That sounds like something from a brilliant novel that I would love to read, but unfortunately, it's a real professor, who's had to resign. Colin McGinn, according to the above-linked NYT article, was "a star philosopher at the University of Miami," and he has "agreed to leave his tenured post after allegations of sexual harassment brought by a graduate student."
“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?Wow, he had to resign, and we know about it... note the implication (implicature?!!) that things like this occur all the time, perhaps even to the point that some tenured professor is subtly ousted, but what's extraordinary is to hear about it. Another amazing thing is that the star prof is also a blogger, and he put serious effort into blog-bullshitting his way out of the jam he found himself in. He put "the cryptic language of analytic philosophy" out there to defend himself. He gave other bloggers text. That's a risk. But maybe that's what star philosophers do, take risks, verbal risks.
The top post at his blog right now:
I treated the student I was mentoring at UM with complete respect, as an equal, and with continuous encouragement and support....That's professorly — an invitation to examine the language of the NYT. So he's not giving us text now. He's saying look at their text. Look at what they say and what they do not say. So let's do that.
As to the New York Times article, the devil is in the details. Read between the lines. Don’t be taken in by spin and exaggeration. Look closely at the language.
The article, by Jennifer Schuessler, begins and ends with the general idea that women have it "tough" in philosophy. There's "bias and outright sexual harassment" throughout the field, or so "many" say. And the McGinn story is presented a shining "what some see as a healthy dose of sunlight." Does one individual's story really work to shine light on a problem in the whole field? There's one story that gets attention — because McGinn is famous — and then people who have been wanting to forefront a more generalized set of issues seize the opportunity. "Some" think that's healthy, but it exploits the individual for the sake of a preexisting agenda. I'm reminded of the use of George Zimmerman to forefront racial issues. You could say that Zimmerman's case shone a healthy light on problems of racism, but it makes more sense to say the problems of racism threw an unhealthy shadow on the specific details of Zimmerman's individual case.
Schuessler concedes we're "short on undisputed facts." Schuessler interviewed McGinn and, in the middle of the article, tells us his version of the story:
It was “a warm, consensual, collaborative relationship,” an “intellectual romance” that never became sexual but was full of “bantering”.... 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 would not talk to the NYT. Her boyfriend described email and text messages he saw, full of "unwanted innuendo and propositions from Mr. McGinn."
Mr. McGinn said...“There was no propositioning”... Properly understanding another e-mail to the student that included the crude term for masturbation, he added later via e-mail, depended on a distinction between “logical implication and conversational implicature.”I had to look up "implicature." The (unlinkable OED) says:
The act or an instance of (intentionally) implying a meaning which can be inferred from an utterance in conjunction with its conversational or semantic context, but is neither explicitly expressed nor logically entailed by the statement itself; a meaning that is implied contextually, but is neither entailed logically nor stated explicitly. Esp. in conversational implicature.Without seeing the email, it's hard to know what that's supposed to mean. I don't see how I can read between the lines. That's totally opaque. If only we knew the context, there would be subtleties of meaning. But not only do we not know the complexities of the context, we don't even have the explicit text. The whole thing is covered up. Where's the healthful sunlight? It's all thrown into shadow by McGinn's resignation. I wish it had gone to trial. But apparently both parties to the communication preferred to wrap the whole matter up into darkness. There are reputations and careers to be preserved, and a deal was reached. McGinn signed an agreement, and now he can't go any further defending himself, and the woman doesn't want to talk at all. Her career needs are cited by intermediaries. A boyfriend — was he jealous? — tells the silent woman's story.
So it falls to those who want to forefront the general issue to keep exploiting the occasion. Hence Schuessler transitions to the final chunk of her piece:
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 say...
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.Many credit.... Many many.... Forget McGinn, a known individual about whom we know only some of the facts. Let's go on to talk about all the unknown victims/accusers and perpetrators/accuseds. We're told the culture of philosophy may be changing, as "several graduate students" are "considering filing complaints," and there's an idea of trying to make philosophy "more woman-friendly," but "no one can agree on the root cause of that unfriendliness."
Is it straight-up sexual discrimination? The lack of female mentors? The highly technical nature of much contemporary Anglo-American philosophy? The field’s notoriously rough-and-tumble style of argument?...There's some talk of adopting "an informal 'be nice' rule" to help women philosophers, even though that itself sounds patronizing. But that's a completely different issue from sexual harassment. If there's a very aggressive style of argument where you have to be a bully and an asshole to get ahead, then maybe there's reason to say men have structured the environment to serve the interests of men, and if they want women represented in the field, they need to figure out how to make it a place that doesn't repel women. Even to state that problem is to deploy stereotypes, a good subject for a whole other conversation, one that has virtually nothing to do with what we can see about the McGinn case, which is about seeking to have sex with someone who doesn't want it.
“Many people have called philosophy the combat sport of academia,” [said Louise Antony, a philosopher at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst]. “But if you can’t have those conversations, you’re at a disadvantage.”
I began this post making fun of McGuinn's self-serving hair-splitting, but I end this reading overwhelmed by the lumping together of a big, multi-faceted feminist agenda. Where is the sharp thinking that makes proper distinctions and puts things together that belong together? Philosophers should be better at this sort of thing.
McGinn said — about the NYT article — "Read between the lines... Look closely at the language." If I had to sum up what I see in that semi-darkness, I'd say: A man took an offer that he thought served his interests and he agreed to shut up, and a lot of women are using the occasion to promote an agenda they've had for a long time about what will advance the careers of women.