May 18, 1997 in Idaho

Denial Of Gay Research Grant Widely Criticized

From Staff And Wire Reports

Criticism of the state Board of Education’s denial of a grant to research the region’s gay communities has moved beyond Idaho and now encompasses the nation.

The American Association of University Professors is leading groups of history professors and academicians from throughout America in condemning the board’s action and asking it to reconsider.

John Wunder, director of the University of Nebraska’s Center for Great Plains Study, said last month’s action is reminiscent of events more than a century ago.

“When Idaho was first settled in the 19th century, there were some very noxious actions taken and laws passed to suppress the religious and political freedom of its early Mormon residents and others,” Wunder told the board in a recent letter.

“The board should re-examine its decision in light of threats to academic freedom and the freedom of thought so crucial to the success of our nation’s educational institutions,” he wrote.

The board voted 5-3 last month to deny a $30,000 to Idaho State University professor Peter Boag to research the history of gay communities in the Northwest. Opponents of the grant said it failed to fit legislative criteria that projects have a commercial application. But other board members said grant money has financed research without commercial application in the past.

Board President Judy Meyer of Coeur d’Alene, who led the bloc rejecting the grant request, has said she plans to review the meeting transcripts and talk with other board members before responding to the onslaught of criticism.

In the face of the academic criticism, however, the board is receiving some letters of support for its action from the public. Daniel Fitzsimmons of Post Falls thanked the board for turning down research in “homosexual history.”

But Joyce Appleby, a University of California, Los Angeles professor and president of the American Historical Association, warned that Idaho could have trouble attracting quality professors with its reputation for torpedoing controversial research projects.

“If you’re creating knowledge, you’re usually pioneering,” Appleby said. “If you are pioneering, you are going to move into areas that are sometimes controversial.”


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