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The McGinn Case



Katie Roiphie had a #slatepitch PENETRATING QUESTION a couple years back:

Was the saga of Colin McGinn really a clear-cut case of sexual harassment?

The answer to this question was pretty clearly “yes” even in 2013, but as of now there’s certainly no doubt:

A former University of Miami graduate student filed a federal lawsuit Thursday alleging that Colin McGinn, a philosophy professor, sexually harassed her over several months in 2011 and 2012.

The graduate student, Monica Morrison, named as defendants the University of Miami, McGinn and his former colleague Edward Erwin, according to court filings.

She’s claiming the school violated its Title IX responsibilities by failing to fully investigate her sexual harassment claims against McGinn in 2012 and failing to stop his retaliation against her. She is also accusing McGinn of sexual harassment and civil assault, and McGinn and Erwin, another UM philosophy professor, of defamation.

Morrison filed similar claims against UM in a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint last year, which was not resolved. Her attorneys kept open the option of litigation if the EEOC complaint wasn’t successful, they said.

McGinn has always maintained he was never formally accused of sexual harassment. He resigned in 2013 just before facing faculty senate charges of not reporting a consensual relationship. Morrison claims UM erred when it accused him of that lesser charge after she made what she believed to be a formal complaint of harassment against McGinn.

“The problem is it wasn’t consensual, it wasn’t romantic in any way,” said Ann Olivarius, one of the student’s attorneys. (Olivarius herself was a plaintiff in the first Title IX sexual harassment lawsuits against a university.) “If this isn’t a case of textbook sexual harassment, then I don’t know what is, and I brought the first case.”

The Huffington Post recently reviewed several hundred pages of emails and text messages exchanged between McGinn and Morrison over nearly a year, most of which have not been publicly available. They show the professor talking about having an erection, referencing a “hand job,” complimenting her legs and calling her foot his “beloved pet.”

When Morrison worked as McGinn’s research assistant, the famed professor pressed the student for a photo of her, repeatedly asked if he could come to her apartment and made multiple references to Lolita, the novel in which an older professor becomes obsessed and sexually involved with a 12-year-old girl, according to emails HuffPost reviewed. At the time, McGinn was 62 and Morrison was 26, something he noted in one email. In the emails, McGinn wrote about wanting to kiss her, floated the idea of their having sex over the summer and stated she was “much better off with my support than without it.”

Morrison is now “destroyed” and spends a lot of time home in bed, Olivarius said. Her goal now is to “get her name cleared and have some sort of future in front of her” because she has struggled since the university decreed that what she claimed was harassment was actually a consensual relationship.


In a January 2012 meeting, the graduate student says he held and kissed her foot, according to the lawsuit. After that, court papers state, she frequently wore sneakers that she hoped would discourage that behavior.

McGinn wrote that he missed Morrison and wasn’t able to see her as much as he wanted. He complained about their working relationship, stating in an email he is not “getting much in return” and said “I need you to make a big gesture in my direction–anything would do.”

She wrote back that she had been feeling sick and dealing with stress at home, but reassured him “I am so excited to be [in] the Colin McGinn intellectual lineage.” In other emails, Morrison wrote she was “flattered” by attention from him.

In a Feb. 24, email, McGinn wrote:

I have a rather modest unassuming leg–nothing flashy, but quite agreeable. Not like your spectacular look-at-me legs! We should have a foot race one day–I expect to be left in the dust. Also, what about wearing shorts or a skirt one day so I can actually see them–so far I’ve only strictly seen their shape. Not that I’m obsessed or anything. Your mind should model itself on your legs–powerful, muscular, beautiful, agile. Oh reader!

She did not respond.

Morrison’s attorneys say she often avoided his direct questions about his coming to her apartment or wanting to see her, saying she was sick or had spotty Internet or simply was too busy.

One March 2012 text message exchange provided to HuffPost is emblematic of her general response to his comments, the attorneys claim:

McGinn: I love your essence

McGinn: Plus it gives me a slight erection

Morrison: Can I borrow your philosophy of physics book…the one by lange [sic].

McGinn texted her later that day to say he had an “erotic” and “religious” dream about her; she responded, “Strange.”

The texting language then escalated, according to copies of messages sent April 25 that were provided to HuffPost:

McGinn: So I expect a hand job when I next see you.

McGinn: Yes.

McGinn: I like to amuse you.

McGinn: Now I’ve got a slight erection.

McGinn: I’m imagining you.

Morrison did not reply to the texts.

More here. The University of Miami, you may be remembered, responded by refusing to pursue a sexual harassment charge and instead accused McGinn of not filing notice of a consensual relationship with a student. Roiphe wasn’t the only person who claimed, amazingly, that this was too harsh.

The case of Geoffrey Marcy is also relevant here. You would think based on some of the discourse surrounding Title IX that all the real problems of gender inequity in academia have been solved. They really haven’t.

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