...at the end of this calendar year. The story is behind the CHE paywall, but here are the core facts as reported by CHE (and which are consistent with what I've heard from various sources). The female graduate student,
had previously taken a course with Mr. McGinn in the fall of 2011, and began serving as his research assistant soon after.
The student, who asked to remain anonymous because she is planning to pursue a career in philosophy, said in an e-mail that she began to feel uncomfortable around Mr. McGinn at the start of the spring semester a year ago. Her discomfort hit a high point in April, she wrote, "when he began sending me extremely inappropriate and uncomfortable messages, which continued until the beginning of the summer."
The student declined to share the messages with The Chronicle. However, her long-term boyfriend...described some of the correspondence, including several passages that he said were sexually explicit. [The boyfriend], along with two professors with whom the student has worked, described one message in which they said Mr. McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating.
Advocates of Mr. McGinn, however, say that the correspondence may have been misinterpreted when taken out of context.
Edward Erwin, a supporter of Mr. McGinn who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, said Mr. McGinn was working on a book about human evolution and the hand. Part of the reason Mr. McGinn was sending messages that could be interpreted as sexually explicit, Mr. Erwin said, was probably because of communication about that research.
"There was some sexual talk, banter, puns, and jokes made between the two," Mr. Erwin said. "The written records, I believe, show that this was an entirely consensual relationship," he said. And that relationship, he added, was not sexual.
As I understand it, there was no sexual relationship and no allegation of quid pro quo sexual harassment. McGinn, acting under advice of legal counsel, decided to take sabbatical and then resign rather than have the university adjudicate the matter. A few observations:
1. A lawyer elsewhere who handles sexual harassment allegations for a major research university remarked to me recently that "after Penn State" (referring to the assistant football coach whose serial sexual abuse of children was largely ignored by the university for years) "everything is different." If this signals a more agggressive posture against the very serious cases of sexual harassment that are rampant in academic philosophy, then that will be a welcome development. Sexual predators take note! You know who you are!
2. As the article quotes me as noting, what is surprising in this case is that the allegations are not nearly as serious as cases that have, so far, gone unpunished at many other schools. And termination of employment is, of course, the most serious punishment possible for sexual misconduct, and termination seems disproportional to the actual allegations in this case (with the caveat that we only have before us the allegations that have made it into the public realm, not the full factual record). (Sending e-mails with sexual content to a student are certainly grounds for disciplinary and remedial action.)
3. A senior philosopher elsewhere wrote to me suggesting that what happened to McGinn seemed to be a serious violation of due process. I am uncertain, and without more information, it is hard to know. I do know that McGinn had legal representation and opted to sign an agreement with the university. However, there are also allegations that the University President, Donna Shalala, was determined to have McGinn fired after seeing the e-mails which, if true, would raise reasonable doubts in anyone's mind about the fairness of university procedures for evaluating the case. The University would do well to make clear in the public record that it understands the due process rights that attach to tenure, even in cases of wrongdoing by tenured faculty.
UPDATE: I have heard from a number of different sources claiming that there are, indeed, more allegations than those that appear in the CHE piece, which is often the case in matters like this. Several correspondents also defended the care with which the University has handled this matter. As I noted in #2, I was responding only to what is public at this point. If and when more information becomes public, I will post again about this matter.
ANOTHER UPDATE: McGinn has now (as of June 6) disputed the account in CHE.