University course listed in study’s ‘dirty dozen’

Kari Petrie

Eccentric” and “bizarre” are a couple of the words used to describe the University’s language and sexual diversity class in a recent study by a conservative youth group.

The group lists 12 classes, which it calls the “dirty dozen,” from 12 different colleges and universities.

Young America’s Foundation, based in Herndon, Va., conducted the study, titled “Comedy and Tragedy: College courses and what They Tell Us about Higher Education Today.”

YAF program officer Rick Parsons, who conducted the survey, said the group chose the courses because it felt they are biased and show conservatives “in a bad light.” The group chose the courses based on their titles and summaries in course guides Parsons received from the schools.

The University’s undergraduate catalog says language and sexual diversity covers “language use in lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender communities.”

“To teach a whole course on lesbian, gay and bisexual language is a little outrageous,” Parsons said. “You could almost watch Showtime and get the same thing.”

Professor Amy Sheldon, who taught the course for one semester in 1997 – the course’s lifespan – disagrees.

“You could say that about anything at the University,” she said. “(Parsons) isn’t interested in expanding minds; he’s interested in criticizing what he doesn’t understand.”

Sheldon also questioned YAF’s knowledge of the course, since its claim is based on the catalog’s two-sentence description.

“This is a bad case of judging a book by its cover,” she said. “I don’t think (the study) is relevant.”

Parsons said he gets a syllabus for the courses if he can. Sheldon was never notified of the study.

YAF created the “dirty dozen” to show taxpayers what is really being taught in colleges and universities, Parsons said.

“I’m not calling for courses to be banned or censored,” Parsons said. “I’m just asking, ‘Does it take away resources from other areas? Is it important to discuss the sexual diversity in language in just one course?’ “

Sheldon stressed that the course is not a required class and is one of many beyond basic courses.

“This is not a cockamamie course,” Sheldon said. “My goal is for people to do deep thinking and learn about sound argument.”

Despite Parsons’ assertion that the class fails to present different viewpoints, the class syllabus includes a “conditions for learning” clause that says the class is “a safe place for the expression of differences of opinion” and that the course is “accessible and inclusive.”

Sheldon says she has no plans to teach the course again because of low enrollment. Like many other classes that are not taught each year, the course is still listed in the undergraduate catalog.

Other courses listed in the study included cultural history of rap at the University of California, Los Angeles, black feminism at the University of Missouri, and philosophy and “Star Trek” at Georgetown University.

YAF is affiliated with the conservative movement and has existed since 1969. According to its Web site, the group works to communicate the ideas of traditional values, free enterprise and a strong national defense to young people.