Louise Antony in the New York Times

Don’t miss this one!

Referring to the university’s threatened disciplinary action against McGinn in response to complaints from a female student, Pinker wrote that “such an action would put a chill on communication between faculty and graduate students and on the openness and informality on which scholarship depends.”

What I want to say about this is: Really? For a university to treat lewd conversation as a serious offense threatens scholarship as we know it? Aren’t we being just a tad apocalyptic?

7 thoughts on “Louise Antony in the New York Times

  1. I like the article except that Louise Antony is wrong in her claim that men aren’t being fired for sexual harassment. It does happen, quietly, and not every case draws media attention. Most of the academy does not consist of high profile universities and professors. As a union official, I represented a tenured math professor accused of harassment after a consensual relationship with a (former) student was broken off. She accused him of following her in his car during a snowstorm; he said it never happened and that she mistook another person’s car for his. He was fired.

  2. Antony writes, “In fact, there are very, very few cases in which academic men have even been brought up on formal charges, much less fired, for sexual harassment.”

    You have provided evidence that one man was fired. Do you have testimony to show that more than “very, very few” academic men are fired for sexual harassment?

  3. I take Antony’s point to be that some men have chosen to exaggerate the level of response to sexual harassment as a part of an attempt to damage further response to sexual harassment. Or, more simply, Antony is on a one woman campaign against concern trolling. Or, even more simply, Antony – 1; Concern Trolls – 0.

  4. Stacey, I don’t have any all-encompassing empirical data. My point is that Antony based her claim on the argument that if firings were going on, we would all know about it because the media would publicize those firings. (“Otherwise, the Florida case would have not been worthy of such media attention.”) I do not believe that her assumption is warranted. The media don’t much care what goes on at Podunk University, much less Podunk Community College, and I doubt that Stephen Pinker writes letters of concern when a philosopher at a community college is being disciplined. I agree that it would be good to have some hard numbers on this question. Perhaps Antony has them, but if she does, she’s not sharing them.

  5. Linnetmoss,

    No doubt you also scolded Pinker for his similar failure to provide hard numbers before jumping to conclusions.

  6. Antony writes: “What I want to say about [Pinker’s notion of a chilling effect] is: Really? For a university to treat lewd conversation as a serious offense threatens scholarship as we know it? Aren’t we being just a tad apocalyptic?”

    This does seem sensible enough, but it is perhaps worth noting that essentially the same counterargument Antony raises has historically been raised against chilling-effect arguments in connection with various anti-obscenity laws, anti-flag-burning laws, and so forth.

    I expect that linnetmoss is correct to suggest that the number of men who can be publicly shown to have lost their jobs as a result of sexual harassment is just the tip of the iceberg. A discreet “resignation” for unspecified or pretextual reasons, in lieu of the prospect of being formally fired or of being haled into disciplinary proceedings, is a far more common outcome (this is not exclusive to the sexual harassment context, of course). I’ve seen this happen at least twice, but no one without inside information (even most of these persons’ coworkers) would know it. How many other discontinuations of employment – resignations, early retirements, etc. – have I seen that were essentially terminations (or constructive terminations) for alleged sexual harassment? Impossible to know, but indubitably some, which may arguably make the deterrent value greater than if it were a precisely known but very small number.

    That said, even if it is or were true that “very, very few men” have been brought up on formal disciplinary charges or openly fired, that should not actually have much bearing on the “chilling effect” question, if the jurisprudence from which we have borrowed the notion of a chilling effect is to be believed.

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