Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sexual Harassment Training

Via Instapundit, here's an editorial from a professor at UC Irvine who refuses to take state-mandated sexual harassment training and is losing funding and resources because of it.

Four years ago, the governor signed Assembly Bill 1825 into law, requiring all California employers with more than 50 people to provide sexual harassment training for each of their employees. The University of California raised no objection and submitted to its authority.

But I didn't. I am a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at UC Irvine, and I have consistently refused, on principle, to participate in the sexual harassment training that the state and my employers seem to think is so important.

He then recounts that his continued refusal to take the training resulted in the university turning his lab and assistants over to someone else. Then he says that he told the university he would take the course if they provided a signed statement absolving him of any implication that he had harassed students in the past, which they refused to provide.

So what are his big problems with the training?

First of all, I believe the training is a disgraceful sham. As far as I can tell from my colleagues, it is worthless, a childish piece of theater, an insult to anyone with a respectable IQ, primarily designed to relieve the university of liability in the case of lawsuits. I have not been shown any evidence that this training will discourage a harasser or aid in alerting the faculty to the presence of harassment.

So his first big gripe is that he thinks the training is silly and hasn't been demonstrated to be effective.

Now before I returned to graduate school I actually worked in a department that administered sexual harassment training. As part of my job, I reviewed some existing programs, most of which consisted of videotapes and questionnaires. Most were relatively short (you could finish within half an hour). As you might expect, some had poor production values, while others were more polished. And the better ones actually relayed good information regarding existing laws, while acting out scenarios that could be considered harassment.

Now I haven't seen studies regarding the effectiveness of such training, but I would be surprised if a simple informational video drawing attention to the details of existing laws would not have some positive effect in terms of reducing incidents of sexual harassment. And even if it didn't, what actual harm would it do?

Again, from Dr. McPherson:

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.

Uh, this guy thinks he's part of some kind of witch hunt. Could it possibly be that sexual harassment is an actual continuing problem, and that the state has enacted the law in order to help with the problem? Nah...gotta be a witch hunt of some kind. And how exactly does training carry a stigma if everyone is taking it. That's moronic.

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.

Uh, dude...I'm afraid it's you who are threatening your livelihood by not agreeing to take an innocuous, probably helpful little piece of training. This paragraph smacks of a sense of entitlement. He acts like he shouldn't have to take the course because he's tenured, because it wasn't a requirement when he joined the university. Guess what? Laws change, man. Thirty years ago your university probably turned a blind eye to incidents of professors screwing their students for grades. Tenure doesn't make you immune to the laws of your state. If you don't like it, write your representatives and get out and vote. If a law passes that you don't like, that's just tough shit, man.

I could possibly understand a principled stance against a training program, but this guy just seems like a whiny ass.


Anonymous said...

It's stigmatizing because the entire basis of many modern "sexual harassment policies" are stunningly sexist. They typically portray only men as the perpetrators and pay lip service to the idea that sexual harassment is a two way street. The University of California system tends to be very permissive of some political ideologies that enable this.

I personally know two men who have been falsely accused of rape and were drummed out of universities. In each of these situations they had definitive proof that they were innocent.

Academic culture has become incredibly anti-male (look at the basic enrollment/graduation #s at all levels of education). While this guy does come off as a whining little schmuck, I have to wonder how much of that derives from the manner in which the article is written and readers not being willing to understand his situation.

Many men in an academic situations, believe that if they are accused of something bad that involves gender they are automatically guilty.

Derek James said...

Well, sexual harassment does tend to be lopsided, with males doing most of the harassing. But every training program I reviewed stressed that female -> male harassment is also a common problem. By this logic, are rape-prevention courses also sexist because the majority of rape cases are men raping women? That's dumb.

And this isn't just an academic setting. Everyone in the freakin' state of California has to take the course. It's not like he's being singled out here. This is not a valid excuse.