Women Paid Poorly, Men Behaving Badly - What Else Is New?

According to the Chronicle Newsblog

Female professors at the University of Texas at Austin earned an average of $9,028 less than their male counterparts in 2007, and senior female faculty members there feel more isolated and less recognized for their work than do their male colleagues.

You can find the full report here and a press release from the university here.

The comments section at the Chronicle post is full of the usual dismissive commentary that arises whenever the issue of gender inequities in salary is broached. I liked this response from Meshiko:

It amazes me that despite the fact that year after year after year, report after report after report demonstrates that women are paid less, respected less, and promoted less, that many purportedly educated folks have a hard time accepting the data. You can pretty much always quibble about one or more methodological aspects of a study, but when hundreds of studies using different methodologies all reach the same conclusion, it is a bit difficult to deny it. But then, our president doesn't think global warming is real.

In another Newsblog post, we learn about Alexander McPherson, molecular biologist at the University of California, who is refusing to attend a state-mandated two-hour training course on sexual harassment, at the risk of his job.

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...Such training, Alexander McPherson [said], 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."

You can imagine the vigorous debate this piece generated in the comments section! The training is useless! He's being forced to waste his precious research time! This training course is a waste of valuable resources at the hands of failed-academics-turned-administrators! Being "forced" to take this training violates academic freedom!

A string of replies says more or less the same thing: get over yourself, you pompous ass. It's a job requirement. You want the job, you comply with the job requirements. Besides, it's a CYA thing for the university and for the individual. Yes, maybe the training is a bit simplistic and could be better done. But you wouldn't believe how many numbskulls there are out there who have no idea that behavior they consider perfectly acceptable is actually sexual harassment.

I really liked this comment, though, by voiceofreason:

I'm sure MacPherson and other posters have endured far lengthier and insipid trainings around lab safety protocols or purchasing procedures and complied without proposing "compromises" to the university or funding agencies. I have taken this training seminar as well, and the whole thing took almost no time at all. The outsized response in these posts and by MacPherson belie that a different issue is at play. The issue is not "time" or "getting work done" because the outlay is miniscule. So, what is that these people are opposed to?

The "compromise" McPherson proposed was "[to ask] 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."

Hmmm...makes you wonder why exactly he's so anxious to have this official proclamation of his innocence. It's not like he's being singled out to take this training course, so that people might look askance at him because of it - every employee has to take it. In any case, as voiceofreason suggested, I can't imagine someone getting their knickers in such a knot over mandatory lab safety training. This is, pure and simple, resistance to an attempt to create a cultural norm of official disapproval and discouragement of harassing behaviors. You can argue about how effective the particular effort (the training course) is, but what, really, is the problem with giving two hours to learn a little bit about how to spot, prevent, and deal with harassment if and when it should occur in your work group? Mr. McPherson is so obsessed with defending his own virtue, so to speak, that he fails to see his responsibility: to help create an environment where harassment is not acceptable, and to deal effectively with it should it occur with someone he supervises. One doubts that Mr. McPherson cares much at all about that responsibility. No wonder he's so eager to obtain an official absolution.

More like this

"Hmmm...makes you wonder why exactly he's so anxious to have this official proclamation of his innocence"

He's just a moron?

I can't believe this guy. I've gone through lab safety training on multiple occasions (moved to a different institution, they had slightly different rules), been forced to take a radiation safety class even though my lab didn't use radioactive materials, endured full-day "new employee" training sessions at the hospital where I worked that have no relevance to me (it dealt with things like HIPAA, but I never worked with human patients at all, just mice), went to an entirely new employee training session because the hospital was doing some rebranding of its message (or some crap like that), and am required to take refresher courses on animal care and use every couple of years. It's annoying, but we do it because it's institutional policy. Everyone does it. And to take a stand specifically against the sexual harassment training in exclusion of any of the others is a little offensive. It's important that I know how to deal with sensitive patient information that will never, ever cross my desk, but not important that this schmuck know how to correctly interact with 50% of the population?

The final point that you make is a very important one. I was a victim of harassment in the academic workplace, but was sufficiently concerned about the effect that it would have on my (then nascent) career, that I would not have filed a complaint had it not been for my supervisor. He had witnessed the incident, told me in no uncertain terms what he thought of the senior professor concerned, and suggested that we write a joint letter of complaint. Without his backup and support I would have been too scared (this guy was very senior and controlled funding for our project) to do anything. If, on the other hand, I had been working for someone who had made it clear that he thought harassment training was a waste of time, I would never have reported the incident. Perhaps this is the kind of atmosphere that McPherson wants to create, so that none of the little ladies 'cause trouble', but I would certainly never work for anyone with that kind of attitude. Here's hoping that he misses out on a lot of good female talent coming through his lab in the future.

By Polytrope (not verified) on 08 Nov 2008 #permalink

This is, pure and simple, resistance to an attempt to create a cultural norm of official disapproval and discouragement of harassing behaviors.

BINGO! Great post, Z!

I'm still completely grossed out by all the commenters at Chronicle who feel that sexual harassment is A-OK and a routine privilege of tenure, that there is something wrong with anyone who would not actually WANT to be told, "the only way you can make an A in my class/finish your defense/get tenure is by having sex with (nasty pervert). Hur hur hur!" I was kind of hoping that attitude was confined to my alma mater, where they had since purged the worst offenders.

I notice that the bane of faculty, RateMyProfessors.com, does have several reviews noting that some professors make inappropriate comments and sexually threatening remarks in class. Apparently in the UC system, you can throw a brick and hit someone who desperately needs to be told something as simple as "don't try to get in your students' pants."

This is rather why I feel people should get extra points in the tenure-awarding system for ever having held a non-academic job for some time, with a good reference. It helps show that you have some modicum of professionalism. Not as a rule, but it's a helpful generality. Without fail, all the grad school professors I've had who were NOT career academics were reasonably professional in their dealings and had a sense of personal boundaries.

At my college there was actually not a rule about 'fraternization' until my sophomore year. In the very early years of the college some of the students and professors did end up getting married (I believe male students), so the staff was unsure about how to change the rules. Then one professors started doing drugs, selling drugs, and sleeping with a student he was teaching. I'm going to be generous and say she had terrible taste in men, because it wasn't like she was a bad student.

That said, there was tons of sexual harassment training, because there were so many more men than women. It was also strongly peer-enforced, at least among students.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 12 Nov 2008 #permalink