Two sex scandals in philosophy departments have, well, scandalized the academic world recently.
One at the University of Miami in Florida led to the resignation of professor Colin McGinn. The other, at the University of Colorado, Boulder resulted in the removal of the department chair, Graeme Forbes.
Professor McGinn’s case was about a series of emails and text messages between him and a doctoral student. The contents haven’t been made public and both parties have agreed not to speak about the case, but suggestive bantering and propositioning, at the least, were involved. The Colorado case, according to the university’s internal report, involved the philosophy department’s having a culture of sexualized interaction and harassment at official meetings and social functions.
The cases have led to much discussion about the particular individuals involved as well as the broader question of academic philosophy in general. The profession is about 80% male, and that statistical imbalance has raised soul-searching questions: Is philosophy’s style of confrontational (and sometimes brutal)
argumentation less appealing to women? Has the lower female representation, combined with the professor-student power dynamic led to an unhealthy sexual dynamic? Or, more crudely, is the world of professional philosophy a “sausagefest,” as one unsympathetic critic called it?
(The seven academic departments that I’ve been a part of as student or professor have all seemed highly asexual to me, but perhaps I just wasn’t invited to the right parties.)