The academy has more than its fair share of people like Alexander McPherson, the UC-Irvine biologist who refuses! to go through sexual harassment training– training the UC is obligated to provide under state law. Now he’s thinking of retiring rather than complying with university regulations.

His reasoning is as follows:

(i) the training is a “sham” and he’s been provided with no evidence that it does any good;
(ii) the state is trying to “bully” him into doing something that is “repugnant and offensive,” partly because it “carries a stigma”*;
(iii) it violates his academic freedom;
(iv) it wasn’t a law back when he started!

No, seriously, that’s really his case. These are are unconvincing for obvious reasons. (On second thought, I notice that these might be in order of most to least compelling, which is sad.)

What fascinates me, though, is the personality that judges it is worth standing on principle and leaving an otherwise peachy job over a few hours of tedium. I’m no fan of employer-ass-covering training, but I have sat through forklift safety videos and sexual harassment workshops alike and judged it a reasonable price to pay in exchange for a job. Irony: my armchair hunch is that McPherson is this much of a pain in the ass because he’s spent decades in a job that gave him enormous autonomy to decide what’s worth doing. The end result: an old codger harumphing about his sacred right to skip out of his workplace duties.

In fairness to McPherson, he would have attended had the University made this statement:

Fulfilling this requirement in no way implies, suggests or indicates that the university currently has any reason to believe that Professor McPherson has ever sexually harassed any student or any person under his supervision during his 30-year career with the University of California.

Just as the correct response to the workplace requirement is, oh, hell, might as well get this over with, the correct administrative response to cranks is: well, dude is crazy but he brings in research dollars; let’s print out this statement on some letterhead and if that makes him happy, it’s a cheap out.

(Will no one defend SH training on the merits? Oh, ok, I’ll have a go. Hostile work environments suck, and there’s value in making sure everyone has been told about the policies, even if for many people the content is old news. You’d be amazed by what some people don’t know. Furthermore, these things have content besides “no trading grades for sex!” Things I’ve learned: the extent of my obligations as a “workplace supervisor,” how to report complaints, what the investigative process is like, and so on. Not useless things to know.)

*The stigma of working at UC is, indeed, great, I must admit.

Lemieux made me read that damned thing in the first place.