Philosophy Professors Say the Darndest Things

Colin McGinn is a well-known former professor of philosophy. He was asked to resign from his tenured position at the University of Miami last year after a female graduate student filed a formal complaint.

From the New York Times of August 2, 2013:

“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…

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.”

McGinn is in the news again because he was recommended for a one-year teaching position by the Philosophy Department at East Carolina University. However, university administrators decided against giving him the job.

From an article at the Chronicle for Higher Education:

Michael Veber, an associate professor of philosophy who led the search committee at East Carolina that chose Mr. McGinn, says he didn’t put much stock into what went on at Miami. “After reviewing the evidence, Miami never even accused him of harassment,” says Mr. Veber. “So I don’t see how anyone could justify denying him a position because of any of that.”

Given that one student made a formal complaint, another student (albeit her boyfriend) spoke out publicly, Professor Thomasson offered the negative appraisal described above, the U. of Miami encouraged McGinn to resign (for not reporting the relationship with his student), and McGinn did resign, while responding in an unbelievably cringe-worthy fashion in interviews and on his blog, it’s fair to say that anyone, even the average associate professor of philosophy, could easily justify denying him another academic position.

By the way, McGinn is now 64 years old, an age at which many people suddenly find themselves out of a job, only because they can be replaced by someone cheaper.

3 thoughts on “Philosophy Professors Say the Darndest Things

  1. I watched the McGinn debacle with increasing sadness. I respected the man and was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt when I first heard of the situation (accusation is not guilt), but I think his numerous blog posts on the issue (“cringeworthy” is a good description) did more harm to his reputation than anything else that came out.

    • I think there was more of a paper trail in this case than in some others, but you’re right. His responses didn’t help and even made him look worse.

      I was impressed with him after reading his autobiography “The Making of a Philosopher”, but not so much since then. Here’s a link to an interview McGinn did at the 3 A.M. site. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Richard Marshall, but he does a wonderful job interviewing philosophers. He had very little luck with McGinn, however, whose answers were remarkably terse and unhelpful. Which must be why the interview was called “Brief Encounter”.

      • Thanks for the link. I think my respect for him came from his interview in The Atheism Tapes, but I’d agree that he seems to have gotten progressively more disagreeable in recent years (or it’s become more obvious), and that was even before the sexual harassment allegations.

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