The president of the conservative Louisiana Family Forum has taken aim at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s new lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies minor, calling it more advocacy than academic.
The area of study was first offered in the spring and is believed to be the first of its kind in Louisiana. The university offers the coursework as a minor and not as a degree program, which would require approval from the state Board of Regents.
But according to Family Forum President Gene Mills, the coursework is not in line with what a public college should be offering. “It doesn’t reflect Louisiana values,” Mills said.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, also waded in this week, urging the university to drop the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — called LGBT studies — minor for failing to provide an academic benefit to students or a worthwhile financial return to taxpayers.
From the university’s perspective, a dean says, the minor is in high demand and could prove useful to graduating students entering a broad range of occupations.
The Family Forum was one of the first groups to speak out against the LGBT studies minor when it urged ULL to cancel the minor in a newsletter sent out this week. The group characterizes itself as a voice for traditional families. It has lobbied in favor of pro-life causes and against anti-bullying legislation that included protections for gay students and the repeal of a law that some say allows the teaching of creationism in classrooms.
Mills said a description of the LGBT minor led him to believe the university was trying to further an agenda rather than educate students.
“They need to explain how it meets academic guidelines,” Mills said. “Especially because you have taxpayers paying for it.”
After noticing that the web page describing the LGBT minor was down Thursday morning, Mills stopped just short of declaring victory.
He pointed to a passage in a letter university President Joseph Savoie posted online this week offering assurances that the minor did not require special funding.
Mills suggested the combination of the letter and the non-working web page indicated the university was having second thoughts about offering the minor.
“The letter was very politically astute,” Mills said. “The website not working; I’d say there’s plausible deniability involved.”
The university denied the malfunctioning web page had anything to do with second thoughts about offering the program.
In Landry’s criticism of the LGBT minor, the congressman and ULL alum said the school is wasting taxpayer money by offering an area of study not likely to be financially useful to students upon graduation.
“Every time I read the paper, you see people in higher education complaining about budget cuts,” Landry said in an interview. “We should be allocating our time, energy and resources to increasing the earning capacity of our students to become more competitive in the job market.”
ULL President Joseph Savoie argued in his online letter that LGBT-related coursework is an accepted area of study that has been offered at roughly 200 universities nationwide for nearly 50 years.
“Rooted in sociology, studies of human subgroups help prepare students for careers, such as counselors, personnel directors, teachers, social workers, criminal justice professionals, health care providers, managers and those involved in pastoral care,” Savoie wrote. e_SClBA person answering the phone at Savoie’s office on Wednesday referred all questions to the university’s communications staff. Calls to the president’s office went unanswered Thursday morning.
ULL sociology professor DeAnn Kalich, who is described in the Family Forum newsletter as having “spearheaded” the program’s development, declined to talk about the subject at length Thursday and referred questions to the university’s communications department, citing an overwhelming number of interview requests.e_SClBCollege of Liberal Arts Dean Jordan Kellman said the minor grew out of on-campus discussions in 2010. It was approved by the school in the fall of 2011 and includes classes already available at the university, such as cultural anthropology, child and family studies and human sexuality.
“This really was designed in response to student demand,” Kellman said. “We’ve heard talk about the issue, but we really haven’t gotten any backlash here at the office.”