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Back to Jan. Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 144 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JANUARY 1998
College Gets an F for X-Rated Conferences

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NEW PALTZ, NY - The State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz created a storm of controversy when the Women's Studies Program sponsored back-to-back conferences called "Revolting Behavior: The Challenges of Women's Sexual Freedom" and "Subject to Desire: Refiguring the Body." "Revolting Behavior" featured workshops on topics such as "How to Get What You Want in Bed," "Sex Toys for Women," and "Safe, Sane and Consensual S&M: An Alternate Way of Loving," plus "entertainment" that included simulated sex acts.

"Subject to Desire," held the following week, featured an adults-only display of "art" by X-rated "artist" Carolee Schneemann-36 close-up photographs of female genitalia. Ms. Schneemann also lectured at the conference, appearing in a red cape and horns and playing with hand puppets.

The conferences drew local opposition, which escalated with the appearance of an op ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 5, entitled A Syllabus for Sickos. The author, Roger Kimball, is managing editor of the New Criterion, a monthly arts and cultural magazine. Kimball attended "Revolting Behavior," and slammed the conference in his editorial, noting that it was "aptly named" and that, while it "posed as an academic event, it was in fact a celebration of perversity and sexual libertinage."

He quoted SUNY New Paltz President Roger Bowen as saying that such conferences are "business as usual."

In the midst of the brouhaha, New York Governor George Pataki ordered an investigation, and is awaiting a report from SUNY Chancellor John Ryan before deciding his next step. "It's outrageous that the administration at SUNY New Paltz allowed the expenditure of taxpayers' dollars for the conference," Pataki said. In response to conference supporters' invocation of their First Amendment right to free speech, the Governor added, "This has nothing to do with freedom of speech and everything to do with the proper expenditure of tax dollars."

Several college council members and three state assemblymen have called on Bowen to resign for allowing the conferences to proceed. Council member George Morton criticized Bowen, saying that the council is required by law to supervise campus affairs. Bowen has refused to step down, insisting that "it is the right and responsibility of the academy to provide a free and open forum for people to express their views," and that the college council's role is "advisory, not supervisory."

Reaction from students and parents has been mixed. Some sources have stated that "the whole story is not being told in the press," and that "parents are calling in to local radio stations claiming that they are going to pull their children out of SUNY."


 
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