Georgia Conservatives Use Budget Crisis to Attack Sex Researchers at Universities

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"In this present economy, the taxpayers’ dollars are being used by the Board of Regents to inform students about such social topics. … I believe the timing is perfect to eliminate positions of professors and staff who are paid to provide such services.”

Those are the words of Charlice Byrd, a Republican representing Woodstock in Georgia's House of Representatives. She is quoted in a an article in Sunday's Atlanta Journal Constitution and she is not alone. Her colleague Calvin Hill (R-Canton) is "deeply disturbed" by the fact that the University system has experts on male prostitution and on oral sex.

You would think that these representatives and their Christian Coalition supporters (Jim Beck, president of the GA Christian Coalition reportedly wants legislative hearings on the issue) believe that researchers are offering courses in how to become a prostitute or how to perform oral sex.

We are talking about researchers whose research on sex-related topics provides the evidence needed to make smart policy on public health issues. These are exactly the kinds of people states need more of. And the state gets access to highly skilled researchers generally through their work in colleges and universities.

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Georgia State University's Sociology Department Chairperson Donald Reitzes, and John Millsaps, a spokesperson for the state's Board of Regents both spoke in support of academic freedom generally and more importantly both supported the targeted researchers specifically.

While legislators may not have direct control over university system, it is disturbing that they are publicly characterizing important research as unworthy of support by taxpayers. It is all the more disturbing given that sex-related issues are budget issues: teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, sexual violence, all these cost money to treat and to prevent, and prevention is not only the more humane but also often less expensive approach. Research into the ways that teens think about sex, or into the main vectors of infection, for example can help a state save money through more effective prevention programs.

I suppose there is the potential for educating the legislators here. The AJC article reports that:

Christian Coalition President Beck said he hopes the education committees of both the House and Senate will hold hearings on the legislators’ concerns. “We want to create a safe space where both sides can sit down and be heard,” he said.
That could come soon. Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland), chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, had planned to have several Georgia State officials and instructors speak to his committee last week about the controversy. That meeting was canceled, but Harp said Friday that he hoped to reschedule soon. 

But I'm not optimistic. It seems just as likely that such a meeting gives the Christian Coalition and its allies in the legislature their moment to shine the moral panic spotlight on valuable research in such a way that public support for sex-related scholarship, already dim in places, is further diminished.

The shortsightedness of anti-intellectual conservatism is scary to me personally of course, but it is terrifying when brought to the level of public higher education and public policy.

(H/t to Reed of De Rerum Natura)

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