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The Wyoming state Senate on Friday adopted an amendment to the state budget that would defund the University of Wyoming's Gender and Women's Studies department.
Senators voted 16-14 to pass the amendment, with nearly half of the Republican majority voting against. Supporters of defunding the gender and women's studies program said the department, which teaches "intersectional, interdisciplinary feminist and queer analysis" for advancing the cause of "social justice," is ideologically driven and politically biased.
Republican state Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, who authored the amendment, said that looking into what the department taught had caused her to "loose some sleep" knowing that taxpayer dollars were funding the program.
“It’s one that’s caused me to lose some sleep because as being (one of) the folks that deal with the public funds going to this University, I felt that this was one that our constituents, I know certainly mine, wouldn't agree with,” Steinmetz said on the Senate floor. “And I would challenge any of you to take this home to your constituents and ask them what they think of it.”
Republican State Sen. Charles Scott, the chairman of the legislative body's Education Committee, said, “This is extremely biased, ideologically driven that I can’t see any academically legitimacy to.”
"I think we’ll hear complaints about how we’re interfering in the internals of the university, but I think what we’re really doing is sending them a message that they need to clean up their act in terms of the quality of the instruction that’s being given,” Scott said.
Republicans opposed argued that the amendment may go too far and is potentially illegal.
“I appreciate that you don't like the program. It appears to have some problems in balance,” Sen. Tara Nethercott (R) acknowledged, but she argued that government intervention in public education "is not our place."
“Let's get back in our lane of the budget amendment,” she said. “Have your conversations with your statewide trustees, your governor, and let's back away from acting unconstitutionally and emotionally based out of something we don't like.”
State Sen. Chris Rothfuss, one of only two Democrats in the Senate, argued that universities need to provide an "inquisitive and exploratory environment where people can learn and discuss a broad diversity of topics.”
“That’s good education,” Rothfuss said. “The idea that the legislature would step in and say, ‘Well, we don't want this being taught or we don't like that department,’ is contrary to the land grant the flagship missions. And I think it would really be disappointing if the university would go down that path where we started to decide what can and can't be taught, which books we can and can't read. Those kinds of things — they're just not consistent with the mission of a university.”
The budget bill now heads to the Republican-controlled state House, where a similar amendment was rejected by lawmakers who said it was not an appropriate budget amendment, according to Wyoming Public Radio.
If the bill passes with the amendment after the House and Senate budget conference committee members meet, it could still be subject to a line item veto by the governor.
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