Upset House Republicans are mounting a campaign to purge Georgia’s higher education system of professors with an expertise in racy sexuality topics as the state grapples with a $2.2 billion shortfall.
State Rep. Charlice Byrd of Woodstock took House well on Friday to announce a "grass-roots" effort to oust professors with expertise in subjects like male prostitution, oral sex and "queer theory."
"This is not considered higher education," she said. "If legislators are going to dole out the dollars, we should have a say-so in where they go."
Byrd and her supporters, including state Rep. Calvin Hill, said they will team with the Christian Coalition and other religious groups to pressure fellow lawmakers and the Board of Regents to eliminate the jobs.
"Our job is to educate our people in sciences, business, math," said Hill, a vice chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. He said professors aren’t going to meet those needs "by teaching a class in queer theory."
The Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s colleges and universities, has bristled at attempts by legislators to dictate who it should hire. A regents spokesman said the system’s mission – teaching, research and service – is a broad field.
He said the state’s schools hire faculty with expertise in a range of subjects as part of "a tradition of investigating the human experience." And he noted that they aren’t teaching "how to" courses, but rather they are experts on the sociological trends and risks.
"Certainly the mission of higher education is to broaden the field of knowledge and research," said spokesman John Millsaps. "That covers a lot of topics. Some may be considered to some as controversial, but to others it could be considered needed."
Hill and Byrd were incensed to learn a University of Georgia professor teaches a graduate course on "queer theory." They also took aim at Georgia State University, where an annual guide to its faculty experts lists a sociology lecturer as an expert in oral sex and faculty member Kirk Elifson as an expert in male prostitution.
Georgia State University spokeswoman Andrea Jones called the critics’ argument "flawed."
"Teaching courses in criminal justice, for example, does not mean that our students are being prepared to become criminals. Quite the opposite," said Jones. "Legitimate research and teaching are central to the development of relevant and effective policy."
Hill expressed frustration that the higher education system isn’t adopting harsh cuts – such as furloughs – at a time when other agencies are doing so. But he added that he would have called for the cuts even if there was no budget crisis.
"This doesn’t belong in our universities," he said. "The universities should stick to their core missions."