Monday, August 05, 2013

Cogito, Ergo Sugo

A well-known philosopher named Colin McGinn has resigned his post at the University of Miami after being accused of sexual harassment by a female student.  He is reported to have defended himself with a string of big words, linked together in ways that ultimately translate into "But I was her teacher, and teachers get to do this."  Lovely fellow.

This is all remarkable, we suppose, only because McGinn got canned; it seems certain that most sexual harassment in the academic world goes unpunished; much, indeed, unreported; and quite a bit, we expect, unrecognized even by its victims.

The truth is that many people, both male and female, still have not wrapped their minds around sexual misconduct in a university setting.  When is it love and when is it abuse?  Under what circumstances is something unacceptable even between consenting adults?

The Church has historically given narrower answers to this than the secular world, and especially the academy.  But even so, several of our own seminary professors married their own students -- in one case, serially.  In another case, the professor actually sat on the student's dissertation committee.  The faculty and administration were barely troubled by this, although many students -- reflecting a clear generational difference -- found the situation shameful.

A Harper's symposium at the time found that, at a table of college presidents, only Bard's Leon Botstein found faculty-student romances to be a de facto abuse of power.  We expect that today, the table would be more evenly divided.  McGinn has had few serious defenders, except for a few other philosophers.

And why philosophers?

L'affaire McGinn has led to several interesting comments on the practice of philosophy as an academic discipline.  One is by philosopher Nathan Schneider, at Real Clear Religion.  Schneider writes that

While working on my ... history of philosophical arguments about the existence of God, it gradually became clear that my undertaking was in fact a study of masculinity, so shot through were these arguments with gendered assumptions and ideals. And, as a study of masculinity, it was also a study of patriarchy. ... 
Philosophy serves as a domain in which men can imagine a world made up only of themselves and what goes on in their minds. 
As anybody who has attended a philosophy conference or been in a philosophy department knows, it remains a severely male-dominated discipline. And, according to one of philosophy’s chief commentators, Brian Leiter, “Sexual harassment, from the mild to the severe, is widespread.”
More viscerally, an anonymous Gawker commentator, himself a career academic with some philosophers in the family, writes that

It is my considered opinion that to a man/woman, philosophy professors are pond scum. Or, at the very least, they enable the pond-scumming of their colleagues. They are wanking little boys and scared little girls who justify their unconscionable actions with a dizzying amount of bullshit. And the abuse is cyclical: you only get tenure/published if you fuck so-and-so, which means that once you establish yourself, you're not going to vote for anybody's tenure/book unless they fuck you. It's quid pro quo on ugly nerd steroids. 
It makes it really hard for everyone else in the humanities... and believe me, the other humanities profs are no picnic, either. 
Philosophers are the worst of the worst. I don't know a single academic who disagrees with me. Some just haven't noticed it yet, but if you ask them point blank, they immediately say, "Oh, well, yeah... now that you mention it, there was that one time my GA got roofied by Dr. X. Wow. Philosophers are pretty yucky, aren't they?"

This is a striking assessment of people who are, at least in theory, committed to seeking the good and the true as well as the beautiful.

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