Monday, March 04, 2013

There, That's Over


 Did you know that it is wrong to sodomize a co-worker with a piece of soap, even if you are together on an oil rig, and even if the co-worker is of the same sex? You knew?  Good, then you are on the road to success in the University of California's online sexual harassment prevention training module You'll want also to know that a dentist who rapes a patient may face two kinds of liability: both civil and criminal. And that Ethiopia is a nation. And that “LOL” is pronounced “ell-oh-ell”--but that last is apparently optional which is just as well because I don't think I did know it.

In fairness, it does get tougher. You'll want also to know that “getting too close to a person when speaking with them" may be "inappropriate conduct," although “rubbed her breast with his arm"  may not be actionable harassment if it happens only once--but “this does not mean [the] conduct should be tolerated by the University.” Some of these may seem a bit tricky, but happily "You do not need to answer all the questions correctly in order to pass" (how many you have to get correct is not disclosed). And in truth, for many you can probably guess the correct answer without knowing the question (tip: the choice/suggestion that "you call the Sexual Harassment officer," is pretty much of a sure-fire winner).

I find that it is very difficult to complain about this kind of thing without sounding like a petulant whiner. And by “difficult,” I mean “impossible,” in the sense that I have not found a way.  I recognize, inter alia, that what I'm fussing about here is pretty much small potatoes compared to the serious issues of our time. Even now as I write, Mrs. Buce is immersing herself on the evidence disclosing victimization of women in the military; meanwhile my friend Marge continues her campaign to make trouble for the Vatican over the abuse of small children by the clergy. These are serious matters; it is not a serious matter that I can't go out and play.

For perspective though,  I suppose the problem here—the reason I’m cherishing such an outsized attack of hurt feelings—is that I’m assuming this has something to do with me.  It is not about me, except in the most indirect sense.  It is about saving the university’s amply furnished larder of bacon: in short, about litigation defense.   One of the very first things they tell you in online harassment prevention training is that the average liability judgment is about a million bucks—no source, but the number sounds plausible enough. And so if ever in deposition I say “imagine my surprise to learn that it is wrong to sodomize a co-worker with a bar of soap,” then the University will be able to say, “hey, we warned the guy, and can my sorry backside quicker than you can say “community norms and standards.”

Still, it would be interesting to know—just as a hypothetical exercise—whether any person's behavior has been altered by something he learned in mandatory sexual harassment training. Even one.



Anonymous said...

The answer is "yes". When I was the Director of a large department at UC Berkeley (over 100 people reported to me), I learned that, in fact, the Obvious is not always so obvious.

What happened is that I had two cases of alleged sexual harassment by people on my staff come my way within a couple of months of each other. One of them involved behavior completely within my department. I ended up firing a guy for it; or rather it was the last straw in a long list of things he had done wrong.

In the other case, a woman outside our department complained about one of my staff and the case involved the campus's sexual harassment officer and lots of investigation. The officer came to the conclusion that my guy was totally innocent--not just that there wasn't enough evidence, but that even if everything alleged had happened exactly as alleged it wouldn't have risen to the level of harassment. (Sadly, the woman involved later turned out to have been sleeping with the (married) Dean of her college who had taken special interest in her and who, of course, had enormous influence on how well she would do professionally--he was fired(!) and I don't know how she ended up but I think not well.

The upshot of all this was that I discovered how little my staff, including my managers and supervisors, really understood sexual (and racial) harassment issues. Despite most of us having attended some sort of seminar or other, and despite all of them being decent people who had no interest in harassing anyone (as far as I could ever tell.) They just didn't know much.

So I got our campus's sexual harassment person to come and give multi-hour presentations to us. One to the managers and supervisors as a group, and then 3 others. All had the exact same content. I wanted everyone to know what was expected of him/her and what to expect of supervisors.

I think they all appreciated it, although as boss I could never be entirely certain people didn't just tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. I actually didn't care if they liked it, I cared only that they gain a better understanding of how to handle issues as they came up.

A couple of years later the University instituted this online mandatory thing. I was scornful until I took it and thought it did a surprisingly good job. As you point out, it's not Rocket Science. But I do think it is a Good Thing.

bjdubbs said...

Problem solved.