Professor Risks Job by Refusing to Be Trained in Preventing Sexual Harassment

November 06, 2008

A molecular biologist at the University of California at Irvine faces the possibility of being put on unpaid leave because he won’t attend training sessions on preventing sexual harassment, the Orange County Register reported.

Such training, Alexander McPherson told the newspaper, is a “sham,” and he has consistently refused to take it because, among other things, it “violated my rights as a tenured professor” and “cast a shadow of suspicion on my reputation and career.”

The university says a 2004 state law, Assembly Bill 1825, requires two hours of training in sexual-harassment prevention every two years for supervisors at businesses that regularly employ 50 or more people. If Mr. McPherson, 64, doesn’t take the training by November 12, he could be placed on unpaid leave from a job that pays nearly $150,000, the paper reported.

The well-known biologist was recently relieved of supervising scientists in his lab following a directive from the university’s provost that applied to those who had not yet attended the training.

Susan Menning, a spokeswoman at the university, said 97 percent of faculty and staff supervisors have complied. That leaves roughly 115 people out of about 3,500 who still need to take the training that is offered online or in person, she said. The training “is not just to keep a person from sexually harassing someone else,” Ms. Menning said. It also provides clarification on what sexual harassment is — and isn’t — “and what supervisors should watch out for” among their employees, she said.

According to the paper, Mr. McPherson, who studies proteins, offered a compromise: He asked 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.

The university wouldn’t sign such a document. —Audrey Williams June