Posted by: Allyson | November 21, 2008

Alexander McPherson Opinion Piece in the LA Times

(Crossposted at This is What a Feminist Blogs Like).

Dr. Alexander McPherson, the California professor who refused to undergo state-mandated sexual harrassment training, has an opinion piece up at the LA Times.

McPherson says that, when the state passed the bill four years ago, “The University of California raised no objection and submitted to its authority.”  Has it ever occurred to him that UC Irvine might not have had any objections?  That they agreed with the bill?  That they wanted to obey the law? 

McPherson revisited his proposed compromise, that he would take the training if the university would issue a statement absolving him of any suspicion.  However:

The university, however, declined to provide me with any such statement, which poses the question: Why not? It is a completely innocuous, unobjectionable statement that they should have been willing to write for any faculty member whose record is as free of stain as is my own.

First, the question should be fired back at him.  Why does he feel the need to have such a statement issued?  Furthermore, I wonder how many other faculty members have made a similar request and had it denied.  Well, if they exist, they sure don’t see the need to raise a fuss to the media about it.  And furthermore, while McPherson’s record may be “free of stain,” I have become increasingly suspicious that his conscience isn’t.  Just because someone never got reported or caught doesn’t mean they didn’t do it.

And then there’s this lovely paragraph:

What’s more, the state, acting through the university, is trying to coerce and bully me into doing something I find repugnant and offensive. I find it offensive not only because of the insinuations it carries and the potential stigma it implies, but also because I am being required to do it for political reasons. The fact is that there is a vocal political/cultural interest group promoting this silliness as part of a politically correct agenda that I don’t particularly agree with.

Well, you know what, I don’t agree with giving 30% if my income to the government, but I do it anyway.  Yeah, I could commit civil disobedience and go to jail if I wanted to.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that the government often makes us do things we disagree with.  I disagree with Texas law requiring me to have my car inspected every year (something I never had to do in Ohio).  But I do it anyway because I like living in Austin, and I don’t want to spend 3 hours a day on the bus.  That’s called life.  I can’t believe Dr. McPherson’s political beliefs are so dead-set against sexual harrassment training that he’s willing to lose his job for them.  Oh well.

Also, I really don’t understand what stigma he’s talking about.   I’m willing to bet that the majority of companies in the United State require sexual harrassment training for at least some of their employees.  Where I work, ALL employees go through basic training, and supervisors have additional trainings.  Where is the stigma if everyone has to do it?  It’s impossible to say that sexual harrassment training implies that you’ve harrassed someone if everyone is required to take it, because it’s statistically improbable that 100% of people have sexually harrassed someone.

And finally, that delightful part about this being political, and being part of a “politically correct agenda” that he doesn’t agree with.  Okay, who on earth developed the term “politically correct” as a euphemism for “treating all people with dignity and respect.”  I hate the phrase “politically correct,” because it implies that you have to pretend not to be sexist/racist/ableist/etc. in the public sphere, but it’s perfectly okay to be any of those things when you’re in the private sphere.  Sorry.  I’m not buying it.  You should be respectful to people all the time, not just when you have to for work.  I think that a lot of people who are resistant to “politically correct” terminology feel that way because they are afraid of having their discriminatory ideas deconstructed and broken down. They’re afraid that if they start treaing people with respect at work, their views might change and they might feel that way ALL the time!  *gasp*  How awful, to discover your bigoted assumptions are incorrect!

And then there’s the part where McPherson blames other people for the loss of his professional duties:

The imposition of training that has a political cast violates my academic freedom and my rights as a tenured professor. The university has already nullified my right to supervise my laboratory and the students I teach. It has threatened my livelihood and, ultimately, my position at the university. This for failing to submit to mock training in sexual harassment, a requirement that was never a condition of my employment at the University of California 30 years ago, nor when I came to UCI 11 years ago.

Stop blaming the state or UC Irvine for the fact that you lost your supervisory duties.  You lost these positions because you failed to comply with the law.  If you’re so proud of yourself for committing civil disobedience over this issue, then say “yeah, I lost my job because I chose to take this political stand.”  Don’t whine about how this is the fault of the university or the state.  This is your own doing, period.  If you’re so happy with yourself because you fought the system, then own up to the consequences of your actions.  Plus, this whining that sexual harrassment trainind didn’t exist 30 years ago?  Oh please, things change.  I’m sorry that our society keeps evolving and progressing.  It’s really too bad for you that we don’t live in a time when it was more socially acceptable for you to be bigoted and disrespectful.  I feel for you.  Oh wait, no I don’t.  

And then, one of the closing statements: 

Sexual harassment is a politically charged issue. The people of California have granted no authority to the state to impose narrow political and cultural opinions on individual citizens.

Telling us that harrassment is politically charged is pretty much the only intelligent thing he has said in this entire piece.  But then he goes and ruins it.  Sexual harrassment isn’t an “opinion.”  It’s a fact.  And it’s existence can be extremely painful and traumatic.  The fact that he is so blind to its existence tells me that he really could benefit from some training.  And furthermore, I think the people of California did grant the state some authority to impose rules and laws – by electing their representatives.

I posted a response over at the LA Times site, which is below the jump.  Unfortunately, comments at the LA times cannot be any longer than 650 characters, which I discovered after writing a fairly lengthy response.  The original long comment is posted here.  It’s a bummer that I had to chop so much out.  Maybe there will be more responses to this article and I can use some of the other paragraphs I wrote.  Also, they have to be approved before they are posted, so here’s hoping it gets through moderation.

You ask why the university would not provide a letter absolving you from any susupicion of sexual harrassesment.  The same question could be asked of you.  Why do you feel the need to have such a letter?  Why do you feel the need to have this protection in place?  Have other professors asked for and been denied these same requests, or is it just you?  The more you complain about the University not complying with your request, the more some of us suspect that you have a guilty conscience.

Also, stop blaming someone else for your loss of professional duties.  You could still be in charge of your lab and your classroom if you had complied with the law.  You have nobody to blame but yourself.

Yes, sexual harrassment is political.  But it’s also a fact, not an opinion.  It happens.  By trying to relegate it to a “narrow opinion” of what it is, what the consequences are/should be, and how to deal with it, you should a great deal of disrespect to then people (both women and men) who have been victims of harrassment in the workplace. 

I can understand your frustrations with a supposed “worthless” training that is not intellectually rigorous or useful.  But I also consider the fact that you’re complaining about that to be a strawperson.  You’re opposed to it for ideological reasons, but by the way, it’s also not a very useful training. If you were so concerned about it’s usefulness, there are ways to improve that.  Discuss those concerns with the university, so that the state-mandated training could be effective.  But something tells me you don’t actually care about the quality of the training.  I doubt you’d want to do it even if it were overhauled in a way that it would better serve the people taking it.

Perhaps if you don’t like that the University has stripped you of your duties, you should look for a job in a state that has laws more in line with your personal politics.  Considering the kind of money your lab has brought in to Irvine, I’m sure there are schools elsewhere who would be happy to overlook your disrespectful attitude.



  1. I have only one question to ask this guy: Does he even know what these trainings consist of? It seems clear to me that he does not.

    Is he really so narcissistic as to think that the STATE LAW which mandates that ALL STATE EMPLOYEES take this training is designed purely to ruin his (his and NO ONE ELSE’S) reputation?

    frankly, the only person ruining his reputation is him, by not only not taking the course, but for drawing so much attention to the fact that he is, at best, a self-centered idiot, and at worst someone with a guilty conscience.

  2. I would be so angry if I were a doctoral student in his lab. What a nightmare. Imagine – you’re chugging along, trying to get your Ph.D., hard enough as it is, and your adviser decides to start playing chicken with the administration over, of all things, sexual harassment training.

    If I had had my lab access, responsibilities, and status as a doctoral student revoked because I obstinately refused to attend mandatory training sessions, I would be an idiot.

    Just like this guy.

    Call him the WAHHHHHHHHmbulance!

  3. we should also have to go through filing a false report training so everyone knows the consequences of that. but just because something is the law doesn’t mean it’s right (see Prop 8).

  4. I know; I am perpetually in disbelief about this guy.

    A commenter at another blog noted that he’s really not doing himself any favors by publishing his ludicrous (not to mention poorly written) opinions in a national newspaper.

  5. Hilarious. If I was forced to name one thing more ruining of ones reputation than attending sexual harassment prevention training, among the many thousands, I would have to select “refusing to attend said training, losing one’s job, then complaining on a national forum and having people raise the question what exactly is so offensive about sexual harassment training the alleged “innocent”… unless he isn’t innocent”.

  6. uh, bemused reader is obviously not informed as to how these investigations actually work or what these trainings consist of. Typical.

  7. […] via The Feminist Underground: A UC Irvine professor is throwing a fit over mandatory sexual harassment training. It’s rather hard to […]

  8. I fully understand Dr. McPherson’s viewpoint. I like how he describes these silly Sexual Harassment training sessions as “an insult to anyone with a respectable IQ”. Anyone forced into attending such a sessions knows that it is true.

  9. jcat,

    produce evidence, and also, while you’re at it, provide some standard of what a “respectable IQ” is. The concept just smacks of condescension and faux-intellectual snobbery.

    Seriously, the written driver’s ed test is painfully simple, but you need to know the laws before getting a driver’s license, and anyone trying to do this “it insults my IQ” thing would get laughed at by the cop who tickets them for not being licensed.

  10. I’m a graduate student who is in complete agreement with the good professor. I, too, have refused to complete these training modules. Luckily, to date, I have been neither reprimanded nor disciplined. I refused to be treated as if I am a potential criminal, and I don’t understand why these modules need to be completed annually. Does the state think we’re too stupid to get it the first time? I do not get this notion of punishing the masses for the behavior of a few. Do we really believe that those who choose to engage in this type of behavior do so because they are ignorant of the law and ethics?

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