OSU dustup over sex speech raises sensitive issues

2011-01-26T09:15:00Z OSU dustup over sex speech raises sensitive issuesGazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times
January 26, 2011 9:15 am  • 

We suspect it will only be a matter of time before Oregon State University students cough up enough dough to pay for the appearance of a self-described "feminist pornographer" on campus.

We bet that Tristan Taormino, a sex educator who's spoken at universities around the country, will end up speaking at OSU to a standing-room-only audience. Her expenses will be paid for by students, and that will, and should, mark the end of another controversy on campus.

Taormino was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for OSU's "Modern Sex" conference, scheduled to start on Valentine's Day. The conference's planning committee had been given the OK by OSU's Intercultural Student Services to use education and general fund money - taxpayer dollars, in other words - to pay for her lecture.

Eventually, though, someone somewhere up the food chain at OSU got wind of the content of Taormino's website, where she discusses her production of and participation in filming pornography. Leaders in the university's Division of Student Affairs decided the prudent course of action was to "uninvite" Taormino.

Now an effort is under way at OSU to poll students as to whether they want to use student fees to pay for an appearance by Taormino. For her part, Taormino says that the content of her public appearances is very different from her website; in lectures, she says, her focus is to demystify sex and discuss sex education. It may turn out that college students have an interest in sex.

Despite the arguments we've seen raised on this page from readers, we don't think the incident quite rises to the level of academic censorship, although there's no doubt that it could have been handled better by OSU. (It would have been better, for example, if somebody much earlier in the process had identified the possibility that Taormino's speech could be racy and suggested that it might be best to use student fees to pay for the talk.)

The incident does, however, say something about the desire of OSU officials not to be caught in the halls of the Legislature during the session defending the use of taxpayer money to pay for a presentation by a self-proclaimed pornographer.

We understand that desire. But we offer this caution: Today, the talk may be about sex. Tomorrow, it could be about some other controversial topic. A university that starts to shy away from controversy for fear the topic might prove offensive to someone - legislators, taxpayers or otherwise - puts at risk some portion of its soul.


Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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