Group: UK program has ‘non-diverse perspective’

Six UK faculty members were singled out on a pamphlet that was distributed to legislative officials last week during the special session on pension reform in Frankfort.

The Family Foundation, a conservative family-oriented group based out of Lexington, issued 130 handouts containing the names, pictures, biographies and salaries of six UK faculty members, a majority of whom are associated with the Gender and Women’s Studies program.

Kent Orstrander, the Family Foundation executive director, said the purpose of the handouts was to inform legislators about the expenditures of money, with emphasis on the women’s studies department, which had a very non-diverse perspective.

“We’re not focusing on the professors as individuals, but simply using what was on the (UK) Web site,” Orstrander said. “We’re raising the question, ‘Is this where you want to prioritize your tax and tuition dollars?’ “


UK President Lee Todd defended the program’s funding in a statement last Thursday.

“Free and open academic inquiry is at the very heart of what institutions of higher learning are supposed to do, whether it’s researching cures to Parkinson’s and lung cancer disease or asking questions about subjects that some may find uncomfortable in a diverse society,” Todd said in the statement. “We shouldn’t attempt to regulate such inquiry.”

The Family Foundation called UK’s funding of the Gender and Women’s Studies Program “special interest political activism,” and challenged the department to produce a faculty member who is supportive of the traditional family.

According to a news release yesterday from the Family Foundation, Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the foundation, wants the university to produce one faculty member who is in support of Kentucky Marriage Amendment.

The Kentucky Marriage Amendment, passed in 2004, makes it unconstitutional for the Commonwealth to recognize or perform same-sex marriage or civil unions. The amendment passed with 75 percent approval of voters.

“More Kentuckians voted to pass the Marriage Amendment in 2004 than had ever voted both “yes” and “no” combined on any other constitutional amendment in the history of the Commonwealth,” Cothran said. “Yet the school continues to completely ignore the wishes of the people it serves.”

The faculty members whose profiles were published in the handouts had varying reactions to the complaint. Ellen Riggle, associate director of the Gender and Women’s Studies Program, said she did not think the handouts were personal attacks on either herself or her colleagues, but an attack on the university community at large.

“This is an attack on education in general, all professors contributing to the academic mission, and the students at UK,” she said.

Riggle said she has faith that students are able to evaluate the ideas presented to them, and her mission, and mission of her colleagues, is to facilitate the learning of those critical skills. And, Riggle said, she believes that their mission is to conduct research, which addresses problems facing the Commonwealth, the nation and the world.

“The Gender and Women’s Studies Program and its faculty contribute critically to the study of these problems and the mission of the university,” Riggle said.

Melanie Otis, an assistant professor in the College of Social Work, said the handouts are indictments targeting all faculties engaged in the scholarship that contributes to the elimination of social injustice.

“Ultimately, their efforts serve to remind us of the importance of the university’s mission to graduate informed, thoughtful citizens prepared to make meaningful contributions to the well-being of a diverse society: locally, nationally, and globally,” Otis said.

Lucinda Ramberg, an assistant professor in the women’s studies program, said as a scholar of kinship, she shares an interest in the Family Foundation’s definition of “family.” But, with less than 25 percent of U.S. households comprised of nuclear families, according to the 2000 census, Ramberg said that the form of the family has varied through culture and time.

“When I teach on the topic of family and kinship, as on any topic, I encourage my students to use their investigative and critical skills in their own reading, research and writing,” Ramberg said.

“This is our mission in women’s studies at UK, ‘to introduce students to feminist studies and the politics of gender around the world … and to build critical and investigative skills through the study of theory and social and historical life, and the practice of research and social engagement.’ “

Orstrander said that while some have characterized the handouts as “attacks,” the Family Foundation is in no way judging or pointing fingers at the individuals.

“We are not asking that someone’s freedom of speech of beliefs be suspended, just questioning the apparent hypocrisy of claims of diversity used,” he said. “Based on UK’s Web site, you have to have a particular perspective to be employed in that department.”