A molecular biologist at the University of California is gambling with his employment by refusing to attend a state-mandated (not just a university requirement) two hour training course on sexual harassment, wanting the university “to sign a disclaimer that says that he must take the training to remain employed and that he has never sexually harassed anyone that he has supervised.” As to the second part of that statement, how could the university be sure? The best he could hope for is “no formal complaints of sexual harassment have been made against him”, but there is no good reason to demand that the university do this, despite his claims that attending the course will not only waste his time but also will “cast a shadow of suspicion on my reputation and career”.
This is not something that Alexander MacPherson has been singled out on – everybody has to do it. Zuska sums up:
This is, pure and simple, resistance to an attempt to create a cultural norm of official disapproval and discouragement of harassing behaviors.
Whether MacPherson simply can’t be bothered with the hassle of supporting staff who are sexually harassed and disciplining/reporting the offenders, or whether he’s personally invested in unhindered harassing behaviours himself is objectionable either way, and he’s still objecting to just one mandatory two-hour seminar when I bet he hasn’t complained about a the eleventy-three lab safety sessions he’s attended during his career or mandatory avoiding plagiarism sessions etc.
In the same post, Zuska mentions yet another report of a study showing that female academics are paid less than men and the predictable responses in one forum about how it’s all down to lady brains and lacking toughness or something like that.
Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, social justice
A cynic might suggest that the University doesn’t really give a flying fig about whether its students are safe or not – they simply want to cover their asses in case there is a complaint brought against a staff member, at which point they can do the Pontius Pilate – wash their hands and claim no responsibility, because they did their bit by sending him to the course.
I must have lost my cynic badge somewhere. My first thought was that the course destroys even the remotest plausibility to any denials – there’s no room to claim ignorance of the law.
You and Zuska would get on well, methinks. She makes a very similar point about the CYA nature of these courses.
Their broader importance lies in how they denote official disapproval and discouragement of sexual harassment and that sexual harassment is a very real problem. That’s exactly what the MacPhersons of the world hate about them.
Lauredhel, I do believe that is part of the intent of the course. I also believe that a sufficiently clever lawyer could demolish the idea quite easily.
I saw this at Inside Higher Ed on Friday, and it pissed me off. If I were still a university student, and if I’d gone anywhere near the sciences, I’d make a point of not taking one of his classes. Ever.
I’m glad that the university is at least doing something about it by removing him of supervisory duties and giving him a deadline to get his act together. What really bugged me was that in the interview, he was all “waaaa, the university is prohibiting me from my responsibilities to my students!!!111!” Right. The UNIVERSITY is interfering with your teaching by complying with state law. Or maybe YOU are.
Yeah, a lot of these trainings may be designed for covering one’s ass, and maybe they’re not designed well, but that’s NOT the issue here, and it seems to be that over at Inside Higher Ed, there are a lot of people ranting about how bad the trainings are. Okay, they’re bad, but he still has to take it. I do think most of these trainings could stand to be improved, but let’s not conflate these trainings with McPherson’s ridiculous sense of entitlement (and, I would guess, guilty conscience).
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“cast a shadow of suspicion on my reputation and career”
That’s funny, because his refusal to go to the session seems to be casting a much bigger shadow of suspicion.
I suspect that he sees himself as taking a Principled Stand on behalf of All Righteous Men who have Shadows of Suspicion cast upon them by being required to attend a seminar on sexual harassment. He is Being Noble, donchaknow.