Thursday, June 23, 2016

Is Alt-Ac for you?

Picking up on some posts on the jobs thread, and given that some of you might have come up empty-handed this job season, should we talk about alt-ac jobs?

During the long interval between my BA and PhD, I worked in a couple of creative industries, but I wouldn't say that either of them were very promising, career-wise. And my experience applying for government jobs was laughably bad (rejected for the same job at every possible pay grade, which is to say, they sent me six PFOs for the same job. Our Brand is Rejection.)

Have questions, or answers, about alt-ac jobs and job markets and Plans B (C, D...)? Have at it:


Friday, May 27, 2016

A NEWER permanent thread to share job info (5/27/16)

A lot of people in the comments seem interested in having space to discuss or request information about specific jobs. If providing information and if possible, please provide the source of your information.
Since you all seem to find it useful, here's our third permanent thread for this. (Big ups to our moderators!)
In the future, after this isn't at the top of the page, you can find this thread in the sidebar. Here's a picture, with the place to find this thread in the future.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Replies to Brennan and Magness (Or, Don’t Read This Thing I Shouldn’t Of Wrote) [Updated]

Against my better judgment, I am going to reply to some stuff Brennan & Magness have said in response to discussion of their article here and elsewhere. I probably shouldn’t do this, but whatever. I’m supposed to be grading.

First, at Leiter Reports, Brian Leiter favorably quotes a snippet from a message Brennan sent him:
The philosophy blogosphere has quite a few people, writing anonymously, who write nasty, angry, and dishonest invective against others, but then faint and cry if anyone says anything back to them in response, even if the responses are moderate.
This is dumb. I, personally, advanced several substantive criticisms to the arguments of their paper. I suppose I was indignant, maybe angry, but I don’t think I was dishonest or nasty. (I guess I did say it was horseshit. Maybe that was nasty. But I wasn’t dishonest; it is horseshit.) (Some of the comments were a little nasty. There’s one, in particular, that I kind of regret publishing. My bad.) Just so the record is clear, the criticisms I raised were:

1. Brennan and Magness argue that adjuncts chose to become adjuncts, even under such unfavorable conditions, which means that they prefer adjuncting under these unfavorable conditions to the alternative, which means that it is better for the adjuncts themselves, on the whole, for them to be employed under these unfavorable conditions, in spite of their unfavorableness.

I pointed out that the fact that an adjunct voluntarily took the job is compatible with the fact that she is being exploited, and I think it’s clear that when a person is being exploited it’s not good for her. I specifically recognized the possibility that, if the situation were remedied, the adjunct might loser her job rather than get a raise, and I accept that. In comments, Brennan acknowledged that I was right about this. But, from what I could tell, he did not retract or revise the argument.

2. I also pointed out that people have been making basically this same argument for like a hundred years whenever workers try to obtain better conditions for themselves, and it’s never that great of an argument. When the better conditions are acquired, it’s better. Maybe not for everyone, but on the whole.

3. I also pointed out, as did various others in comments, that their argument that pits adjuncts against disadvantaged students is based on a false choice. We can, and should, improve conditions for both groups.

Elsewhere, Magness responds to some objections to their paper, including some of the things Jaded and I said (boldface in the original, used to identify the claims he is responding to):
“But the adjuncts are being exploited!”
That’s certainly an interesting normative claim. It does not however challenge or alter what was, at its core, a positive argument to demonstrate the existence of tradeoffs in attempting to deliver higher pay to adjuncts as a class.
It may not challenge what they regard as their “core” argument, but it does challenge one of their arguments. I can’t see where they have responded to this challenge. Magness goes on:
Alternatively, I might challenge elements of your exploitation framework. I might argue, for example, that adjuncts tend to be highly educated people who have an abundance of exit options to comfortable and well-paying jobs outside of academia. While this may not necessarily obviate all exploitative characteristics you ascribe to adjuncting, it probably reduces the resonance of their “plight” and the urgency of prioritizing their claimed exploitation over other problems.
This is to make the same old error they seem to always make about exploitation. The fact that a certain adjunct has exit options that she doesn’t take doesn’t mean she’s not being exploited; indeed, to quote Brennan, “indeed, paradigmatically, that’s the case.” (Even when they acknowledge the error, they still seem to make it.) (And if the typical adjunct has an abundance of satisfactory exit-options, that would go some distance to answering their suggestion that it’s no good to eliminate an exploitative job if that job isn’t replaced by a better one.)
Or I might answer that what you describe as “exploitation” is actually a misdiagnosis of a situation in which some adjuncts are making highly unreasonable salary demands relative to the work they perform and the qualifications of they possess.
The fact that some adjuncts make unreasonable salary demands—and I agree that the $15,000 per class demand is pretty excessive—is not evidence that their actual compensation is fair or that they’re not being exploited.
A 4-4 teaching load covering about 30 weeks of the year with minimal or no research and departmental obligations is a far cry from a full-time job, especially compared to the 50 work week 9am-to-5pm norm. It also entails significantly fewer work obligations than the typical junior level full time faculty position.
This is based on a misunderstanding of the conditions adjuncts are exposed to. For one, all of the 4-year universities I am familiar with would regard a 4-4 load as full-time; part-timers max out at 3 courses per semester. For another, part-time pay is significantly less, per credit-hour, than it is at the full-time, non-tenure-track level. I don’t see adjuncts demanding to be paid for work they don’t do; I see them demanding fair pay and better conditions for the work they do.

The people I know who have adjuncted have had experiences similar to anon 4:06. They taught 3-3 loads at two different institutions, for a combined total 6-6 load that, in total, payed substantially less than a 4-4 full-time non-TT position would have at either school. Teaching six courses per semester and dividing one’s time between two schools was a struggle. The 30-week work-year was also a significant hardship, for what I can’t help but feel should be obvious reasons.

I mean, Brennan and Magness themselves point out that if an employer agrees to hire an employee, then the employer has a responsibility to provide a living wage. I don’t disagree. I just can’t understand how this point fits into the rest of their thinking about the issue.

[Edit (4-13-16): I thank this commenter for convincing me that I was wrong to attribute this view to B&M. They consider that idea without endorsing it, and then propose an argument for why it wouldn't apply to the case of adjuncts with an existing employment relationship with the institution. The reason I couldn't understand how that idea fits in with the rest of their thinking is that it doesn't. In my defense, this argument is extremely flimsy and does not come close to showing that the obligation does not exist, or that it wouldn't apply to new hires with no existing relationship with the institution. For example, their argument would not tell against a solution that fazes out adjunct contracts slowly by retaining people in existing adjunct positions until they voluntarily separate, and then hiring new hires to teaching-only full-time non-tenure track positions. I think that's a good idea. It would allow institutions to increase their payroll budgetary allocation slowly, and it would give current adjuncts an opportunity to apply for the new full-time jobs, and it would give the adjuncts who aren't going to make the jump to full-time for whatever reason plenty of time to figure out the next step. What's wrong with that idea?]
Obviously there’s an oversupply of qualified applicants. But it’s much better to respond to that oversupply by creating and filling whatever number of minimally decent, non-exploitative jobs than it is to create a bunch of crummy unstable low-paying subsistence-level dead-end exploitative jobs, even if the the exploitation plan would put a lot more people into some level of academic employment. I suppose it’s possible that I’m wrong, but I honestly find it bizarre that this would be controversial.
“It would take something much higher than the basic living wage that adjuncts desire to induce the job gentrification effects you describe.”
I don’t know who made this argument, and I don’t have an informed, worked-out view about what it would take to induce the job gentrification effects they describe. I think you would need to know something about economics in order to evaluate that claim, and I’m certain I don’t know enough. I would appreciate hearing from someone with actual training in economics who is up on the current thinking about job gentrification.

But anyways, suppose that institutions treated their adjuncts roughly on a par with how they treat their full-time non-tenure-track faculty with regard to various things, including pay per credit-hour, employment stability and contract length, access to facilities (such as an office, a computer, etc), and benefits including options for a retirement plan and health insurance. My untutored opinion is that this would be basically fair and I can’t see why that would have any gentrification-related effects that we don’t see with regard to those same full-time non-tenure-track jobs.

But maybe I’m wrong, and if so I hope someone with the relevant background in economics will set me straight.
“You’re just anti-union, and you don’t want adjuncts to be able to organize.”
I don’t know if he’s talking about me or not. I did make a crack about Steinbeck-era union-busters in my post. But if he’s talking about me, he misunderstood my point. My point was not about unions in particular, but was the more general criticism spelled out in point (2) above. I realize I didn’t express the thought especially clearly.
“Everything you state about the tradeoffs of university budgeting is already obvious.”
Yeah. Everything they said about trade-offs is obvious. What’s not obvious is that the existence of trade-offs represents a reason not to do it. I mean, if the argument is just that the money it would take to treat adjuncts fairly would have to come from somewhere, then that’s obvious and is nothing more than an argument in favor of getting the money from somewhere. If, on the other hand, the argument is that in order to treat adjuncts fairly you’d have to fuck over poor kids, then that’s nothing more than sophistry of the lowest order. Pure horseshit.

I mean, I'm sure Brennan and Magness make money. Is Georgetown fucking over poor students by paying Brennan as well as it does? That money has to come from somewhere. Paying money to Jason Brennan inherently involves tradeoffs. Why not reduce tuition instead?
When I note that there seem to be no immediate pots of gold in the university budget to meet the level of “adjunct justice” you desire, you insist otherwise but do not bother to explain where it may be found.
Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously a lot of money, and that money would obviously need to come from somewhere. It would obviously require the reversal of a bunch of relatively recent trends in higher education dealing with funding and allocation. It would obviously require a substantial increase in funding for, and reinvestment in, higher ed at the state and federal levels. It will obviously be hard to accomplish this.

But so what? Just saying, “oh yeah, where will you get the money?” is not an argument that the employment conditions of adjuncts are fair, or that their working conditions shouldn’t be improved. It just means that, as a practical matter, it is going to be hard for adjuncts and their allies to achieve their goals. As I have said, my view is that the best way for public institutions to source the funds would be funding increases from the government. Of course, you'll need to convince those governments to do it, and a lot of state governments in particular are total dicks when it comes to funding higher ed. But none of this comes close to representing a cogent argument against doing it. (It might represent a cogent argument for the conclusion that it will never happen. But that’s something else.)
“You’re wrong about the tradeoffs favoring stakeholder group X. Here’s a reason why adjuncts have a stronger social justice claim than they do.”
I’m not sure who made this type of argument, if anyone. I haven’t exhaustively kept track of all the responses to B&M, but the responses I’m aware of to the “X vs Y” argument that pits adjuncts against e.g. disadvantaged students claim that it’s a false choice, not that adjuncts have a stronger claim to social justice than disadvantaged students. I’m not aware of anyone who thinks tuition should remain high, or that poor kids should be priced out of their educational opportunities in order to fund raises for adjuncts. It seems that both groups have strong claims, and that justice would be best served by addressing both.

And if disadvantaged students have a stronger justice-based claim to financial relief than adjuncts do, I don’t agree that this supports providing relief to disadvantaged students instead of adjuncts. It still supports providing relief to both groups. By itself, it doesn’t even support helping the disadvantaged students first--maybe we should do both at the same time, even though one is more important. Or, maybe we should still do adjunct justice first. Perhaps adjunct justice would be less costly and simpler to institute than to do whatever you’d need to do make higher education generally affordable for disadvantaged students nationwide (I don’t know what all you’d have to do, but it sounds complicated and expensive), and maybe adjuncts shouldn’t have to wait until that project is complete.

(I also think it would be generally pretty scummy to favor one group at the expense of the other. That is, it would be scummy to make college affordable for low-income students by making college teacher into an unstable, low-paying, shitty job; and it would be scummy to improve conditions for teachers by raising tuition for low-income students. There are a lot of problems in higher education, and addressing them all properly is going to require a lot of work, a lot of changes, and a lot of money. None of which represents a cogent argument in favor of not fixing the problems.)
“Your motives for writing this article are hateful/concealed/ulterior/evil, and you’re inexplicably angry at adjuncts.”
A) I don’t know if their ulterior motive is hateful or evil, but I sure don’t think it’s concealed. When they’re not writing for a journal, they’re pretty openly contemptuous and disdainful of adjuncts. Especially Magness.

B) The discussion of motivation is relevant. It goes to the question of whether the article is a good-faith attempt to grapple with the costs and benefits of adjunct justice, or if it’s a bad-faith, barely-disguised attempt to cause trouble for people who are less successful than them, and for whom they have undisguised disdain. I thought this person put it well.

Just as an example, Magness expresses this contempt for adjuncts in this exact section where he’s responding to this claim disputing the purity of his motives:
But the one thing they don’t do is glaringly obvious: the madjuncts don’t actually do research. They don’t produce meaningful scholarly work and they don’t publish anything of substance in academic venues. Melissa Click has a more robust CV than the activist madjunct archetype, and she writes utterly silly articles about Foucauldian power dialectics in the Twilight series. Or something. The madjunct activists don’t even reach that low level of pseudo-scholarship, be it in their own respective fields or in their claimed knowledge of the adjunct problem. And though they profess to be full time “activists” for a largely counterproductive strain of the adjunct cause, that complete absence of scholarship effectively makes them non-players in the intellectual dialogue about U.S. higher education.
I mean, really. Some adjuncts don’t have any interest in scholarship. Some are interested in it, but don’t have the time or institutional support to produce quality work. Some just don’t have what it takes to be a good researcher. Probably some manage to produce high-quality scholarship, but not of the quality or quantity that they would be capable of in better conditions and with greater levels of support.

But none of that is relevant to the question of whether adjuncts’ compensation and working conditions, in what is fundamentally a teaching job with no research-related duties or expectations, are fair, reasonable, and non-exploitative. So I’m not sure what the point of shitting on adjuncts for being lousy researchers is, when their jobs don’t require it and their institutions don’t expect it and won’t provide the resources necessary to do it well.

(Also, to the best of my knowledge, Melissa Click is not an adjunct; she is the former assistant professor at U. Missouri who was fired earlier this year after she did this. I could be wrong, but I couldn’t find anything that said she had anything to do with adjunct activism. I’m not sure what the point of mentioning her was.)

To conclude: I still think that the arguments advanced by B&M are pure BM*, and it is really too bad that they have gotten any attention at all, including this attention I am giving them right now. Shiiiiiiiiiiit.

--Mr. Zero

*Actually, that’s not true. There’s the part where they say that the employer has a responsibility to provide a living wage for the employees it agrees to employ. They’re right about that. [Edit (4-13-16): Sadly, I was wrong. It is true: they are all pure BM. See previous edit.]

Saturday, April 2, 2016

What do the distinctions and numbers mean in the adjunct piece?

Since the Brennan/Magness adjunct piece keeps getting press, I have one or two more things to say about it.

I grant that the piece has done a good job distinguishing between part-time adjuncts and full-time adjuncts, professional adjuncts and adjuncts who are professionals, and adjuncts who teach at 2 or 4 year, public or private, for-profit or non-profit universities. It also has done a good job of telling us how the 70% contingent/adjunct figure tossed around so casually might actually break down. (As I mention here, I think the piece also implicitly makes a good case for a Solomonic/intersectional approach to adjunct justice.)

Unfortunately, all those teased-apart distinctions then get lumped back together by Brennan and Magness in favor of the implausible assumption that in order to improve the working conditions of adjuncts we must treat all those distinct classes of adjuncts the exact same. This seems an assumption of their calculation of the costs of adjunct justice and also an assumption of the point they make in the section on teaching quality. (FWIW, it seems to me the "adjunct justice" movement focuses on full- or near-full-time professional adjuncts with little to no job security.)

Further, it's a bit eye-popping to see what "adjunct justice" will cost: $15 - 49 billion!

Unfortunately, I don't think that dollar range tells us very much. It seems to me that the calculations elide over all the distinctions that Brennan and Magness want us to make with regard to adjuncts, and also the universities that employ them, since it appears their method is to just take the raw number of total adjuncts and do some multiplication according to various salary proposals (yeah; it's probably slightly more complicated than that, but compare their numbers used with this table).

Further, they then compare the $15 - 49 billion dollar range that elides over all the distinctions mentioned above to the total dollar amount all American universities, excluding for-profits (I don't think they excluded the adjuncts at for-profits in their calculations, though), spend on faculty salary, wages, etc: $100 billion. (Note: It's hard to know where this number comes from. Their citation doesn't actually send you to the proper table in the US Dept. of Education's statistics detailing university budgets; their citation sends you to a table about total number of faculty, rather than this table or, what appears their actual source, this page.)

Now, this doesn't really tell us the actual costs to actual universities until we know the actual distribution of adjuncts (paying attention to distinctions between adjuncts) across the 4,724 Title IV universities, and until we know about those universities' actual budgets, endowments, etc. Who's actually going to feel the crunch and how much will they feel that crunch?

This isn't to say there will be no crunch, just that it'd be interesting to see a more informative breakdown that takes into account the distinctions drawn between types of adjuncts and types of universities.

Finally, Brennan has said that he's interested in this topic because a lot of university professors seem committed to social justice, but sometimes they end up only supporting justice movements that would just so happen to benefit them, e.g., the adjunct justice movement. As I point out in this comment, the appeal to social justice to ask why we wouldn't prefer poor students over adjuncts presumes a Singerian conception of what social justice consists in (doing the most good possible and doing so impartially) that is by no means obvious or shared among people interested in justice. Perhaps, as I mention in my first post, the relevant perspective is workplace/employer-employee justice, rather than the Singerian conception implicitly endorsed by Brennan and Magness (the perspective I emphasize would be more in line with the university-as-business-selling-education-to-customers framing they adopt at the beginning of their paper).

Relatedly, as I also mention in this and this comment, they appeal to the choice/circumstance distinction as a possible reason to prefer helping students over adjuncts. But, aside from it's obvious rhetorical force, it's not clear (1) that this argument amounts to much without looking at actual student demographics, and (related) (2) that the point about the choice/circumstance distinction might apply equally well to students, who also choose their universities from among a range of options.

-- Jaded, PhD

Saturday, March 26, 2016

On Brennan and Magness on Adjuncts, Again

[For Mr. Zero's post on the topic, see here. My (Jaded's) criticisms begin below the numbered list of preliminaries.]

There's something a little odd about engaging seriously Brennan and Magness's recent paper on the question of adjuncts. To take just two examples among the many times Brennan and Magness have dealt with this issue outside of their Journal of Business Ethics article, Magness has given satirical "tax tips" for adjuncts based on their most frequent complaints, and Brennan has argued that universities have a responsibility to fire adjuncts whose aggrieved responses to the article show those adjuncts lack basic reading skills.

So, to me, their claim that "[Their Journal of Business Ethics] paper takes no official stance on whether adjuncts are exploited or mistreated" (p. 2) fails to cancel the obvious implicatures of their contributions to the wider conversational context in which the paper was written.

Now, I certainly understand the undercurrent of indignation of their blog posts; Brennan was once turned into a meme (and is currently being memeified too; *sigh*), and Magness was subject to sustained criticisms on Twitter and elsewhere (I think?). It sucks to get attacked, and I guess I can see how it can feel good to call adjuncts cat ladies and make fun of them for being vegan or whatever. As such, I think the protestations by Brennan and Magness that adjuncts are not reacting rationally, but instead are being emotional in response to their paper to be in bad faith. That seems to be exactly what they wanted!

So, that's why I think it's a little odd to engage the paper in the "serious," "rational" way they want. But here we are (and there, Mr. Zero, and other commenters, are too).

First, some preliminaries. The first two are points about the conversation so far. The next two are about the presentation of Brennan and Magness's paper. The last point clarifies the sort of criticism this post is engaging in.
  1. Just as adjunct activism is not subject to the standards of peer-reviewed research, neither are blogposts or tweets or comments about peer-reviewed research. Different activities have different aims. Sometimes, those aims--in addition to venue of discussion--might justify a certain relaxing of epistemic standards. (There's a rapidly expanding literature on this topic in the philosophy of science.) So, I don't necessarily think the loosey-goosey, intuitive way in which these issues have been heretofore discussed in popular discourse represented a huge epistemic travesty (or attempt to pull the wool over people's eyes) requiring immediate rectification in the Journal of Business Ethics. 
  2. Both Brennan and Magness have complained about the angry and emotional responses they have received. They want rational, not emotional engagement. This assumes it is important to separate these two sorts of engagement when approaching ethical questions and issues of justice. But, from a Care Ethics perspective, it's not obvious to me that "emotional" responses are out of bounds here. Perhaps part of the problem is that Brennan and Magness see the issue purely through an economic lens or abstract, principled social justice lens (nameless adjunct vessels of preference-satisfaction v. nameless student vessels of preference-satisfaction), ignoring the real-life, embodied people--some of whom might be their colleagues!--that these questions concern.
  3. I'll ignore typos and other errors in the Brennan and Magness paper. Charitably, we're all prone to errors; so some are bound to make it past the page proof stage. Typos, while evidence of some degree of sloppiness, should not detract from what might be otherwise well-argued points. Plus, I'm sure we can find many typos in this post! (For the curious, I've gathered some of the typos in the Brennan and Magness paper below my signature; the third of which seems possibly important, though maybe I'm missing something.) [EDIT, 3/28: Please see Brennan's comment about the "typos" here.]
  4. Unlike Reviewer #2, I won't be a hardass about the times they raise important questions or point to issues to which they "give no official answer" or "take no official stand" unless I have good reason otherwise. Often the raising of important questions and the refusal to give the outline of an answer are frowned upon by reviewers. (Note also that commenters on Mr. Zero's post have found literature that might be relevant to the paper, but is not cited. I'm not sure if this is true.) 
  5. Helen Longino (1990) distinguishes types of criticisms. Among other things, evidential criticism "questions the degree to which a given hypothesis is supported by the evidence adduced for it...and questions their analysis and reporting" (72). Conceptual criticism, among other things, "questions the relevance of the evidence presented in support of a hypothesis" (72); this might involve "questioning the background beliefs or assumptions in light of which states of affairs become evidence" (73). In many ways, this post will be a form of conceptual, rather than evidential, criticism.
Okay. On to the criticisms (non-exhaustive; see below and the comment thread on Zero's post*).

One point that has received sustained attention in this discussion concerns the framing of the adjunct issue in terms of social justice. From the perspective of social justice, Brennan and Magness argue that universities might face more pressing issues, e.g., helping impoverished students get into school with scholarships or by lowering tuition, than improving the working conditions of adjuncts. They say: "It is not clear why universities should focus on helping adjuncts rather than reducing their costs or otherwise helping poor students" (p. 12).

However, it seems to me that the generic perspective of social justice isn't a proper way to frame the issue. Earlier, in the context of making another point, they say:
Universities are not under any obligation to employ as many people as possible, to maximize welfare for people who want academic jobs or to provide aspiring academics with good jobs. Instead, their duties are conditional: If they decide to hire someone, they owe that person a minimally good job, a job that meets certain independent standards of employer–employee justice, whatever those standards might be (p. 10, emphasis added).
Here, Brennan and Magness seem to give a reason "why universities should focus on helping adjuncts": The universities have decided to hire adjuncts. Thus, from the point of view of "employer-employee justice" those adjuncts who are in fact employed by universities are owed a minimally good job according to whatever those standards might be. To me, it seems the adjunct justice movement concerns those people who have been hired; it is not about maximizing welfare for those who simply want jobs; it's for those who have jobs.

Moreover, building off the blockquote above, one can run a similar argument for why universities are not under any obligations to help out or maximize opportunities for potential students who might get into their school, but have yet to be admitted. Adopting the university-as-business framing Brennan and Magness endorse (pp. 1 - 2; cf. the first sentence of the blockquote above), those students might be potential customers, and it might be in universities' self-interest to help those potential customers out. But duties to potential customers are also conditional: If they decide to admit students, the owe those students [x]. This might give us one reason to prefer, say, improving the conditions of adjuncts over, e.g., the "[creation of] mentoring programs to ensure first generation college students" (p. 9).**

The case, of course, is different with admitted students--actual customers--and hired adjuncts since the university owes obligations to both. But, staying within the university-as-business framing, businesses clearly owe obligations to make working conditions good for employees/adjuncts (which might also improve student outcomes***), but no clear or straightforward or prima facie moral obligation I'm aware of to lower costs for customers/students who freely choose, aware of the costs, to attend after receiving letters of acceptance (universities might have good prudential reasons to lower costs). It would seem that universities-as-businesses clearly owe obligations to their employees that can trump obligations(?) to, say, lower costs for customers who freely choose to buy their product.

Relatedly, I think this short discussion reveals a tension between the university-as-business framing adopted by Brennan and Magness and their argument that, from the general perspective of social justice, there are more pressing issues than adjunct justice. That might be true from the perspective of social justice. Yet, I thought, "Whether we like it or not, colleges and universities are a business. They sell education to customers" (p. 1). And, further, from this perspective, it seems clear that "If [universities] decide to hire someone, they owe that person a minimally good job, a job that meets certain independent standards of employer–employee justice, whatever those standards might be" (p. 10).

Thus, one might very well think that the perspective of social justice is not the relevant perspective here, especially in the context of the university-as-business framing. The appropriate perspective seems that of "employer-employee justice," which appears to clearly require that employers provide employees some minimally good job.

So, which is it? Are--like it or not--universities businesses? Or, are they institutions of social justice seeking to maximize welfare? Apples or oranges? Brennan and Magness should take a definitive stance on this, since, as I understand it, the adjunct justice argument isn't that adjunct justice is the most just thing that universities can be working towards from the perspective of social justice. Instead, the argument is that it is the most just thing they can do given that they have already taken on certain obligations by hiring adjuncts.

That is, the point of adjunct justice isn't that this is simply a pressing social justice issue, but that it is a pressing workplace justice issue. The argument, then, is that, so long as universities choose to employ adjuncts, they have a responsibility to treat those adjuncts well. But, if this is right, then Brennan and Magness might need to actually take a stance on whether or not adjuncts are exploited or mistreated from the perspective of employer-employee justice. But, of course, they explicitly forgo taking any such stance.

Now, Brennan and Magness can reject the university-as-business framing in favor of a universities-as-social-justice-institution framing. Such institutions wouldn't just sell education to customers, but would seek to maximize welfare. Were universities committed to social justice in addition to selling education to customers, then maybe the Brennan and Magness argument from social justice would hold. But, given that the like-it-or-not-university-as-business framing appears on the first two pages of their article, they appear committed to it.

Thus, in adhering to the university-as-business framing, the appeal to social justice appears disingenuous. It's an argument that is decidedly not unique to the adjunct issue, but can even be marshaled against poor students who choose to buy education from universities (see this comment, here). It's the argumentative version of the nuclear option designed to blow up any argument in favor of doing something that does not maximize overall utility (or to piss off adjuncts who have criticized you in fair and unfair ways).**** [EDIT, 3/28: For more on why I don't think the appeal to social justice settles the case in favor of students, see here.]

This is not to say there are not the trade-offs Brennan and Magness point out; there obviously must be trade-offs when obligations to hired adjuncts and admitted students bump up against one another. But, I'd like to see more of an argument detailing how they bump up against one another other than: "Money is scarce" (see this comment in the Zero post). I'd also like to see a discussion of how to balance the trade-offs between obligations to employees and obligations to customers if they adhere to the university-as-business framing.

A few more minor points:

  • The paper doesn't touch on all the ways in which adjunct life can be improved that don't (apparently) cost money: Invitations to department functions, a voice on the faculty senate, voting rights in the department, etc.
  • Their section on job gentrification also misunderstands the adjunct demands, and seems to me to overestimate the possibility of gentrification. Often (anecdotally), adjuncts have been working in a certain department for years on end (in part because of costs associated with searches). We might think they have earned, then, a prima facie claim--grounded in seniority-- on any converted jobs (or, at the very least, an interview for the improved jobs). If this is right, departments can raise pay, hold job security fixed, and not engage in national or competitive searches. Indeed, why, given the costs associated with searches that Brennan and Magness point out, and perhaps a desire for continuity within teachers in the department, would departments go searching beyond adjuncts they already employ? (There might be institutional factors in place, but changing those doesn't cost money.)
  • Their point about adjunct justice and those professionals who are adjuncts on the side assume we must adopt an across-the-board approach to adjunct employment. But certainly we can distinguish the high-powered attorney from the person teaching four sections of composition. In fact, I bet institutions already do that in a way that's reflected in differing pay scales. But, this is just a hunch; I have no evidence on hand.

--Jaded, PhD

*For criticisms focusing on the false dilemma Brennan and Magness present to the adjuncts about their rational preferences, see this and this and this and this comment in Mr. Zero's thread. Another reason not mentioned for why adjuncts might stay in their jobs (other than that they are stupid or irrational or can't rank their preferences in the right way): Adjuncts care about the education of their students to whom they might have grown close in the classroom. Or, they care about attracting majors to their discipline to which they have devoted many years of their lives. Many people who, e.g., work in the non-profit sector, often forgo extensive benefits, workplace comfort, and higher pay to work for an institution whose mission they believe in despite being able to make more money elsewhere. That doesn't mean they can't complain or work towards improving their working conditions.

**Honestly, such a program sounds great. It'd also be nice to ensure those first generation college students have professors who are treated well, and that they can count on to be in the classroom semester-to-semester.

***It seems the evidence is equivocal on this point. Anecdotally: I can't answer students when they ask me, a full-time contingent faculty member in a small major, what I'll be teaching next year and when the department will be offering a class in my unique speciality. I also can't tell them if the letter they want two years down the line will mean anything if I'm not affiliated with the department. These sorts of things might very well hurt student outcomes in the long-term.

****Bernard Williams discussed related issues throughout his career.

Typos [EDIT, 3/28: Please see Brennan's comment about the "typos" here.]:
  • Missing or misplaced commas in numbers (pp. 6 - 7 and elsewhere, e.g., they seem to have cut and pasted "1578,336" which appears a few times throughout the paper). 
  • "mewhere" instead of "somewhere" (p. 7)
  • They reference a figure that seems to me unrelated to the point they are making. They say, "Imagine, contrary to the US Department of Higher Education numbers, that 76 % of all US faculty really are professional adjuncts teaching eight courses a year for $21,600. If so, that makes it even more expensive to give them all minimally good jobs (Fig. 1)" (p. 6). When one looks at Fig.1, it is about the ratio of students to full-time faculty rather than about the expenses of giving hypothetical full-time adjuncts a minimally good job. Note that later in the paper, Brennan and Magness discuss the unchanging ratio of students to full-time faculty without a reference to the figure (p. 12). 
  • "In contrast, poor students have done nothing imprudent; they just have the misfortune of being born to poor wealthy [?] parents" (p. 9; emphasis added). 
  • Missing closed parentheses (p. 11). 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

On Brennan and Magness on Adjuncts

Via Inside Higher Ed, we learn that Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness have an article in Journal of Business Ethics about how any plan to treat adjuncts fairly "faces unpleasant constraints and trade-offs. ...At most, universities can provide justice for a minority of adjuncts at the expense of the majority, as well as at the expense of poor students. Universities may indeed be exploiting adjuncts, but they cannot rectify this mistake without significant moral costs."

A couple of things stood out to me as I read the IHE article and the paper itself. One was how weird it is that people are still making these arguments. For a second I thought I was reading an article by the union-busters from In Dubious Battle instead of a serious piece of academic scholarship.

I mean, it is obvious that it would cost a lot of money to convert each adjunct position to a non-exploitative job with fair compensation. That's obvious. That's the whole point of relying on adjunct- and other non-tenure-track instructors. And it's just as obvious that budgetary constraints play an important role in this. The funds that would be used to give your adjuncts a hefty raise would have to be acquired or re-allocated. But as real as this budgetary situation is, at a certain level it is contingent. It is not the necessary state of things. It is a contingent fact that is the product of decisions made by human beings, and there are things that human beings could do that would largely reverse it.

For one, states could restore public funding for higher education to pre-recession levels (though I realize this by itself would not be sufficient). Or, institutions of higher learning could divert money from unprofitable athletic programs to their academic counterparts (though this wouldn't be sufficient, either). Or, we could fire some mid-level administrators and get faculty more involved with this administrative work. Of course, this is just a very sketchy, hand-wavy, incomplete, and inadequate set of suggestions. Finding the money to institute what Brennan and Magness call "adjunct justice" is a hard problem, and there's no single thing that would work. But this is all totally obvious. It's totally obvious that instituting adjunct justice will be expensive. It's totally obvious that it is not clear where the money would come from. It's totally obvious that doing so in an environment in which resources are limited will require hard decisions and unpleasant trade-offs. It's totally obvious that instituting adjunct justice is a costly, difficult, and complicated task. That's why it's so disappointing to see Brennan and Magness limiting themselves to stating these totally obvious things.

Their contribution to this discussion would have been much more interesting and worthwhile if they had gone beyond the obvious point that the promotion of adjunct justice represents a series of difficult and expensive problems, and had instead done the hard work of proposing and working out the details of potential solutions to these admittedly and obviously difficult problems. Or done at least a little of it. Or gestured toward vague suggestions. Or anything.

Here's the kind of thing I mean. They write:
To pay for such a massive increase in wages and benefits, colleges must either raise additional revenue or reallocate their revenue from elsewhere. We take no position as to whether this might entail raising tuition fees, requesting additional public support, fundraising from private sources, cutting other university functions, or some combination. We only note that each of these options has many obstacles as well as a number of potential downsides for the parties they involve.  (p. 8)
This is just, like, a total cop-out. Of course you would need more money to pay adjuncts more money. Of course that money would have to have a source. What's the point even mentioning it if you're not going to make a suggestion about what that source could be, how we might access it, or even take a stand on whether we should?

(One might wonder whether their reluctance/refusal to take a stand on the issues of whether there is anything wrong with the way adjuncts are being treated, and whether anything should be done about it, and if so what, is a craven attempt to conceal the fact that they don't think there is anything wrong with it and don't think anything should be done. After all, one might suspect that if they did think there was something wrong with it they'd be willing to say so, and they might also be interested in trying to figure out what to do.)

Additionally, Brennan and Magness devote space to blaming adjuncts for their own exploitation:
Adjuncts might have unjust or unfair working conditions, but, nevertheless, they choose these working conditions over their other available alternatives. They prefer being adjuncts, with all the attendant awfulness, over being unemployed, getting training elsewhere, teaching high school, working in private industry, or whatnot. (p. 9)
Here Brennan and Magness point out that adjuncts have chosen to work in these unfavorable conditions, which means, as rational agents, they must prefer doing so to the alternatives that are available to them.
Beleaguered adjuncts have greater responsibility for their own condition than poor students who cannot afford college or who must take on massive debt to attend college. If an adjunct has a master's degree or a PhD, the adjunct is probably quite intelligent and thus most likely could have chosen to invest his or her skills in a more lucrative field with better chances of success. ...In contrast, poor students have done nothing imprudent... (p. 9)
Here Brennan and Magness use the language of responsibility and imprudence to characterize adjuncts' relationship with their situation.

Brennan also has a snarky (public) FB status about this issue:
Brennan and Magness: "We're assuming adjuncts are rational. If so, then adjuncting is their best option, and taking away that option harms them by delivering them a less preferred option." 
Adjuncts: "Don't say it's our best option! That's mean to us." 
Brennan and Magness: "You realize that the only way to deny that conclusion is to hold that adjuncts are stupid, irrational, or misinformed, right?"  (March 18 at 3:45pm)
Brennan and Magness seem not to understand exploitation. One of the most interesting things about exploitation is that it can be rational for a person to voluntarily agree to the exploitative arrangement. That's why it's exploitation instead of just really bad negotiating or whatever. The fact that the adjunct agreed to serve as an adjunct is compatible with the facts that the arrangement is exploitative and that she is being exploited and that the exploitation is morally wrong.

Here's one way to get a person to voluntarily agree to an unfairly exploitative employment arrangement. Get an application from a job candidate who has a strong desire to be employed in a certain industry, but who has a very weak negotiating position. Maybe that's because non-exploitative entry-level jobs are scarce, and competition even for the exploitative jobs is intense. Then, exploit this weak negotiating position in order to force the person to accept employment on very unfavorable terms. Maybe whisper sweet nothings like, "this is how you get your foot in the door," and "if something opens up, you'll be first in line," and "if you publish, you'll be able to get something better," and "persistence pays off," and "this is just how it is now, and if we were forced to pay people like you a fair wage then we might have to fire you, which would destroy your career, which you have worked very hard for."

If she didn't have any better offers, I think it would make perfect sense for that candidate to take that job in that situation--even if the job was exploitative and even if she knew it. But that doesn't mean that she's to blame for her own exploitation, or that she has done anything imprudent or wrong. Indeed, the fact that, given the background situation, taking the job was the rational and prudent thing to do is exactly what her employer has exploited in order to get her to accept the exploitative job.

I find this whole thing very disappointing. I think this is an extremely important topic, and I agree that it is important to be clear about what the costs of adjunct justice would be, and how difficult it will be to find sources of funding to pay them. These are hard problems and it will be hard to solve them. But it would be nice successful, influential scholars like Brennan and Magness would use their position of success and influence to help do this hard work, and help end this system of exploitation.

Instead, they choose to publish this kind of disingenuously counter-productive horseshit, in which they feign neutrality while they highlight a bunch of obstacles that stand in the way of treating adjuncts fairly, make no proposals as to how these obstacles might be overcome, highlight only downsides of those proposals they do mention, suggest that adjuncts can find justice only at the expense of economically disadvantaged students (pp. 8 - 9), and refuse to affirm or even acknowledge that the way adjuncts are treated is wrong. The net effect of this is the suggestion that the obstacles are insurmountable, which in turn suggests that the problem is insurmountable, but, they suggest, it doesn't really matter because the adjuncts are responsible for their own predicament and their predicament might not even be wrong or bad.

I just don't get this. Why would someone want to spend his time this way?

--Mr. Zero

Monday, January 4, 2016

Eastern APA Thread

Once I moved farther away, realized that my current department is likely to renew my short-term contract (sometimes part-time, sometimes full-time) on a consistent basis, and that any job I apply to would offer Skype interviews, I stopped thinking about the meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association.

Occasionally, I reflect hostilely about past failures at the E-APAs. Droning on during an interview in the big reception hall with a small department and having an interviewer ignore me while they scoped out attractive people in the room; not being able to answer when a teaching-focused department asked how I would teach an intro course; wearing slightly ill-fitting dress clothes handed down to me by an ex-partner's recently-deceased relative; never attending talks; navigating the snow-ravaged wasteland that was the Boston 2010 APA (which actually wasn't that much worse than the windswept 2009 Times Square APA).

Of course, it wasn't all bad. A fellow job candidate whom I had never met gave me some inside intel on an interview with a religious school once, which was nice of them.  I also got to get drunk on expensive beer with far-flung friends, enemies, and frenemies, some of whom ended up getting good jobs in good places because of the E-APA.

But, this Wednesday, January 6th, represents the first time in a long time that the meeting of the E-APA will be held post-Winter-holiday season. It will also probably be one of the first few E-APAs to not be organized primarily around the job market. 

Let that sink in. Who said there's no progress?

Now, think about answering these questions in the comments below:
  • How's the big interviewing reception hall? 
    • Empty? 
    • Slightly full? 
      • If so, why are departments still interviewing at the E-APA? 
  • Are the suites nice?
    • If so, why are departments still interviewing at the E-APA?
  • How's the Smoker? 
  • How're the talks? 
  • Do people visibly look less stressed out than they used to? 
  • Are you happy you went?

Friday, December 18, 2015

On the Leiter/Bruya Donnybrook

I've been trying to keep up with this back-and-forth between Brians Leiter and Bruya about Bruya's criticism the PGR. (Roundup: Bruya's paper in Metaphilosophy; initial discussion at Daily Nous; Leiter's first response; Bruya's reply at Daily Nous; David Wallace's "comment on Bruya"; Leiter's most recent follow-up. Bruya has written a longer reply to Wallace hereI haven't had a chance to read it at all.) I haven't been doing a good job. There's a lot to digest, and I'm not sure what to make of it all. I am not sure whether Bruya's criticisms, on the whole, hold up.

But I guess I am inclined to think that the criticism of the PGR's sampling technique is sound. This criticism has been around for a long timeZachary Ernst has been making it since at least 2009. Leiter says it's the it is "the correct method to use when what is wanted is expert, "insider" information," but as far as I can tell, this isn't really true. It's certainly much too strong to say it's the correct methodit is one way among several of identifying experts and insiders, any of which would potentially work as well or better. So at best it is a method.

And it is a method that has serious drawbacks that I have never seen Leiter acknowledge, let alone address adequately. These problems include: that the first participants will have a disproportionate impact on the rest of the sample; that the resulting sample is not random; and that it is not possible to know whether the sample is representative of the larger group it is attempting to emulate. To me, that seems bad, and like it might not be such a great method to use for this. To me, it seems like it might be better to use a different method. A method that would be less likely to introduce bias into the sample, and is more likely to generate a sample that can be known to be representative. To me, it seems like Leiter's claim that it is "the correct method" is somewhere in the range between misleading and totally wrong, depending on whether it is merely one of several correct methods or just not even a correct method at all. And it seems to me that Leiter's response to this criticism is somewhere in the range between inadequate and nonexistent.

Of course, I could be wrong, and if I'm wrong I hope one of y'all Smokers will set me straight.

I also wanted to ask about one of David Wallace's criticisms of Bruya's analysis. In comments at Daily Nous, Wallace writes:
Just to repeat from the other thread [the relevant material is here]: the correlation is not in fact between institutional PGR rank and number of evaluators at the institution. (That correlation is extremely weak.) It's between institutional PGR rank and number of evaluators with a PhD from the institution. That's only to be expected if placement record tracks faculty quality and faculty quality isn't too wildly varying in time.* 
I suppose I think that's what you'd expect if placement record tracks faculty quality
provided, of course, that the PGR measures faculty quality. But I don't think you'd want to affirm the consequent and infer that this correlation confirms that the PGR reliably measures faculty quality.** Because that's also what you'd expect if the pool of evaluators was disproportionately packed with people who studied at a particular set of institutions, who then vote one another's Ph.D.-granting institutions up. And I think that's what you'd expect if you started with a small group of elite evaluators, and then accumulated additional evaluators by getting current evaluators to nominate their friends. I mean, sure, maybe this correlation just confirms that the best researchers studied in the best departments. But it's not as though they use an independent procedure for identifying objectively qualified potential evaluators and assessing their competence, or have independently confirmed that the sample is representative.

So maybe this correlation just confirms that evaluators tend to have gone to grad school at high-ranking departments, and people who went to grad school at high-ranking departments have a lot of friends who also went to grad school at high-ranking departments, which is how they got nominated to become evaluators, and then they give that group of schools high ratings. If there was some sort of objective standard for being a qualified evaluator, and the pool of actual evaluators was selected in a way that was likely to generate a sample that is representative of the larger pool of research-active philosophers, and then you ended up with a correlation like that, then I'd be inclined to agree that it was evidence that things with the PGR were working more or less well. But that's not the situation.

Seriously. Wallace's result here is consistent with the hypothesis that the PGR's pool of evaluators is largely populated with people who studied at the highest-ranked schools, who then determine that those are the schools that are ranked the highest. Right? That's bad, right? This is a suspicious result, right? It's suspicious if a survey of an unrepresentative sample consistently shows that the departments that are overrepresented in the sample are the best, right? I realize it would have been better for Bruya to have been explicit about what 'from' means, but it's not any less problematic if it means "where you got your Ph.D." instead of "where you currently work," right? Am I wrong? Have I misunderstood? Help, please.

--Mr Zero

*Wallace's blog comment is a more succinct restatement of material he presents on page 6 of his critique.

**I do not take Wallace to be doing this. Wallace is clear on p. 6 of the longer piece that his point is that an argument based on this correlation for the conclusion that the PGR is unreliable is question-begging, not that the correlation confirms that the PGR is reliable.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Eastern APA -- Should you go?

Interview season begins soon. (Or is already underway -- I had a first-round in October, others seem to be scheduling, according to the wiki.) Eastern APA is now in early January, having moved from the much-reviled end-of-year holiday squeeze. It no longer functions as a major job market stop, with fewer and fewer search committees, it appears, opting to do first-round interviews in person. All to the good. The cost and hassle of traveling to E-APA for job interviews, particularly in an ever-tightening market, was a substantial burden to many job-seekers.

In grad school, an advisor told me to never go to E-APA unless I had interviews, and I never have. My first trip there, in 2009, I had one. It was a pretty miserable interview, with a fairly obnoxious search committee. No fly-out. My last trip to E-APA was in 2010 -- the year of the Boston snowpocalypse. As I recall, that year I had three interviews. None of them resulted in a fly-out either, but I did get a TT job at a university that skipped first rounds entirely and went straight to fly-outs. I was fortunate that the E-APA locations during my years were drivable for me, and I didn't have to fork over a ton of money to go.

In the years since, there's been a big shift towards phone or Skype interviews. I've applied for jobs here and there, and in every case where I was offered APA or Skype, I opted for Skype. In every case, I also got a fly-out. As I discussed here last year, I haven't personally encountered any drawbacks to interviewing via Skype instead of in person.

I see some job ads, though, in which the committee announces that they will be doing interviews at E-APA. Some also note that they'll offer a Skype option in special cases. If there's a Skype option, I say take it, unless you're planning to go to E-APA anyway. The dilemma occurs when the department insists on E-APA interviews, or nothing, and you are not otherwise going. Is it worth going? Going into debt? When you're one of maybe 12 first-round candidates, and a typical 3 will get a fly-out, you have 1:3 odds of being a finalist, which isn't terribly bad (unless you're one of the 9 who didn't succeed). You have 1:2 odds of success at the fly-out (assuming 3 finalists), with a significant difference being that the department (usually) pays your way to the campus visit (and if they don't, screw 'em). Are you feeling lucky?

Good luck with those interviews!

This is an open discussion thread.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Oh God, Not McGinn Again

Via Daily Nous, we have learned that Colin McGinn, Edward Erwin, and the University of Miami are being sued by the former graduate student and research assistant who claims that McGinn sexually harassed her. Justin Weinberg has a copy of the lawsuit at DN. There is a detailed article at the Huffington Post, and less detailed articles at the Telegraph and the Chronicle. The HuffPo article contains a bunch of text messages and emails that I'd never seen reproduced before, which they say they had access to copies of, and which are horrible.

For example, here is the much-discussed "Sex Three Times" email, in its entirety (all quotations are taken from the HuffPo piece, and not just from the lawsuit itself, because HuffPo has reviewed the documents):
Need to avoid the scenario I sketched: you meet someone else, I broken hearted, our relationship over (except formally).  This follows pretty obviously from current policy.  To avoid my heart break I need to prepare myself mentally, which means withdrawing from you emotionally--not good for either of us.  Also no good to just have full-blown relationship--too risky and difficult in the circumstances.  So need compromise.  Many are possible. Here's one (I'm not necessarily advocating it): we have sex 3 times over the summer when no one is around, but stop before next semester begins.  This has many advantages, which I won't spell out, but also disadvantages, ditto.  I am NOT asking you to do this--it is merely one possible compromise solution to a difficult problem, which might suggest others.  It has the FORM of a possible solution.  Try to take this in the spirit in which it is intended.  yours, Colin
Great Scott! I hope it is obvious that this is not the kind of thing you can say to your research assistant. You cannot tell your RA that she needs to help you avoid heart break. You cannot suggest that your RA have sex with you as any sort of compromise. "Hey, let's have sex a few times! It's a happy medium between two unpleasant extremes!" Aristotle would be proud, but only because Aristotle was a sexist asshole.

Although technically, he allegedly says, he is not literally suggesting that they have sex three times over the summer--it's merely a meta-suggestion of the type of suggestion he thinks she should make--he does allegedly point out that doing so has many advantages, and anyways I'm not sure that you can really do this. The other day my wife had a bit of a long day, so after kiddie bedtime I suggested that we watch a movie and relax, and that she should pick the movie. "Whatever you want to watch, that's what we'll watch," I said. "For example," I continued, "if you wanted to pick Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, we could watch that. Not that I'm suggesting that--it's your decision entirely. I was merely suggesting that as a possible suggestion that you might consider suggesting if that was something you wanted to suggest." It was, however, clear to us both that I really was suggesting that we watch Anchorman 2, and that the technique of couching the suggestion in the form of a higher-order meta-suggestion had absolutely no practical effect on what I was doing. It did allow me to pretend that I wasn't really suggesting it, but I was obviously only pretending and nobody was fooled. We watched Snowpiercer.

Another time, according to HuffPo, McGinn sent her the following pair of text messages:
McGinn: I love your essence
McGinn: Plus it gives me a slight erection
Great Scott! No, no, no, no, no. No.

You can't say stuff like that to your RA, either. Also--and I want to make it clear that I have never tried this and that this is just an unscientific conjecture--I feel confident that just telling women straight out when they give you an erection is not an effective seduction technique. I'm not saying that it will never work on anyone; I'm saying that it will never work on almost anyone, and that the conditions have to be exactly right for it to work, and that those conditions are all but guaranteed not to be satisfied between you and your RA. The presence of a direct supervisory relationship messes up the dynamic. Maybe you'd be purposefully abusing your power. Maybe you'd be only accidentally abusing your power. Maybe you'd merely be opening yourself up to a lawsuit based on the fact that, to an outside observer, it would look exactly like you were abusing your power. Whatever it is, it's a bad idea. Very, very bad. Not good.

If you're going to try this--I am not saying you should try this.You should not try this. You should never do anything like this under any circumstances. If you're going to try this, you need to stop it instantly if you do not receive an immediate and overwhelmingly positive response. It is not up to the other person to tell you to knock it off. Sometimes you have to do this with toddlers, but adults can be expected to know that you should not talk about your penis in polite company. The lawsuit alleges that McGinn made numerous and repeated references to his erections in various emails and text messages.

Another time, according to HuffPo, McGinn sent the following series of text messages, which contain an interesting riff on the well-established "hand job" joke:
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.
Great Scott! No! Noooooooooooooooo!

Suppose that you accept McGinn's explanation that 'hand job' means "clipping my fingernails" or whatever, and then you accept that it makes any sense on any level for an advisor to tell his student and research assistant that he expects her to clip his fingernails when he next sees her, and that there's any reason why a person would want to imagine his RA clipping his fingernails. I still find that the fact that he allegedly gets an erection in the middle of all this and allegedly tells her about it substantially undermines the claimed innocence of the "joke." The way he allegedly mentions his penis in the middle of what is supposed to be an admittedly ribald way of referring to clipping one's fingernails makes it seem exactly like he's not really talking about clipping his fingernails after all. The net effect is of a vulgar, ham-handed, extraordinarily inappropriate come-on that absolutely should not be aired in the context of this kind of professional relationship. Unless it's one of those chaste, platonic erections that can exist between friends and which employers can share with their employees. Maybe it's one of these ironic erections that the hipsters of Williamsburg and Silver Lake have recently been attaining. In any case, I've now given the topic of Colin McGinn's privates much more thought than I prefer, and would like to change the subject please.

The lawsuit also alleges that McGinn called her over 30 times during winter break, which seems excessive; that he quoted a passage from Lolita to her that deals with the fire of Humbert's loins; that he invented a ritualized series of hand grips, which he admits to in articles that appeared in Slate and the Chronicle, and which she says made her extremely uncomfortable; that he insisted on holding her foot and then kissed it; that he threatened to harm her career unless she had sex with him; that he suggested sex three times as a compromise when she said no; etc. After she resigned from the RA position in September of 2012, the lawsuit alleges that he wrote, "you are much better off with my support than without it. So please think carefully about your actions." The alleged behavior seems pretty inappropriate, and at least somewhat threatening.

And so, if these allegations are true and the University of Miami had access to these messages, I can see where it would be very distressing that the administration threatened to charge him (or threaten to charge him or whatever they did) only with failure to report a consensual relationship instead of bona fide sexual harassment, and then let him resign rather than be formally investigated, and then let him say publicly that he'd never so much as been accused of sexual harassment, and also let him say publicly (in Slate and the Chronicle) that she lodged her complaint only because she failed to complete her research assignment and was concerned about getting a negative evaluation. If that happened to me, I think I would be extremely distressed by it. I suspect that I'd find it pretty devastating. I'm not sure how I'd be able to cope with it.

I admit to being naive about how these decisions are made, and I would not want to suggest that a complainant should have final approval over any plea-bargain that a University's disciplinarians might consider pursuing. But I do think that a complainant ought to have some say over whether the investigation of her complaint is conducted in a formal or informal manner--particularly if the disciplinarians think the complaint is serious enough that the step of asking for the defendant's resignation is warranted. (The UM faculty manual indicates that it is the complainant's option to end any informal proceeding and initiate a formal one. The lawsuit alleges that she was not granted that right.) I don't know enough to have a legal opinion about what UM's obligations were or whether they lived up to them, but on a non-legal level, if these allegations are true, it seems to me that she's got a real point here.

--Mr. Zero

P.S. I'm going to open comments, but I'm going to moderate with a heavy touch. I don't know what actually happened, and neither do you.