The IU Board of Trustees will discuss plans to separate the Kinsey Institute, which researches human sexuality and relationships, from Indiana University at its Nov. 9-10 meeting.
According to a release from the IU Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, pending board approval, the university would establish a nonprofit to manage the Kinsey Institute’s operational functions currently supported by the university’s general fund. This comes after Indiana House Republicans voted to block public funding for the Kinsey Institute in February. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the state budget bill, and it went into effect July 1 at the start of the fiscal year.
While the institute has received no direct funding since the legislation took effect, some state appropriations could still pay for the institute’s operations indirectly through the university’s general fund, according to the release. Under the proposed nonprofit status, the institute would receive no state funding, including from the general fund.
Additionally, the release states it is the university’s intention that research, scholarships and educational initiatives will continue as part of the Kinsey Institute at IU. The university also intends to keep the institute and its functions not managed by the nonprofit as part of the university, and current faculty and staff will remain IU employees.
However, Kinsey Institute faculty and students say many questions, like whether Kinsey members will have any control over the nonprofit, remain unanswered. Zoë Peterson, director of the Sexual Assault Research Initiative at the Kinsey Institute, said that staff were first informed about the plan Oct. 27 – less than two weeks before the Board of Trustees’ meeting.
“None of us knew this was in the works, so it was a complete surprise,” Peterson said. “I was very concerned. There were a lot of details that we asked about that they didn’t yet have answers for — things like how this would be branded, what would happen with faculty appointments and how this would affect students who do research.”
Peterson said she is concerned with the plan to separate Kinsey’s collections, which include its art and archives, from the institute. Under this proposal, the university would retain all the collections.
“The Kinsey Institute has a priceless collection of art and artifacts,” Peterson said. “IU would keep those collections. That would involve separating Kinsey from one of its greatest assets.”
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Supporters of the Kinsey Institute have organized multiple appeals to keep the institute as part of IU. Members of the Kinsey Institute organized a statement with over 300 signatures from members of the IU community asking the administration and board to “maintain the integrity” of the institute and its collections. Kinsey Institute faculty, staff, affiliates and students authored a letter to IU President Pamela Whitten and the members of the Board of Trustees asking them to “table" the discussion until their questions are addressed and to keep the institute and its collection united at IU. Kinsey researcher Jen Bass organized a change.org petition to keep the institute at IU. As of Wednesday morning, it had over 5,700 signatures.
The plan has also attracted the attention of Concerned Scientists at IU (CSIU) and their student counterpart, Advocates for Science at IU. The groups sent their own letter to Whitten, Provost Rahul Shrivastav and the Board of Trustees Wednesday morning.
“While we recognize that the plan has been developed in response to this year’s legislative budget restriction on use of state funds for the Kinsey Institute, there is no evidence that it would further protect the institute from legislative interference,” the letter stated. “The proposal appears to have been made in haste, and without substantial input from Kinsey Institute faculty, staff, donors or other prominent stakeholders, and could result in long-term harm to this renowned research institution.”
The letter encouraged IU administration to work with the Kinsey Institute faculty to protect its academic efforts and freedom, guarantee it will remain part of the university and keep its collections integrated with the institute.
“Unfortunately, this decision is being rushed on a really rapid timeline,” CSIU member and IU professor of geophysics Michael Hamburger said. “The trustees are meeting later this week. It seems that the primary goal of many of these efforts is just to ask the administration to step back and take time for some thoughtful and rational discussion about the future of the Kinsey Institute.”
The Kinsey Institute has a history of facing backlash. Most recently, in February, Rep. Lorissa Sweet, R-District 50, who proposed the state budget bill amendment blocking funding to the Kinsey Institute, claimed the institute conducts research on child sex studies, which she said have been referred to as crimes against children. Rep. Matt Pierce, D-District 61, who represents Bloomington, argued her claims had no basis.
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Because of these past instances, Hamburger said it is important for the administration to stand against potential challenges.
“This is a microcosm of a much larger issue of academic freedom and the ability of research at a public university to continue undeterred by external and internal pressure,” Hamburger said.