Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sharpening the knives

From Inside Higher Ed:

...The culture wars started long ago, but the current economic crisis is provoking new skirmishes. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, said the cycle is predictable and unfortunate....Hill, the Republican vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in Georgia, said he alerted his constituents about some faculty whose research interests he considered questionable in hopes that they would voice any complaints to the state Board of Regents. Along with a local radio address, Hill sent out a mass e-mail that began “Sit down and buckle you seat belts! 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.”

Actually, there are no classes titled “male prostitution” in Georgia, according to university officials. There is, however, a sociology professor at Georgia State University who is listed in a media guide as an expert on the subject of male prostitution. The professor in question, Kirk Elifson, studies risk factors involved in the spread of HIV/AIDS, among other public health issues. As for courses on queer theory, there is at least one offered at the University of Georgia, according to a Board of Regents spokesman.

Hill’s e-mail goes on to proclaim that a class entitled “Oral Sex” is offered in Georgia’s system. Again, there is no such class, but there is a Georgia State faculty member who was identified in a campus media guide as an expert on the subject. The faculty member, Mindy Stombler, is a senior lecturer who has studied whether popular culture and other factors have led to an increase in oral sex among teenagers.

Hill says his only goal is to tell taxpayers how their dollars are being spent, and encourage them to contact the regents if they have concerns. About 10 of them have done that, and their e-mails reflect both anger and misinformation. Several repeated the inaccurate assertion from Hill’s e-mail that Georgia offers “classes” about male prostitution.

“I am shocked and dismayed that our universities are paying professors to teach subjects like ‘male prostitution’ as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,” one Georgia resident wrote to the Regents. “I have not worked nearly thirty years in education and paid taxes to fund such as that.”

As for what the regents should do in response to such concerns, Hill said Monday that they could “redirect” the faculty.

“I would assume someone that has those credentials can teach something else that is more worthwhile,” he said.

In his e-mail to constituents, however, Hill didn’t talk about redirecting anyone:

“Now that we need to cut the state budget, I think I know where we can eliminate a few highly paid professors and get rid of these classes,” he wrote.