Posted by: Allyson | November 7, 2008

California Professor Risks Career to Avoid Harrassment Training

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:

  1. He thinks that the only people who should have to undergo sexual harrassment training are those who have already been found to harrass people
  2. If you don’t harrass people, you can’t learn anything new or important from harrassment trainings
  3. State laws are not a good enough reason for being required to complete a training
  4. The university is “confused” because it wants to follow the law
  5. 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.



  1. Wow, that’s some slippery slope argument he’s got going on – from a training that discusses laws and the school’s expectations for professional behavior to ‘speech filtering.’ If he is worried that seminars on sexual harassment or racial sensitivity are akin to speech filtering, then he’s probably the guy who’d most benefit from attending.

    What a jackass.

  2. Wow…

    This guy actually reminds me of some of the trolls who comment on my blog. Absolutely blows my mind that people like this can come up with this stuff…

  3. How about once we’ve forced the professor to undergo sexual harassment training we make it state law that any feminist staff or students at UC Irvine have to do a state approved anger management course or face dismissal/expulsion? (Why shouldn’t these trainings be preventative? etc.)
    Who cares that most of these feminists would neither need nor want to do such courses and would rather spend their time teaching, studying or protesting about something? Not the feminists, apparently.

    I suspect the professor’s remark 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” is pretty straight forward. He believes that the university and he are there first and foremost to teach the students and that the university is preventing him from teaching by either wasting his time in training he doesn’t want or stopping him from supervising his students.
    If the university’s actions prevent its students from being effectively taught then it is of little value to them as an academic institution.

    The professor “would cheerfully go to jail in protest” so arguably does not think himself above the law. He sees a law as stupid/illogical/unjust and presumably thinks it should be changed.

  4. a2, your arguments make little sense. There are many documented cases of sexual harassment that fostered an undesirable working environment and led to litigation (which in turn led to a substantial loss of funds for the company). On almost every job that I have had (private companies), ALL employees -male AND female- were required to go through sexual harassment training in order to keep said job. None of my employers bothered to round up feminists and give them anger managment training (as you suggest), because there aren’t any documented cases of feminists being any more angered than the avarage employee and because it’s silly to suggest so.

    An employee of a state funded institution must obey state requirements. As a professor, it is his duty to complete his state’s requirements so that he can effectly do his job. He must have the required certification, pass the required tests, and go through the required training. If he refuses to do so, chances are, he won’t have the choice to “cheerfully go to jail in protest”…he will be terminated.

  5. I was being silly (insincere) when I suggested anger management training for feminists – as I said I think they would neither need nor want such training.

    As you say, there aren’t documented cases of feminists being angrier than average and so employers have no good reason to force them into anger management. There aren’t any documented cases of this professor harassing people (or of state employees being more inclined to harass than average), so he (they) shouldn’t be forced into harassment training. Specific examples of sexual harassment are as irrelevant as specific examples of angry feminists.

    Of course the professor must follow state regulations however there is no requirement that he think the state regulations sensible or just and he has every right to object to them.

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