The University is often in the national
spotlight for the expression and implementation of its progressive
ideals. One of the University’s greatest attributes has proved to
be its refusal to shy away from controversy.

The University has recently become the center of yet another
rumbling in the state House, this time for the content of its
curriculum. Offended by the class English 317: “How to be Gay: Male
Homosexuality and Initiation,” state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk
(R-Portage), a member of the House Appropriations Higher Education
Subcommittee, is planning to introduce a bill granting legislative
oversight of public university classes to the state Legislature
next month. Such a bill would restrict the University’s cherished
academic freedom and potentially stunt the intellectual growth of
its community.

By any reasonable standards of academic discourse, English 317:
“How to be Gay” is not an offensive offering. Contrary to the ugly
rhetoric of certain government officials and religious
fundamentalists, the course is not a step-by-step straight-man
conversion exercise set forth by the gay community or even an
unofficial guide to instruct gay men on how to come out of the

Rather, English 317 is a valid cultural literature course that
focuses on the characteristics and stereotypes of the homosexual
community. According to the official course description, its
purpose is to “investigate the stakes in gay identifications and
misidentifications” and “ultimately to create the basis for a wider
acceptance of the plurality of ways in which people determine how
to be gay.” The course explores the role of an important subculture
in our society.

The title, “How to be Gay,” is nothing more than a clever ruse
to grab attention and spark interest – and if the public response
has been any indication, it has worked extremely well. Furthermore,
the title plays on the sadly popular misconception that one can
actually “learn” how to be gay. But regardless of what one thinks
of its title, it is unfortunate that the same people who squirm at
its casual mention of homosexuality – and refuse on principle to
enroll – are probably the ones who stand to learn the most from the

The Legislature has no place in dictating University curriculum,
especially when the origin of such control is based on misguided
fears of the gay community. The external oversight of courses will
take away the University’s academic freedom, which is integral to
the intellectual vigor and creativity of the University community.
Furthermore, what constitutes an “objectionable” course is
relative. Not so many decades ago, a course in women’s or minority
studies would have been unthinkable in a university setting.

If the Legislature is allowed to shoot down English 317, other
courses that explore nontraditional cultures and ideas will soon
find themselves in the state’s crosshairs, the result of which will
confine the intellectual growth of students and silence the
University’s usually commanding academic voice. The Legislature
should have nothing to do with Hoogendyk’s bill.









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