I like fauxphilnews as more than a friend

The philosophy world was recently shook by a sub-scandal involving Colin McGinn, a famous philosopher (which means about 2000 people worldwide know who he is). The one book he wrote in one of my areas of expertise, the philosophy of film, was actually laughably bad. Apparently, he’s made contributions elsewhere.

Anyhow, Professor McGinn was forced to resign after sending sexually suggestive emails to a female graduate student. He defends himself here. I would love to take this refutation to task, line by line (my favorite line: “graduate students are not what they used to be.”) However, fauxphilnews did it first and did it brilliantly. Read McGinn first and then read fauxphilnews.

Have I ever mentioned I love fauxphilnews?

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.


  1. I don’t want to threadjack, but I would like to note how absolutely abhorrent I find professor-student relationships, whether it’s undergraduate or graduate.

    • Not much thread to jack, but I agree that it’s a real problem. I know that many happy, deep, profound, loving, etc. relationships start that way. But in the graduate student world, it creates an impression that any attractive woman got where she is by sleeping with someone. In the both grad and undergrad world, it creates a sense among male professors that their female students are there for their delectation. Which doesn’t much advance being taken seriously in academia.

      Probably most important is the fear of saying no. A friend is up for tenure, and the faculty put together a list of outside people to consult on the quality of her work. She is concerned because almost all these guys have propositioned her when she was a grad student and she turned them down.

      • That second paragraph is horrifying is so many different ways.

        As for deep, profound, loving relationships: any professor who marries a student should be fired. It is an unconscionable breach of professional ethics. Yet more often than not, the professor somehow escapes condemnation and the students on the losing end the relationship have no substantive recourse.

        • Can’t make a universal declaration on this one, Sam. (I can’t, that is).

          I know a very happily married couple that started as a professor/undergrad relationship (although the professor/undergrad part was entirely platonic when she actually took his class, the romance started afterward). In this particular case, I can attest that there really was no power imbalance. They’ve been married for 20 years.

          I’m sure, however, that cases like these are outnumbered by power-imbalance ones, probably on the order of (very large N) to (1).

          • I’m talking about the students who didn’t have the opportunity to get the benefits that almost certainly come from having your partner be the person who determines your grade/acceptance/work/etc.

            That said, I appreciate the nuance of relationships that start after the classroom experience is over, but in any scenario in which that professor might have some influence over his student/partner’s academic career, the professor should be forced to make a decision.

          • I can see how a relationship could develop between a student and professor. However i’d fall back on a general rule in my field that any relationship between a person with significant power over someone else shouldn’t even start until at least a couple years AFTER the work/power relationship has ended. If the student is still a student at the school where the prof teaches then that huge power imbalance still exists. Let the student graduate and get started in her field, then try on a relationship.

    • Hermione/Snape slash fic makes my skin crawl. The kind of way that if the same were written by middle aged men they’d find themselves facing all manner of scrutiny.

      • Let us now remember the words of Jesus, who famously said, “Let he who has not written a Hermione/Snape slash fic cast the first stone.”

        Which means I’m first in line to start casting stones.

  2. The dudes attempt as explaining/excusing himself was lametastic. Anybody who should have a good working knowledge of how language works should be above such sleazy bs.

      • Have you seen his update? His explanation has gotten even more bizarre: he was “taboo busting” in order to turn the student in question into a genius. He’s selling it as some sort of psychotic grad school Pygmalion experiment. Seriously.

        • huh. you’d think i’d be used to academic obtuseness but dang bro.

          that said, i could go either way on this one. in the shadow of penn state i’d bet admins are a bit quick on the draw. he also coulda been covered up for a number of years as being a lech/ gropey mc handson.

          i’m guessing he’s not getting sued or suing or he’s got a terrible lawyer/crisis communications advisor because he passed the roadsign reading SHUT THE HELL UP about three posts ago.

          • This strikes me less as academic obtuseness than academic total self-absorption. I don’t think he has any clue that he’s digging his hole even deeper because he’s so blinded by his sense of his own brilliance.

          • Chris (and dhex):

            I agree….he’s should just STFU as far as his own interests are concerned. He’s making himself look….not too good.

        • Oh. My. God. I did not see the update. Holy crap. That may deserve a post in itself. I can’t believe he wrote that. I cannot believe it.

        • zoinks….dude does not know when to stop digging. Genius project??? you got to be kidding.

          • I need to remember to avoid using the term “clusterfuck” around people I would not wish to get suggestive emails from.

  3. Parody has a powerful hand at stripping fools naked.

    Followed the link provided by fauxphilnews; and am left with the disgusting feeling that we’re still punishing Anita Hill for someone else’s actions.

  4. I’m not particularly in the mood to exonerate or otherwise justify the actions of tenured professors (having just defended a dissertation after some professors voiced 11th hour objections to it). but having read most of the links referred to in the OP, I should say it seems to me that there’s a lot we don’t know about what’s even alleged to have happened, let alone what actually happened.

    • After reading the two updates at his blog, I do think Mr. McGinn is digging himself deeper into a hole that, if he really did nothing wrong, portrays him in a very bad light. Having said all that, I’m still suspending judgment, but I am also more wary of what Mr. McGinn’s position is.

        • Wooohoooo!

          And I had an eleventh hour situation, too. And an antagonistic professor. Are you going on the market?

          • I haven’t actually decided. but I’m trying to angle myself toward a non-academic job.

            Fortunately, my two 11th-hour professors weren’t all that antagonistic. But at the time, it seemed very momentous.

          • I was so sleep-deprived during my defense that I totally dug my heels in. At one point, I remember saying to him, “I have no idea how you could possibly even think that!” And that won him over! He was impressed that I stood up to him. I didn’t convince him, but still. I am recommending serious sleep-deprivation to everyone before a defense.

          • Rose,

            In my case, the people who had the reservations/objections were focused more on my presentation: my dissertation wasn’t as well written as it could have or should have been, and used a certain controversial concept “ahistorically” (which is a bad thing for a historian to do), so it wasn’t really a disagreement over argument. (I do believe, that if my concept, a libertarian critique of government regulation, was less controversial, they would have been more indulgent of my ahistoricism.)

            I like your story, and I did stand up to one of the hedgers during the defense when he said something I interpreted as mischaracterizing my arguments. But I’m probably past the stage where I still appreciate the “you stood up to me….that was the test” approach to teaching.

  5. Anyone who’s invested any time following this story should check out the faux Colin McGinn twitter feed. Probably more entertaining if you start from the bottom and work your way up.

    • That was seriously, seriously hilarious. Especially, “The Genius Project was of course something that only a Genius could have dreamed up. And by ‘genius’ I mean ‘hand job’.”

      • I should’ve mentioned the source: http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/ (found while hungrily searching for more on the story). And there’s an interesting discussion in the comments to this post from a few days ago, including comment #28 from a UofM philosophy grad student — apparently the agreement between McGinn and the university included a gag order on the latter and a halt to any more investigation. So it looks like McGinn gets to present his case without fear of contradiction from any official source.

        • The text of the gag order: “McGinn, for God’s sake STFU!”

    • “You might therefore be wondering why I agreed to resign rather than await an abject apology from everyone involved.”

      That was *AWESOME*.

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