IU Kinsey Institute faculty and staff are urging IU to be more transparent as the university weighs its options regarding funding for the institute in a Jan. 22 letter to Provost Rahul Shrivastav and the special working group assembled to conduct listening sessions.
Last year, the Indiana General Assembly passed a budget that prohibited the use of state funds for IU’s Kinsey Institute, with Rep. Lorissa Sweet, R-Wabash, alleging without evidence that the organization could be harboring child predators. Since the decision, the fate of the sexuality and gender research institute and its collections — one of the largest sexological collections in the world — has been uncertain.
When the IU Board of Trustees discussed a potential plan to create a nonprofit that would fund and manage some of the institute’s functions at its November meeting, the institute’s staff, IU students and other community members responded with concerns over the short notice before the matter was brought before the board and the risk the plan may pose for Kinsey’s collections if they are left completely under university control.
Though many aspects of the proposal remain unclear, the potential nonprofit would handle administrative, communications and research development functions, according to IU. While the Board of Trustees tabled the topic last fall, the issue of how to achieve compliance with the law is ongoing.
In the letter, Kinsey faculty and staff outlined four main recommendations for IU after the conclusion of the special working group’s three public listening sessions.
Defend the institute
Faculty and staff wrote in the letter they felt IU administrators lacked moral leadership by not adequately responding to statements made in the state legislature. They also claimed faculty and staff were instructed not to issue statements about the legislation affecting the institute because IU would handle the situation.
“IU offered ‘pretty words’ about its support of KI in an FAQ statement but offered no clear, public opposition to the Kinsey provision in the state budget or to the false claims made in the legislature about the KI and its faculty and staff,” the letter read.
Following the state budget, the institute has seen an increase in harassment, according to the letter. Beyond the institute, the letter warned other IU departments could face similar issues in the future.
“A number of speakers at the Listening Sessions warned of opening a Pandora’s box of vulnerability for IU departments that may fall out of favor because of a changeable political climate,” the letter read. “If IU does not stand up for KI and retain it as a vital part of the university, which departments, schools, and programs might be next?”
Retain Kinsey and its collections at IU
The letter criticized IU’s vague language surrounding the fate of the institute’s collections. It specifically points to the phrase that claims the collections will remain “in service of” the institute. If that definition includes removing the collections from the institute, the result would be “disastrous,” the letter reads.
Separating the institute from the university would also pose risks to funding, as the letter claims several donor agreements state donations will not remain at IU if the Kinsey Institute moves.
Fund the institute a different way
The letter also called for an “accounting solution to an accounting problem,” urging IU to reorganize their funds and find a way to support the institute without state dollars.
“The creation of a separate organization like a 501c3 is not required by the new law, nor is it clear that such an organization would actually make IU compliant with HB1001,” the letter read.
According to IU- Bloomington’s 2023-24 budget, state appropriations total $225,546,142, making up 16.7% of IU’s general fund. Tuition makes up the bulk of the fund, with a smaller chunk coming from “other sources.”
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, Kinsey receives two-thirds of its budget from grants and donations.
The letter listed several complaints about a perceived lack of transparency from IU and alleges the university violated their own policies in determining how to proceed with the institute.
The letter said restrictions involving the three listening sessions, which required an IU email for registration and did not offer a Zoom option, reduced transparency. The letter further criticizes the fact that two other sessions are closed to the public and only, offered only to donors and alumni.
While the goal of the listening sessions was to gather community concerns to present to the administration, faculty and staff took issue with the administration’s absence, with only a short appearance from the provost, who left after introductory remarks at the first session, according to the letter.
The letter also argues IU violated the “Creation, Reorganization, Elimination, and Merger of Academic Units and Programs” policy, which gives the Bloomington Faculty Council authority over reorganization of academic units through the “Creation, Reorganization, Elimination and Merger (CREM) standing committee.” According to the letter, IU has not consulted with CREM, violating IU policy and leading the CREM committee to denounce the working group and listening session.
In addition to not consulting with the committee, the letter claims IU did not follow procedures required to form a “university-related entity” under the University-Related Legal Entities Policy, or UA-09, before they presented the nonprofit plan to the Board of Trustees. The policy requires sponsorship from a university unit, including a letter of support from the head of the unit and approval from the provost. The letter of support must then be submitted to the General Counsel’s office with a proposal that includes the entity’s purpose and justification and details like leadership, governance structure and budgets. According to the policy, it is only then that the proposal can be considered by the Board of Trustees.
According to the agenda, the Board of Trustees met in November to consider designating the institute as a university-related entity, with policy UA-09 cited next to the agenda item.
The letter claims Justin Garcia, executive director of the institute, said he had not written a letter of support for a potential nonprofit plan. The status of the rest of the requirements, the letter read, is unclear.
When asked to comment on the letter, Mark Bode, executive director of media relations at IU, referred to IU’s website and previous remarks made by the president and provost.
In the provost’s remarks at the listening session, he spoke about ensuring the institute remains a leader in the field, preserving academic freedom, maintaining faculty appointments and keeping collections at IU and “in service” of the institute’s research.
“President Whitten and I stand firmly in support of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and its mission. It is the university’s objective that the Kinsey Institute — and its name, research, scholarship, and education initiatives — continue as a pillar of intellectual freedom and academic inquiry at Indiana University,” he said at the session.