U Miami Settles Philosophy Harassment Case

October 18, 2016

The University of Miami has settled with a former graduate student of philosophy who alleged long-term sexual harassment by Colin McGinn, a professor of philosophy. In her high-profile lawsuit, the student claimed that McGinn used his position of power to gain her trust and “groomed” her for a sexual relationship -- including by inviting her to his office, offering her a research assistantship and asking her to participate in a “hand ritual” that involved prolonged physical contact. McGinn then began to send numerous sexually tinged emails, with lines from the book Lolita and demands for “unlimited hand strokes and full body grips,” according to the complaint. He allegedly kissed the student's feet, to which she responded by wearing sneakers to their meetings to avoid the unwanted kissing, and began demanding sex. McGinn allegedly threatened her for limiting contact over his escalating demands, saying via email, “I am quite forgiving. But this refusal to even meet with me to talk is quite unhelpful. The last thing I want to do is think badly of you, and you are much better off with my support than without it. So please think carefully about your actions.”

The student reported the professor’s actions as alleged violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibit sex discrimination in education, according to her complaint. But the university allegedly did not follow protocol for investigations under Title IX, such as by diverting her report to an informal investigation channel, rather than a formal one that would have guaranteed transparency about the status of her case. She alleged that procedural inconsistencies contributed to McGinn’s “academic assault” on her in retribution for her report, which included an email saying he’d be removing her name and any acknowledgment of her significant editorial contribution to a book he authored. He also allegedly sent letters to renowned colleagues at various institutions, saying he was being falsely accused by the student, whom he named. McGinn signed a resignation agreement in early 2013, according to the complaint, but was salaried and employed through the end of year, during which time he was permitted to supervise another female graduate student.

McGinn has argued that “hand job” was philosophical banter. The plaintiff also alleged that the university helped McGinn preserve his reputation while damaging hers, including by submitting a false charge to the Faculty Senate that McGinn had failed to report a consensual relationship, rather than a charge of sexual harassment. The plaintiff's attorney said this week that the case had been settled, and that all parties were prohibited from talking about it. The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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