An expected showdown at the Georgia General Assembly on Tuesday over oral sex, male prostitutes, queer theory and the state budget didn’t materialize.
Has common sense prevailed at the Gold Dome? Hardly.
Two professors from Georgia State University, under fire for their work on oral sex and prostitution, were on hand before the House Higher Education Committee to defend themselves from legislative critics who knocked the work and said public schools have no place touching on those subjects, particularly in a time of limited resources.
Two of those experts spoke to the House committee Tuesday. Kirk Elifson (photo) is listed as an expert in male prostitution. He said he became an expert while serving as a captain in the Army in Vietnam and later became a professor. The Centers for Disease Control, he said, sought out his expertise to help with the growing AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
“We’ve done some cutting-edge research in HIV,” he said. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done.”
Georgia has one of the nation’s highest rate of sexually transmitted disease, he said, and his research is geared toward reducing that.
Mindy Stombler, another Sociology instructor, is listed as an expert in oral sex. She said her research is aimed at studying attitudes of teens toward sex, who, she said, are increasingly having oral sex and see it as “casual and socially acceptable.”
But when their critics — Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Canton) and Rep. Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock) — had the chance to actually question the experts, rather than fire shots in the media, they backed down. And then blamed the same media they used to launch their mini Culture War.
Several members of the committee praised Elifson and Stombler for their work, Hill, too, spoke to the committee but given the chance, did not ask the GSU faculty any questions.
He defended his interest in the issue and said he never specifically accused GSU of anything. He also said the media had blown the subject out of proportion.
“It’s been taken sideways by people who like the titillating words,” he said.
Southern Voice weighed in with other critics of the conservative lawmakers, equating the flap to other “ridiculous and reactionary” measures they sometimes take up in the General Assembly under the guise of leading the state.
If Hill’s only concern was that Georgia State faculty research covers subjects broader than core topics like math, science and technology needed to prepare students for the job market, he could have just as easily highlighted research in the “ethics/philosophy/religion” category. I’m not arguing that these are not legitimate topics of research — just that they are much less likely to grab headlines or inflame Republican voters, as Hill clearly knows.
In fact, I strongly believe that the role of colleges and universities is far more than just training young people to get their first jobs. Instead, universities provide a venue for students and faculty to think broadly and critically, and conduct research that increases all of our understanding about the world around us.
A university that did not allow its faculty to examine potentially controversial subjects would not be doing its job. Hopefully, other lawmakers will now do their job and stand up for Georgia State.