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Sexual Politics and Science: Male Entitlement, Male Ego in Academia

This piece forwarded by the Prevent-Connect Sexual Abuse group is written by Alexander McPherson. The article clearly demonstrates the male entitlement and entrenchment with a refusal to be open to change, to understand the violence against women as something men need to stop doing and acting out. McPherson continues to be inspired to inhabit a doubly deadly landscape in his prestigious (power over) post as the PI with a National Institute of Health (NIM) grant.

Reminds me of the genocide of Rwandans where a radio broadcast over a series of days was so successful in conflagrating hatreds that a million people were slaughtered. Let me remind you however, most of the slaughtered were women and children.

Words have shadows- meaning words can be encouraged with soulfulness, compassion and understanding behaviors. However, with academia’s pivotal influence over the young, the words with shadows are owned by the devil himself; male entitlement, defensive male ego and staunch patriarchal brotherhood.

Even women themselves along with our society normalizes the catastrophic violence against women which starts with the exerted mortuary analysis to bury the lived context most women thrive in – not survive as we must with the disembodied sciences and male entitlement.

The article is a compelling study in sexual harassment. Try to catch the statements classifying as sexual harassment or domestic violence verbally written emotional abuse. Write your comments here on the website as a way to impart a healing social collective.

Kudos to NIM and the University of Irvine to be consistent advocates to halt violence towards women right in the trenches of powerful positions within academics which offer real gentlemen as role models that could halt the “up until now” ensured male entitlement and sexual harassment behaviors and beliefs.

Danica Anderson

By Alexander McPherson
Sexual Politics and Science: Two Predicaments

A Matter of Conscience

Editor's Note (March 31). The April issue of The Scientist includes an Opinion entitled "A Matter of Conscience" in which Alexander McPherson laid out his objections to sexual harassment training at the University of California at Irvine.

In the meantime McPherson has participated in the training, for reasons given in the update below. The Opinion article follows the update.

My conflict with the University of California at Irvine ceased months ago to be over sexual harassment training. Instead it devolved into a controversy over how the university could use a grant, in my case an R01 from the National Institutes of Health, to compel faculty to comply with an arbitrary administrative edict. In greatly condensed form, this is what happened.

The university, having declared me no longer the principal investigator on my grant, contrived matters so that the grant was threatened by NIH with termination on March 25. I appealed to the appropriate authorities at the NIH the unfairness of this. I was, after all, the NIH designated PI. It was I who developed the successful grant proposal, and I who would carry out the research. The university's role in obtaining the grant was minimal at best.

NIH said that it could do nothing other than terminate the grant. The agency informed me that an NIH grant is made, in a strictly legal sense, to the university alone, not to the investigator, and the university has the authority to do as it wishes vis-à-vis the PI. Thus the NIH and other funding agencies have allowed research grants, with no protection of the PI, to become blunt instruments to be used by university administrators to force funded researchers to do their will, however arbitrary or perverse that might be.

Because termination of my NIH grant would be followed by termination of employment of my two laboratory colleagues of (collectively) 35 years, there was little choice for me but to participate in the online sexual harassment program, a program which continues to be a sham and, as noted by the University of California, Los Angeles Academic Senate, "an affront to an educational institution such as UC."

In my view this outcome represents a dangerous precedent. As our own campus committee on academic freedom has suggested, by interfering with the rights of faculty to hold grants, the university is violating the rights of tenure and the fundamental principles of academic freedom. We, as tenured faculty, have the right to be free of interference in our teaching and our research. Should the interference practiced by the UCI administration be allowed to stand, then it has ominous portent for the freedom of academics everywhere in the United States.

***** Original Opinion *****

I have refused the sexual harassment training imposed on me by the University of California at Irvine (UCI). This has little to do with the acknowledged problem of sexual harassment, but much to do with the dignity of the individual and his or her freedom from coercive behavioral training. My decision to resist the training was not a matter of cultural politics, but a matter of conscience.

The training program, which the University acknowledges is seriously flawed, is insulting to the intelligence at best, a demeaning fraud at worst. The argument that sexual harassment training is no different than training in the handling of radioactive materials is specious in the extreme. Sexual harassment exists and should be dealt with in the same manner as any other civil or criminal misbehavior. The heavy-handed approach that the University has chosen to deal with the issue, however, has only encouraged derision and bred resentment.

The situation has taken a dramatic and unfortunate turn. Lesser measures having failed, the Research Office at UCI wrote a letter (dated November 25) to the NIH advising them that I could not serve as PI on my recently awarded NIH RO1 grant because I was not trained in sexual harassment prevention. The vice chancellor of research informed my program director that she, with the approval of the NIH, would name a new PI to oversee my research. I was informed by the UCI Research Office only 10 days later that the letter had been sent, and then, only after being confronted with the fact.
"My decision to resist the training was not a matter of cultural politics, but a matter of conscience." -Alexander McPherson

In a letter to the executive vice chancellor I vigorously protested that to disturb or disrupt the trust between PI and funding agency can only be interpreted as a malicious and petty action. The great danger is that this precedent, if supported by the NIH, will resound through every university, college, and research institution in California. UCI is attempting to use interference with federal grants to compel researchers to conform to state edicts and local management policy as interpreted by its administration. If the NIH were to assume the role of enforcer in my case, then it would be obliged to do so at every institution, public and private.

Whatever one feels about state-mandated training, it should cause visceral alarm to scientists everywhere that local administrations could claim jurisdiction over who may hold research grants, and under what arbitrary strictures.

Alexander McPherson is a professor at the University of California, Irvine, School of Biological Sciences.

Comment on this article

Sexual Harassment Training/Charges

[Comment posted 2009-03-31 16:18:13]

I am not surprised that the Irvine professor objected to the sexual harassment training. Such training involves the imposition of a dubious ideology upon professors and staff. The problem, though, is that those who favor the dubious ideology have gained the most power on this matter (see Eisenman, R. The sexual harassment seminar: A cultural phenomenon of indoctrination into feminist ideology. Sexuality and Culture, 2001, 5 (4), 77-85).

So, the best strategy is to go along and endure the realatively brief training. True sexual harassment is wrong and should be stopped, but the way the term is defined, it often involves an overly restrictive viewpoint, e. g. telling people who work in the same office they cannot date each other, or seeing anything that is sexual as harassment. I have done a national study of sexual harassment and find the way the accused are treated is often horribly unfair.

I am also not surprised that two professors at the University of Iowa committed suicide after being charged with sexual harassment. I did a study, perhaps the only scholarly study, as far as I know, involving three case histories of professors charged with sexual harassment (Eisenman, R. Sexual harassment charges against university faculty: Three case histories. Journal of Information Ethics, 1998, 8 (2), 59-75). One picked up his pistol and considered killing himself, before saying "No" and throwing the gun across the room. Sexual harassment charges label the person as a deviant, one who no longer fits in with society. This is the case whether or not the charges are true. And, it is difficult for the accused person to get a fair hearing.

Now I understand how a society can hunt and kill witches. I used to think this was a strange part of history. I no longer feel that way.


Russell Eisenman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychology
University of Texas-Pan American

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McPherson severely overstates.

[Comment posted 2009-03-31 13:21:46]

California Law AB 1825, passed in late 2004, mandates the training in question here. Thus it is hardly an "arbitrary administrative edict" as characterized by Dr. McPherson, but rather the obligation of the University of California at Irvine to insure that all those in supervisory positions comply. Dr. McPherson should have been aware of this requirement and its implications when he applied for the grant in question. If he was unaware, the fault for that lies with Dr. McPherson, as ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.

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Who Won?
by anonymous poster

[Comment posted 2009-03-31 13:14:53]

I will make a bet that female enrollment in Dr. McPherson's classes dropped dramatically following his ridiculous posturing. But at least now he would not be able to claim that he did not know that his conduct was sexual harassment if he should ever be charged. That, for most institutions, is the reason for making the training mandatory -- to take away the defense of ignorance, a favorite among serial harassers: "Who me? It was just harmless fun! I didn't know I couldn't do that, say that, suggest that, touch that, require that, look at that, etc. ad nauseum.

The denial of truth exists everywhere
by Marco Fronzaroli

[Comment posted 2009-03-31 13:01:05]

In my opinion it is totally wrong to see the free world as free. In fact in countries like Sweden and Norway you can say what you want as long as biology doesn't interfere with human society. If so, you are sucked. You have my full sympathy Alexander.

Marco Fronzaroli, MSc and journalist in Sweden

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