The debate over the gender studies curriculum at the University of Wyoming returns | Education

The debate over the University of Wyoming’s gender studies department resurfaced Thursday when lawmakers who oversee how the state spends its money gathered in Casper.

The senses. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, and Larry Hicks, R-Baggs peppered university provost Dr. Kevin Carmen with questions about the program, use of public funds and who the university’s constituency is . The discussion took place at a meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s Joint Appropriations Committee.

The panel, in conjunction with the entire legislature, establishes the university’s budget. In February, Steinmetz pushed lawmakers to cut all funding for the gender studies department. The Senate passed a budget amendment to that effect, but it failed because the House disagreed, meaning the department will maintain its funding for the foreseeable future.

UW President Ed Seidel told the Star-Tribune on Thursday that the leadership was never consulted, nor was the gender studies department.

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“It was a surprise for all of us,” he said.

Despite his death, the amendment was not entirely removed. As a compromise, a committee of lawmakers this spring added a provision requiring the university to report on the school’s general education requirements, as well as any policies or regulations encouraging or discouraging students from taking certain courses in outside of their major.

Carmen provided this information to the committee on Thursday, including a document indicating that there is no policy to encourage or discourage students from taking certain courses – including those in the gender department – ​​outside of their majors.

UW is the only publicly funded four-year university in the state. This sparked a discussion of the school’s broad responsibilities to serve not only its students, but the residents of the state.

“It is not the university of the student, it is not the university of the faculty. It’s the University of Wyoming,” Hicks said. “He belongs to everyone in the state, period.”

Steinmetz brought this idea back to financial support from the Department of Gender Studies.

“Can you tell me why public funds can be used to support this if there is a large constituency that does not support this?” asked Steinmetz.

Senate vote to cut UW gender studies funding sparks debate over legality and role of lawmakers

University officials responded that it was important for the school to offer a variety of educational programs, even ones that some people in Wyoming might not support.

“We need to provide a broad educational opportunity, so that can include controversial topics,” Carmen said. “It’s part of what a university is.”

He added that “no one at university is forced to take a gender studies course.”

Seidel said he understands the unique position the university finds itself in.

“We think we have to offer comprehensive programs,” he told the Star-Tribune. “We really are the only game in town.”

After the budget amendment was introduced in February, the ministry issued a statement pushing back on the criticism it was receiving from some conservative lawmakers.

“This attack on gender studies is part of a growing ideological movement toward censorship, and we strongly resist these efforts,” the statement read in part. “Such legislative excess in curricula would set a very dangerous precedent. It is an attack on academic freedom, undermines our democracy, and may also violate national accreditation standards.

On Thursday, Steinmetz and Hicks challenged that answer.

“They said, ‘You attacked us, and we’re going to attack you back,'” Hicks said, adding that he would have liked to see more open dialogue.

“It was maybe a brutal instrument,” Hicks said of the budget amendment, which he voted for. “Maybe we used the wrong tool.”

Steinmetz, meanwhile, asked if the ministry’s statement was standard practice.

“There is no protocol per se,” Carmen said.

Attempts to strip a university program of funding are rare in recent history. During the budget session, university spokesman Chad Baldwin said he couldn’t think of a specific example that would fit this particular situation, although he said that over the years , the Legislative Assembly had raised concerns about certain activities at UW.

Carmen said management is “very proud” of the gender studies faculty and students.

Follow state political reporter Victoria Eavis on Twitter @Victoria_Eavis.

Sam D. Gomez