The Wyoming State Senate passed an amendment to the budget last week that would eliminate funding for the University of Wyoming’s Gender and Women’s Studies program, with those who voted in favor of defunding arguing the program is lacking in academic rigor and offers students only “biased” education.
The amendment passed, in a 16-14 vote.
The University of Wyoming’s Gender and Women’s Studies program website states, “A minor or degree in Gender & Women’s Studies or Queer Studies will arm you with critical thinking and applied skills that will enable you to succeed in diverse, 21st century work forces and communities.”
The program promises students will learn to:
- analyze socio-historical and contemporary power dynamics across rural, local, community, transnational, and global contexts
- articulate the history, strategies, and goals of interconnected movements for social justice.
- perform and develop intersectional, interdisciplinary feminist and queer analysis
State Senator Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle) brought forward the amendment that states:
As a condition of these appropriations, the University of Wyoming shall not expend any general funds, federal funds or other funds under its control for any gender studies courses, academic programs, co-curricular programs or extracurricular programs.
Steinmetz said as she announced the amendment on the Senate floor:
Fellow senators, as we were doing work with the appropriations committee this year, we kind of took a deep dive into some of the programs at the University of Wyoming, due to some other issues that happened at the law school. And, so, we’ve had some meetings, and as we were doing that, I started looking at their courses and their studies and I was, I was surprised to find this one, to be quite honest with you.
And you have a handout at your desk, and it’s one that has caused me to lose some sleep because, as being the folks that deal with the public funds going to this university, I felt this was one that our constituents, I know certainly mine, wouldn’t agree with, and I would challenge any of you to take this course home and ask your constituents what they think of it.
Steinmetz continued to discuss some of the course outlines and materials that contained significant feminist and LGBTQ terminology, and then said, “It goes on and on but, the other thing they want to do is translate feminist and social justice theories into service and activism.”
The senator concluded:
And, so, fellow senators, I just have to ask you what are we doing here at the University of Wyoming with these courses? So, I would ask for your favorable consideration to direct our funds in a more appropriate manner for taxpayer dollars, and ask for your favorable consideration, and just vote your conscience on this one, because my conscience won’t let me sleep without addressing it here in this body today.
Kate Hartmann, assistant professor of Buddhist Studies at University of Wyoming, warned her followers about the vote in a tweet, stating, “This will not only eliminate not only the gender studies department, but also courses and non-academic programs related to gender.”
Hartmann continued in a Twitter thread:
This is an unlawful government overreach and attack on academic freedom that would affect 30 academic programs and 105 courses, and limit the ability of students to learn about the many ways gender affects our past, present, and future.
This is an unlawful government overreach and attack on academic freedom that would affect 30 academic programs and 105 courses, and limit the ability of students to learn about the many ways gender affects our past, present, and future
— Kate Hartmann (@kateahart) February 28, 2022
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.
— Kate Hartmann (@kateahart) February 28, 2022
“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,” she added.
Some state senators questioned the legality of the amendment, as reported by the Casper Star-Tribune.
“Is this amendment in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States and Wyoming Constitutions?” asked State Senator Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne). “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.”
But, Senate Education Committee Chairman State Senator Charles Scott (R-Casper) said as he expressed his support for the amendment:
This is an extremely biased, ideologically driven program that I can’t see any academic legitimacy to. I think we’ll hear complaints about how we’re interfering in the internals of the university, but I think what we’re really doing is sending them a message that they need to clean up their act in terms of the quality of the instruction that’s being given and to have a breadth of point of views, and not just an extreme view of a particular few subjects.
According to the Tribune, a companion amendment died in the State House.
The state House rules committee decided the amendment was not “germane” to the budget, said the report, but, instead more of a policy issue.
The state Senate did not call a rules committee, a decision that allowed senators to debate the amendment.
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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “University of Wyoming” by University of Wyoming.