Sex, Lies, and Georgia GOP Lawmakers

The state of Georgia is facing a $2.2 billion budget shortfall, but some GOP lawmakers believe they have the answer to curbing spending: a good old fashioned smut hunt, starting with public universities. State Representative Calvin Hill (R-Canton) issued a press release earlier this month to express his outrage regarding course offerings at Georgia State University:

What I am about to tell you will shock and disgust you.

Do you know that your tax dollars are being used at our state universities to pay professors to teach your children classes like “Male Prostitution” and “Queer Theory”? Yes, even in tight economic times like we are facing today, our Board of Regents is wasting your tax dollars to teach these totally unnecessary and ridiculous classes.

If that is not enough, you will even find a class entitled “Oral Sex” and another on “Sexual Orientation”. Yes, the list goes on and on.

In his zeal to incite constituent ire about the racy subjects being taught under their very noses, Rep. Hill failed to note he wasn’t actually consulting the course catalog. The subjects cited in Rep. Hill’s press statement are listed in the GSU guide to faculty experts, a document distributed to media outlets, governments, and research organizations to assist them with locating specialists. Oral sex and male prostitution are areas of faculty expertise, not entries on the course roster.

Male prostitution, for example, was the focus of a study of the spread of HIV conducted by faculty member Kirk Elifson. His results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1989. Societal messages about oral sex are being examined by senior lecturer Mindy Stombler, who hopes her findings will help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Their expertise qualifies them to act as research consultants in these areas; they are not offering how-to seminars.

Stombler and Elifson spoke to the House Higher Education Committee last Tuesday, but Rep. Hill declined to ask the professors any questions at the hearing. Despite clarification from GSU faculty and administrators, Rep. Hill continues to assert, “Our job is to educate our people in sciences, business, math.” Humanities and social sciences be damned!

State Rep. Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock) is also incensed by this “major misuse of the state university system’s budget.” She told CBS Atlanta:

I probably am a fuddy-duddy. I believe in the Bible. I’m a Christian. I go to church, and these are not the things that we are learning in church and in the Bible. And so if you want to call me a fuddy-duddy, have at it.

In a finger-wagging rebuke of the University delivered via YouTube, notorious fuddy-duddy Rep. Byrd assured viewers, “the timing is perfect to eliminate positions of professors and staff who are paid to provide such services.”

Of particular concern to Rep. Byrd is a course that actually exists, a doctoral seminar on queer theory. The validity of queer theory is certainly controversial and if the topic concerns Rep. Byrd’s constituents, she is obligated to investigate. However, she completely undermined her credibility as an elected representative (and her status as a decent human being) by publicly posting an unsubstantiated, patently outrageous claim (see cached copy here) that “there is a professor in charge of Queer Theory actively recruiting young teenage gays to accompany him on international trips.”

Nothing like implied charges of pedophilia to get an investigation going, huh?

Rep. Hill also suggested inappropriate faculty behavior. “The concern is what are we doing on our campuses? Are we actually recruiting people, if you will, into a lifestyle?” he asked.

By spending time ferreting out queer needles in the academic haystack, Calvin Hill and Charlice Byrd are distracting the Georgia legislature from careful consideration of state budgetary woes. They are manufacturing scandals where none exist.

There is plenty of room for debate regarding the legitimacy of queer theory as a fruitful academic discipline. Camille Paglia once referred to queer theorists as a “wizened crew of flimflamming free-loaders,” and she may be on to something. I tend to believe the academy’s obsessive division and subdivision of disciplines along lines of gender and ethnicity creates intellectually isolated academic ghettos, but that’s an opinion, not a mandate for legislative interference.

Georgia code (§ 20-3-51) specifies that “the government, control, and management of the university system and all of its institutions shall be vested in the Board of Regents.” The Board is also given authority to allocate appropriations among institutions as members see fit. While members of the public are free to voice curricular concerns to the Board, micromanagement of course content is not a function of the state legislature, not even when taxpayer dollars are involved, not even if Charlice Byrd launches an inquisition.


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