When Sexual Harassment Is Murky

Katie Roiphe digs into the saga of Colin McGinn, a philosophy professor (and multiple-time Poseur Alert nominee) who resigned this year from his tenured position at the University of Miami after a graduate student filed a report of sexual harassment against him:

One of the reasons I think people revel so much in the downfall of someone “like” Colin is that we like to hear news that the world is humming along just as we suspected, that all the prejudices and slights and wrongdoings we have always imagined are yet again proved to be real. Our fears that the “powerful” or “arrogant” are corrupt and abusive of the less powerful and less arrogant are confirmed. Our instinctive distrust of those who are stars, who have succeeded spectacularly, is vindicated by news of ugliness or corruption. We like, in other words, a good cliché.

What happened in the halls of the philosophy department at the University of Miami is much messier and more ambiguous and dingy and depressingly human than the glamorous black and white of the political language—sexual harassment. There is no arrogant, successful man sending dirty missives, no innocent, wronged victim to rally around; instead there is a whole complex swamp of motives and hopes and judgments and desires and ambitions, many conspicuously, spectacularly ill-advised, and there is a little bit of human warmth.

Scott Lemieux remains unsympathetic:

[S]ince McGinn resigned there was no “punishment” … If he was an adjunct that would be one thing; he had tenure and had due process rights. If the rules didn’t require him to resign he was free to make that argument within the university’s processes and in court if the university violated his contractual rights. He chose to resign rather than defend himself; this doesn’t entitle him to have his behavior interpreted with maximum charity.