Inside Higher Ed reports that Professor Alexander McPherson of UC Irvine is refusing to complete state-mandated sexual harrassment training. McPherson has already been stripped of his supervisory duties in his lab, and unless he completes the training by November 12th, will lose his $148,000/year salary as well. McPherson has said that:
This is a violation of my principles . . . I am offended that the university comes to me and says you need to take sexual harassment training. There is no more reason that I need to take sex harassment training than I need to take training on avoiding grand theft auto or murder or any other crime. The state is imposing this based on politics and that can’t be allowed.
McPherson has also said that asking people to participate in harassment training suggests that they are responsible for harassing people, and believes that the only people who should have to undergo such trainings are those who have a documented problem with harrassment. In an email to one of the deans at the Irvine campus, McPherson said that:
I have never heard the university advance a reasonable and convincing explanation. I don’t seem to be getting one now either. The answer appears to be simply, ‘Look, this is the law — now do it or else.’ The fact that this is being required of everyone makes it no less onerous, as in the end, it is being required of each of us as an individual. I ask what is next? A loyalty pledge, racial sensitivity training, free speech filtering…. I would cheerfully go to jail in protest, as an act of civil disobedience. I am offended, however, that the university so poorly understands its priorities and confuses its duties that it threatens to interfere with the classes and with the students I teach, and to whom I have a moral obligation as their professor.
So here is what I am gathering from McPherson’s statements:
- He thinks that the only people who should have to undergo sexual harrassment training are those who have already been found to harrass people
- If you don’t harrass people, you can’t learn anything new or important from harrassment trainings
- State laws are not a good enough reason for being required to complete a training
- The university is “confused” because it wants to follow the law
- Apparently, racial sensitivity training is onerous as well.
First of, the idea that you should only undergo training if you’re a known harrasser. Why shouldn’t these trainings be preventative? Why should a student, paraprofessional, or professional without as much power have to go through the stress of sexual harrassment? I have a friend who was being sexually harrassed at work, and was miserable. Furthermore, she did not feel like she could go to any of her superiors about the problem, because they could not help her. Why should she have had to suffered through that? Why not offer preventative trainings before harrassment happens? Why shouldn’t we teach people how to recognize harrassment so that they know how to help people in these situations? Irvine spokesperson Cathy Lawhon provided an appropriate counter-argument for McPherson’s protest that people who don’t harass can’t benefit from these trainings:
She did say that the training serves a purpose even if someone isn’t engaged in inappropriate behavior. “If as a supervisor, something is happening in the work place, something I saw among people I supervised, I would be trained to recognize it.”
I doubt that Professor McPherson knows all that there is to know about sexual harrassment. I can’t believe he wouldn’t learn one new thing from a training. At my workplace, I had to undergo sexual harrassment training, and although I would have been able to pass the exit quiz with flying colors without the training, I did actually get some information about Texas sexual harrassment laws that I did not know before. It’s troubling to read about an educator claiming that he does not have anything else to learn about a subject.
Furthermore, why is UC Irvine “confused” about wanting to follow state law? And why does McPherson think he should be above the law? Maybe UC Irvine doesn’t like having to implement this training. Maybe they hate dealing with people like him, who think it doesn’t matter. But as a state school, I’m pretty sure Irvine wants to follow the law so that their school is not jeopardized. McPherson needs to take his problems to the state level, not the university level. The university sure isn’t going to do anything about his entitlement problem because they don’t want to jeopardize the entire institution. And McPherson doesn’t do a good job of explaining why the university has its priorities out of whack for wanting to comply with state relations. Perhaps Professor McPherson does not know the state law as well as he thinks. Maybe it would be a good idea if he went and read it. His e-mail statement completely boggles my mind; I just cannot comprehend his logic. The university is intefering with his moral duty to his students? Maybe he’s interfering by thinking that he’s above the law. What a selfish person, to blame the loss of his professional duties on others.
And I loved the bit about racial sensitivity trainings being “what’s next.” I’m pretty sure those have been going on for a really long time now. And I bet McPherson could learn a thing or two about those as well. But it sounds like someone doesn’t want to have his entitled, privileged worldview compromised.
And, in non-feminist news, this made me smile: Temple College in Texas repealed its ban on displaying the Nietzsche quotation “God is dead” on fauclty doors.
Crossposted at This is What a Feminist Blogs Like.