Important Concerns and Issues



A Brief Overview

In October of 2015, a lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, against the University of Miami, Colin McGinn, and Edward Erwin. The “Relief Sought” was described as follows:

WHEREFORE, having set forth the above-described legally sufficient causes of action against the Defendants, Plaintiff prays for the entry of Final Judgment against all Defendants jointly and severally, for damages in an amount not yet quantified but to be proven at trial; for costs and attorneys’ fees; and for any other and further relief which is just and proper.”

During the case it emerged that the amount ultimately requested was in excess of $16,000,000.

In April of 2016, Justin Weinberg reported on the philosophy blog Daily Nous that the case had been settled, and referred readers to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  There, one is given a brief description of the case, which concludes as follows:

"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.”

 It appeared, then, that unless one of the parties violated the confidentiality agreement, one would never find out what the outcome was. In fact, however, what the plaintiff’s attorney said was not accurate, since one of the parties to the case had not entered into the confidentiality agreement – namely, Professor Ed Erwin.

The legal costs that one incurs in defending oneself against such enormous lawsuits is very great indeed, but, in addition, Colin McGinn has in effect been blacklisted from the profession, while Ed Erwin and his wife suffered great personal harm. While nothing can be done to correct the damage that has already been done, it is my hope that knowledge of the outcome of this case will prevent, or at least significantly reduce, further harm to Colin McGinn and to Ed Erwin.

Ed Erwin's Letter Concerning the Lawsuit in the Colin McGinn Case


What Happened in the Colin McGinn Case?

A graduate student at the University of Miami made a complaint against Colin McGinn in 2012. He departed the University in 2013 believing no one had charged him with sexual harassment. The Vice-Provost told him this and the official letter of charges sent to the Faculty Senate contained no such charge by either the student or the University. He left rather than fight for his job partly because he believed, rightly it turns out, that if the Faculty Senate were to rule in his favor, the university president planned to go to the Board of Trustees to get his tenure revoked.
In 2015, the student’s lawyer, Ann Olivarius, threatened to sue the University of Miami, Colin McGinn, and me. The lawyer offered me a very large financial inducement (at least $90,000)  if I would sign an affidavit saying that Morrison had charged sexual harassment even though I believed, based on the document filed with the court, she had not.

I refused to sign. The case went to trial in October of 2015, but before this occurred, Olivarius sent a letter to my lawyer agreeing that her case against me “does not require litigating”. She litigated anyway with some bad consequences for me and painful and tragic consequences for my wife.

In December of 2015, the judge dismissed all charges against me with prejudice. Against McGinn, all charges but one—a single charge of defamation—were  also dismissed with prejudice.

The case continued with the taking of depositions. The Director of the University’s Office of Equality Administration, Ms. Black, testified under oath that when she read some e-mails from McGinn to Morrison without any context, she believed there had been sexual harassment, but when she saw the letters sent by Morrison to him, she concluded otherwise. There had been no sexual harassment.

As regards those letters, Morrison has explained in her deposition the reasons for her text messages and e-mails to McGinn. McGinn's lawyer gives Colin's side in her Answer. I will send either or both documents to those who ask. My e-mail address is

Several things came out during the plaintiff's deposition that tell against received opinion on this case. These include: (a) the plaintiff swore under oath that she never viewed the infamous "handjob" messages as referring to masturbation (b) the plaintiff made repeated favorable references to "handjobs", "grips" and related matters herself in her correspondence with McGinn (c) the plaintiff sent numerous messages to McGinn that the university took to demonstrate that there was no sexual harassment but rather a consensual romantic, non-sexual relationship between them, (d) although the plaintiff showed several people at the university some messages that McGinn had sent her, she never showed anyone (including her mother, her own attorney, and, as he testified, her boyfriend, Ben Yelle) most of the text messages she had sent McGinn (e) the plaintiff later claimed that her reason for neglecting to show anyone her text messages to McGinn was that someone spilled beer on her phone. She did not produce the phone.

Shortly after Morrison was deposed, the university offered to settle. All those connected to the case who signed the non-disclosure agreement are legally prohibited from discussing the offer.   I refused to sign.

The plaintiff had asked for over $16M in damages and payment of her legal expenses, but she was offered zero dollars in damages and only partial payment of legal fees. She accepted the offer. The case ended.

Many of the allegations in this case were based on nothing more solid than rumors and lies.

One rumor passed around in my own department was that McGinn was asked to resign his position at Rutgers because of a charge of sexual harassment.

Here is what the former Chair at Rutgers says about this claim: “I was chair when Colin McGinn resigned to take a position at the University of Miami.  He was not asked to resign.  To the best of my knowledge, no Rutgers student ever lodged a complaint against him” (Former chair, Philosophy Department, Rutgers University, e-mail message to me, September 18, 2013.)

Before the case was brought, McGinn, like Peter Ludlow, was blacklisted from academic philosophy. He was denied a one year Visiting Position at East Carolina University; he has been asked to withdraw his contribution to an anthology on Shakespeare and Philosophy because other authors threatened to pull theirs (Peter Ludlow has suffered the same fate), and more recently, he has had a contract for a Shakespeare book cancelled specifically because of the allegations in the case; he has had speaking engagements cancelled, and, although he has applied to several other academic positions, he has failed to make the short list for any of them.

Despite McGinn’s vindication in the court case and the University lawyer arguing that the only offense he was guilty of was failing to report a romantic relationship, the University of Miami continues to blacklist him.

When McGinn applied for a position last year, prominent scholars, including Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, agreed to send letters, but they were never contacted. This was not an oversight. An administrator and some faculty members on the hiring committee were aware of what was happening. I know this because they told me.

McGinn later applied for a one year visiting position, but the Philosophy Department refused to consider him.

He has now applied a third time competing against junior candidates for a position as either an assistant or associate professor. This time leading scholars sent letters. One said “Colin McGinn is one of the most distinguished and influential philosophers of his generation”; another said “McGinn is one of the great philosophers of the late 20th and early 21 century”; a third said “Colin McGinn is one of the most intelligent, eminent, and productive philosophers of the last forty years.” McGinn did not make the short list of candidates to be considered.

I recently invited McGinn to the campus to hear a talk on consciousness, which was partly about his work, but he was told that he was banned from the campus. Perhaps most absurdly, he was also banned from listening to the lecture from a remote location off campus.

I have not been told the administrators’ reasons for not wanting to re-hire McGinn, but it would be understandable if they wished to avoid expected harsh reactions from students, philosophers, the press, and perhaps the board of trustees. I understand such a reaction, but  no matter how long I try, I cannot think of any good reason to commend it.

As long as philosophers refuse to speak out, the evil blacklisting practices of the 1950’s will be repeated over and over again. Philosophers such as Ludlow, McGinn, and Barnett, though innocent of the charges against them, will see their reputations, livelihoods, friendships, and marriages destroyed and virtually no one will help them because virtually no one cares.

Ed Erwin,
University of Miami


Discussion of Brian Leiter's Comments