Wyoming State Senate Cancels Gender Studies At UW, For Freedom

The Wyoming state Senate passed a budget amendment Friday that would eliminate the University of Wyoming's gender studies program. Not only would the amendment get rid of the department, it would also ban any funding of courses or non-academic programs related to gender, by prohibiting the expenditure of "any general funds, federal funds or other funds” for "any gender studies courses, academic programs, co-curricular programs or extracurricular programs."

The amendment passed in a very close 16 to 14 vote; about the best we can say for the Wyoming Senate is that, since there are only two Democrats in the body, that means that a dozen Republicans thought it was a pretty crap idea too. Fortunately for academic freedom and sanity, a twin amendment was killed in the state House when it was ruled "not germane" to the budget process because it's a freaking policy matter, not just making the numbers add up. For the amendment to survive, it would have to be approved in a reconciliation committee between the two houses; state Sen. Mike Gierau (D) predicted the amendment would likely be stripped out as that process goes forward. Wyoming Public Media also notes that even if the amendment somehow passes the Lege, it could be subject to a line-item veto by Gov. Mark Gordon (R). Let's hope!

The amendment's sponsor, state Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Like We Had To Say), said that she was so horrified by the things those crazy academic radicals are teaching in gender studies that it had "caused me to lose some sleep" at the idea of public funds paying for stuff she objects to. She read some of the course goals to the full Senate, and we have to say we are impressed she managed to do so without getting the vapors. The goals

included to gain knowledge on multiple forms of oppression and marginalization; to understand historical and contemporary context in which women, queer and gender nonconforming individuals have exercised their agency; or to translate feminist and social justice theories into service and activism.

Steinmetz was particularly outraged that by funding the university, the legislature was complicit in "training activists," and called on her colleagues to "just vote your conscience on this one, because my conscience won’t sleep without addressing it here in this body today.” Just to be clear, that means that neither Sen. Steinmetz nor her conscience has been able to sleep, and you all know what sort of terrible things the Conscience of a Conservative might do when it's restless. (Yes, that's a Goldwater joke and we are old.)

The director of University of Wyoming's Culture, Gender and Social Justice school, law prof Jaquelyn Bridgeman, said no one from the legislature had contacted her department before voting to kill it. Given the terrifying evil of a program that studies how women, queer and gender nonconforming individuals have exercised their agency, can you blame the Rs?

U of Wyoming spokesperson Chad Baldwin said that while legislators have sometimes complained about university curricula, this was the first time he could recall that the Lege had tried to eliminate an entire course of study.

But state Sen. Larry Hicks (R) argued it was darn well time for those eggheads in their ivory towers to fear the wrath of either God or Republicans, because resentment of people who think they're better than you is on track to become the party's central platform:

Academic freedom’s been hijacked, folks [. ...] It was never the intention that nobody else gets to weigh in on what we teach at the university, but it seems to be present that academic freedom means that if you’re not smart enough or intellectual enough and work for a university then you don’t get a say so in the process. Is that what intellectual freedom actually means?

Sen. Drew Perkins (R) said he thought that if fellow Republicans really believe in limited government, then they should act like it and not try to dictate courses of study at the state university. Noting that he had agreed with folks mocking the idea that universities should provide "safe spaces so people didn’t have to exposed to certain points of view," Perkins called eliminating ideas Republicans object to "just the other side of that coin.”

“Do we have the power to do this? Sure we do,” Perkins said. “But I still believe in limited government ... this is too much government for me. This is too much overreach.”

We can only assume Sen. Perkins will now be labeled a communist or something.

Sen. Tara Nethercott (R) questioned whether the move was even legal, as if that were even something today's GOP worries itself with:

Is this amendment in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States and Wyoming Constitutions? [...] This amendment is so broad, and it’s completely unacceptable and I believe unconstitutional and completely unlawful. I appreciate that you don’t like the program. It appears to have some problems in balance, I will submit that. This is not our place.

Steinmetz countered that she didn't believe gender studies is "an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars," so really, what choice did she have? And then, once the amendment passed, we assume she and her conscience both began snoring like a John Deere X9-1450 combine-harvester.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle notes that "According to legislator testimony, [the funding amendment] would impact 105 courses and 30 degree programs, not including any activities on the campus." UW professor Kate Hartmann, who teaches Buddhist studies, pointed out on Twitter that if it survives the budget process, the funding proscription will almost certainly result in absurdities:

The bill is vague enough that it’s almost unenforceable, but also I’m sure that’s the point.

It’s meant to cast a chill over faculty speech so that we’re afraid to teach the reality that gender is complex, historically contextualized, and inevitably part of any honest interrogation of our past and present.

What am I supposed to do as someone who teaches the history of Buddhism and other world religions to undergraduate students? Not discuss gender? Pretend it doesn't exist? Or pretend that gender was something that mattered in the past but no longer matters today?

Or perhaps, to give the legislature credit it doesn't deserve, I should teach gender in a way that is "unbiased" or "neutral"? What does that even mean?

Those are all very good questions, and we can only hope that Sen. Steinmetz doesn't start wondering why Wyoming taxpayers are funding an alien pagan belief system like Buddhism in the state university. Sadly, Steinmetz is sure to hear from the Perpetually Outraged, because Dr. Hartmann noted today that, following her thread on the amendment, trolls have been sending hate mail to her university email account.

A few directed personal attacks towards me, my appearance, my being "unfulfilled as a woman" (weird), or my qualifications. Some even clearly searched me and sent hate-mail to my university email.

To the trolls and hate mail senders: 1) Who has this kind of time on their hands? 2) Spell my name right, dweebs. 3) If you're going to call me an ugly bitch, please respect the years I spent at Harvard and call me Dr. Ugly Bitch.

America! Also, Kate Hartmann for Senate!

[Casper Star-Tribune / Wyoming Tribune Eagle / Wyoming Public Media / Kate Hartmann on Twitter]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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