Friday, November 21, 2008

Department Of Overreactions

I wish I had something intelligent to say about this.

A faculty member at the University of California, Irvine is refusing to take a sexual harassment training course—a course required by law in California for anyone who supervises a certain number of employees, and a course that takes about two hours. He's probably going to lose his job over this in the end.

So, what's the deal? I kept thinking there was more to the story than what I'd read online, but today the guy has an opinion piece in the LA Times explaining his reasons. Honestly, it still makes no sense to me.

He says the training is dumb. OK, but employers require people to do all kinds of dumb things, don't they? That's just not much of a reason.

He says the training requirement is a capitulation to a special interest group he doesn't agree with, and that taking it would interfere with his academic freedom. Academic freedom? This seems far-fetched to me. He's welcome to speak out about how dumb it is and write editorials for the LA Times complaining about it. He's welcome to protest the law. Anyway he's a molecular biologist.

At most he might object here that the training requires him to say things he doesn't believe, like "I know exchanging sexual favors is morally wrong," or, more plausibly, "I will report to the authorities anyone I suspect of sexual harassment." If that's the complaint I'd be willing to listen but he doesn't mention anything like that in his editorial.

What he does mention, and what he clearly is upset about, are the "insinuations . . . and the potential stigma" associated with taking the course. Amazingly, he says he agreed to take the course if the university would sign a letter saying that the fact that he had to take the course in no ways means that he is suspected of sexual harassment or that they have reason to think he is a harasser.

But this makes no sense. If it's a law that everybody in a supervisory role has to take the course then how could it possible cast a stigma on him personally to have to take the course? It doesn't; it wouldn't; it couldn't.

Of course, he's now managed to cast just such a stigma on himself by refusing to take the course for what seem like such weak reasons. All I can think reading his editorial is, there's gotta be some other reason, some real reason, something else going on that he isn't mentioning.

This guy may have a point, but so far he hasn't convinced me that he isn't just overreacting to being told to do something he doesn't want to do.


Daniel said...

This is totally not to defend said biologist's refusal to take the course, but I took something similar when I became a staff member at a university. It was HORRIBLE! It was a sensitivity training. We were told that socializing with only a select group of folks from the office after work was exclusionary. I couldn't believe how namby pamby and patronizing and paternalistic the ideal world that the sensitivity trainers had conjured was. That being said, the guy from Irvine probably should say more smart things about his refusal to participate.

Patricia said...

Daniel, I had a similar experience with a TA training that was full of offensive stuff like that there were different Asian, Semitic, and Western thinking styles, and so it was important to be sensitive to all of them. Also we were taught that if someone seemed offended in class "talking to the student after class" was the wrong thing because the student would feel he'd be singled out.

Yeah, dude needs smarter things to say about his refusal. Also more details. He kept saying "political" but he's gotta be clearer what that means in the present context.