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Archive for May 6th, 2009

A new post on the Chronicle of Higher Ed website provides an interesting look into the challenges faced by academics who are accused of being superfluous to their public institutions.  Mindy Stombler, of Georgia State University, is one of the three at the school to be labeled “expendable” by two members of the Georgia House of Representatives.  Those who have followed the story will remember that Stombler is listed as an “Oral sex expert” in GSU’s “expert guide,” which lawmakers confused with course titles.  Check out the excerpt below and then head to the Chronicle for the full article.

While I am not embarrassed to be known as an “oral sex expert” (when you teach sexuality to college students, eventually little embarrasses you), and the label provided lots of fun and fodder for my friends and colleagues, I was surprised by how quickly the fact that I was a sociologist (hired as a generalist) who taught and did research in a variety of areas was so quickly reduced to this one titillating label. I was also surprised that it took repeated testimony and contact with reporters to impress upon them that I was neither teaching “how to” courses in oral sex nor hired due to my expertise in oral sex. (And I have a CNN headline T-shirt to prove it: “Oral sex, prostitution classes disputed.”)

Kirk Elifson and I (along with our department chair, Donald Reitzes) were called to testify in front of the higher-education committees of both the Georgia House and the Senate. We clarified that we were not teaching courses on oral sex or male prostitution. We then discussed the importance of our research on those topics, and how it benefited the public. For me that involved talking about current patterns and interpretations of oral sex, increased rates of oral sex, and the public-health risks of unprotected oral sex.

Both our testimony and news interviews went well (the headline in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution read: “GSU Sex Experts Wow Georgia Legislators”). Editorials around the state supported us, and the local Atlanta press began reporting the story accurately (particularly the Journal-Constitution and Southern Voice). It seemed we were out of the hot seat and could begin recovery (and get back to work!).

Enter CNN.

CNN decided to pick up the story after we thought the controversy was over, and it produced a report that implied, once again, that we were teaching oral-sex courses at Georgia State. The report did not include the university’s official statement but did include a close-up of my name, my photo, and the introductory sentence from video of my testimony. CNN’s coverage ignored the existing facts already in print and was insulting to Georgia State, its professors, and its students.

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