The Kinsey Institute, the historic sex research entity affiliated with Indiana University at Bloomington for more than 75 years, has long faced conservative attacks—ever since the 1940s and ’50s publication of the Kinsey reports and their “Kinsey scale,” which posited a wide range of human sexuality beyond just straight or gay.
This April, the Republican-dominated Indiana General Assembly passed a state budget banning the institute from receiving state appropriations. The university didn’t provide details Monday about how much of the institute’s funding comes from the state, but it said it receives research grants and other nonstate dollars that can continue supporting Kinsey’s work.
However, Kinsey researchers are now concerned about their university’s response to the new state law: administrators are asking the university’s Board of Trustees to spin off part of the institute as a separate nonprofit. The institute conducts research, offers a Ph.D. minor in human sexuality and has sex, gender and erotica collections that span more than 2,000 years of history.
The board meeting agenda for Friday simply says “Approval is requested for the designation of the Kinsey Institute as a University-Related Entity in accordance with the University-Related Legal Entities Policy.” Kinsey-affiliated academics say they’re concerned, and confused, about what that may mean.
Last week, 45 Kinsey employees, affiliates and students sent a letter to the IU president, provost, board members and others urging them to keep the “Kinsey Institute united with the Kinsey Collections and retain both at Indiana University.” The letter asks the leaders to table the proposed changes to provide more time for vetting.
“Since 1947, scholars and students from across the country and around the world have come to Indiana University to conduct impactful research at Kinsey, and its unparalleled Collections have provided the basis for groundbreaking scholarship on the history of sex, gender and reproduction,” the letter said. “The work of the Kinsey Institute has resulted in hundreds of academic publications and millions of dollars in donations, which include monetary gifts, priceless art and artifacts, and unique archival documents.”
The university released a frequently asked questions document Monday, saying Kinsey would mostly remain part of the university under the plan. “While the Kinsey Institute does not receive direct appropriations, the new legislation requires that the university also ensure that no state funds are indirectly used to support the Kinsey Institute,” the FAQ stated, saying state dollars historically “may have indirectly” funded some of the institute’s “operational functions.” It said the newly created nonprofit would “separately fund and manage these limited functions.”
The FAQ said additional details “will be determined,” but the nonprofit “would provide all administrative functions as well as communications, advancement and research development functions required to foster Kinsey Institute research and education.”
To any faculty members concerned about losing positions, the FAQ said they “will maintain their appointments and affiliation with the Kinsey Institute” and that current institute “faculty and staff will remain IU employees.” It said “the university’s objective [is] 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.”
But Cynthia Graham, a signatory of the opposing letter who’s both a tenured professor in the university’s gender studies department and a Kinsey Institute senior scientist, said the provost and other administrators didn’t answer some of those same major questions at an Oct. 27 meeting, when they shared the proposal with Kinsey employees. And she said the university’s FAQ contained vague language and didn’t address all the concerns.
Among the unanswered questions, she said, was whether any faculty members affiliated with the institute will actually keep their Kinsey affiliations, what will happen with the institute’s extensive research collections and whether the Kinsey name will even survive.
“After an hour and 40 minutes, we had really no answers to really fundamental questions,” Graham said of the meeting. She said “virtually every question we asked was not answered, so it seems to us like a really premature thing to do and we really wonder about the rush to do this.”
She also stressed concerns about possibly losing the collections—which institute namesake Alfred C. Kinsey seeded through selling his personal collection to the institute for $1 in 1947. If the collections are unmoored from the institute and merged into the general Indiana University collections, Graham said, a conservative university or state administration could easily eliminate them.
“It seems like they were kind of taking the best of it and not leaving us with anything but vulnerabilities and worries about the future,” she said.
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Inside Higher Ed requested an interview with university officials Monday, but the university emailed a statement and referred to the FAQ.
“The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University’s groundbreaking research makes it a global leader in shaping understanding of relationships and human sexuality,” the statement said. “The university is firmly committed to protecting the intellectual freedom and academic inquiry of the Kinsey Institute and is taking important steps to ensure that its vital work continues in perpetuity.”
Dev Montanez, administrative coordinator for the institute, told Inside Higher Ed that “Everything we have to say is on that FAQ page that the university has put out, and there’s nothing more that we can say.” Montanez said that was a directive from university communications.
Republican state representative Lorissa Sweet, who proposed the budget bill amendment that cut off state funding, didn’t return a request for comment sent to her spokesman Monday. The Associated Press reported that Sweet’s criticism included saying that Alfred C. Kinsey’s research exploited children. The institute has faced other allegations in this vein; it has an FAQ responding to them on its website.
“Kinsey did not carry out any experiments on children,” the website says. “He did not falsify research findings, and he in no way condoned any sexual abuse.”
The passed budget, signed by the Republican governor, says, “State appropriations may not be used to pay for the administration, operation, or programs of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.” It defines “administration, operation, or programs” to include 13 elements, including “on-campus facilities,” “utilities,” “administrative costs” and—perhaps relevant to the archives—“housing of research documents, including photographs, audiovisual tapes or films, and printed material.”
Zoe Peterson, a tenured professor in the counseling and educational psychology department and a senior scientist at Kinsey Institute, said, “The Kinsey Institute has faced threats many times before,” although “this one did catch us off guard.” She said that’s because it was “raised at the last second and slipped into the budget.”
Peterson said, “We feel good about some of the changes that came out” in the university’s FAQ, but she is still pushing for more time.
“It’s not totally clear to us exactly how this will work,” she said.