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Biology Professor Reportedly Told to Stop Teaching Gender

November 17, 2022

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and PEN America are demanding answers from Valdosta State University over reports that it told a professor of biology to change how she teaches sex and gender following a parent complaint. Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN, said in a statement, “Most college students are adults, and parents should not be controlling what their adult children can learn, let alone what a professor can teach to a whole class. Faculty must be free to explore academic topics with their students, including those that are controversial or make some uncomfortable, without fear of repercussions. Doing so is at the core of universities’ academic mission.”

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Leslie Jones, the professor, says a student’s parent complained this semester about a lesson she gave on the cultural construction of gender in her class on evolution and diversity. “The father told my dean that he didn’t want his daughter being taught that ‘woke (expletive),’” Jones reportedly said. Jones’s dean, Pierre-Richard Cornely, then allegedly instructed her to change her approach or be removed from the class. Jones reached out to FIRE for help. Sabrina Conza, a program officer for FIRE, said, “In giving Prof. Jones this ultimatum they are violating her First Amendment rights to academic freedom.”

Robbyn DeSpain, university spokesperson, told Inside Higher Ed that Valdosta State is “reviewing the issues raised” by FIRE, and that it’s responded to the inquiry. The university “remains committed to the protection of all citizens’ freedom of speech, expression, petition, religion, and peaceful assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and affirmed by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents policy. At the same time, the university also remains committed to ensuring that content taught in courses is consistent with the published catalog description of each course.”

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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