest it harm their careers.
Many credit the blog What Is It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy?, which in 2010 began posting anonymous stories of harassment, with helping to highlight the issue. “Just about every woman you talk to in philosophy has experienced first- or secondhand some form of sexual harassment that is egregious,” said Gideon Rosen, a philosopher at Princeton. “It’s not just one or two striking anecdotes.”

I have no problem believing that academia is crawling with perverts and weirdos, and maybe philosophy departments are especially overcrowded with creeps, but you’re not going to solve that problem by establishing citation quotas:

[G]ender 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. . . .
In July, after the sociologist Kieran Healy published a study showing that women made up less than 4 percent of top citations in leading philosophy journals since 1992, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sent out an e-mail asking contributors to make sure that entries do not cite work by white men on a given topic while ignoring prior contributions by women and other underrepresented groups.

Oh, so now it’s “women and other underrepresented groups,” but what does the resignation of Colin McGinn have to do with the number of citations in scholarly journals by, say, Latinos? Nothing, and yet the zer0-sum game/fixed-pie quota-mongering mentality (common to both the New York Times and academia) seizes upon this one professor’s case to make this into a “Debate Over Sexism,” in the same way that the Trayvon Martin case got turned into a debate about racism, just because that’s what the media wanted.

Professor Donald Douglas has thoughts about this case, but I don’t want to be accused of discrimination in linkage, so I’ll also link Professor Ann Althouse, who has a great many thoughts about this case. I should probably say something crudely sexist here, just to show that a man can be fair without singing soprano in the choir.

Now go fix me a sandwich.



  • postaldog

    Gee, you’d think they’d be more philosophical about the whole thing.
    I’m sorry . . . someone had to say it.

  • pandelume

    If you notice, there was not a single mention of l’affaire Filner in the NYT yesterday. But this – this! – is news.

  • richard mcenroe

    I for one would be curious to see what would become of “philosophical studies” in American academe if white men were preferenced out. Could they become any less relevant to real world affairs and our daily lives?

  • RS

    “the student, a first-year doctoral candidate who worked as his research assistant during the 2012 spring semester”
    This entire post begs the question, “what the hell does a philosophy ‘research assistant’ do, anyway?”

  • RS

    Unlike Literature, History, Sociology and the like, Philosophy has not progressed as far down the path of the various “isms” theory of interpretation. Philsophy tends to deal with very broad questions about the Human Condition and therefore doesn’t lend itself to being hijacked by any of the various grievance industries.

  • richard mcenroe

    Bet me a nickel.

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    I thought Socrates said you should not shtup your students?

  • Charles G. Hill

    This isn’t a debate over sexism. This is the calling-out of a single douchebag. And if he isn’t exactly unique in his douchery — big farking deal.

  • ChandlersGhost

    They’re being unfair to Philosophy. “[R]iffing on alternate meanings of a crude term for masturbation” is pretty much all that any Humanities department does these days.

  • ThePaganTemple

    I think it’s ironic as hell that this happened in the Philosophy Department of what is a university undoubtedly dominated by leftist academics. Too bad the accuser, whoever the hell she is, evidently didn’t give in to the professor’s advances, if she had she might well be on her way to a career as the Linda Lovelace of philosophy. But there again, philosophy only requires an imagination, not necessarily real world experience, so this broad might well suck with the best of them.

  • Richard McEnroe

    Actually, Aristophanes satirizes him in “The Clouds” for doing just that. Appropriately to this thread, not so much for the homosexuality but for the embarassing spectacle of this wrinkled old man still trying to chase the young stuff…

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    Wasn’t one of the charges in his trial corrupting the youth? And he got a hemlock cocktail.

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    Funny how you get a pass if you have a D after your name.

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  • Richard McEnroe

    It was as good an excuse as any, not unlike Galileo’s trial for heresy rather than “felony insulting prelates of the Church.”

  • Richard McEnroe

    And someonr did…thankfully, not me for once…*g*

  • Matthew W

    “It was “a warm, consensual, collaborative relationship,” an
    “intellectual romance” that never became sexual but was full of

    I don’t remember that with my history mentor in college.

  • Bob Belvedere

    Are any of us truly sexually harassed?

  • DaveO

    Bait & Switch: snuff the career of a man over sexual harrassment, use it to claim rampant sexism in a field of intellectual endeavor.
    We saw this with Larry Summers years ago. Someone can’t hang intellectually, they call in the Charles Carreons to bully.
    No wonder our kids can’t do math or read. Back when most teachers were male, students graduated with the basics.

  • ajpwriter



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