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Researchers decry admin plan to sever Kinsey Institute from IU

By Ethan Sandweiss, IPB News | Published on in Education, Health, Science, Statewide News
The Kinsey Institute at IU pioneered the study of sexuality. After 75 years, attacks from the state legislature stripped it of public funding. (WFIU / WTIU)

The Indiana University Board of Trustees plans to discuss separating the world-famous Kinsey Institute from the university at its Nov. 9-10 meeting. Kinsey faculty, staff and students are pushing back, saying the proposal would do “irreparable harm” to the institute and its extensive collections.

The Kinsey Institute’s research on sexuality, gender and relationships has attracted plenty of opposition, but until 2023 the university had been largely able to insulate it from direct attacks. That changed when freshman legislator Lorissa Sweet (R) of Wabash successfully introduced an amendment to the state budget that stripped the institute of public funding.

Read more: IU faculty criticize anti-Kinsey amendment in state budget

Under the IU administration’s proposal, the university would split Kinsey Institute into a separate 501c3 nonprofit governed by its own board, according to testimony from Kinsey researchers. On the other hand, its collections and archives would remain under university ownership.

In a letter addressed to IU President Pamela Whitten and the trustees, signatories from the institute asked the university to fully address their questions before taking action and urged Whitten and trustees to keep both the institute and its collections at the university.

Listen: The Kinsey Institute celebrates 75 years

Kinsey faculty and staff said they learned about the plan during an Oct. 27 meeting with Provost Rahul Shrivastav, Vice Provost of Finance Aimee Heeter and Kinsey Institute Executive Director Justin Garcia.

Professor Zoë Peterson attended that meeting. She’s Director of the Kinsey Institute’s Sexual Assault Initiative but said she had no idea this proposal was coming, and that the timeline leaves faculty without enough opportunity to respond.

“In some ways, our biggest concern is this rush to vote. We learned about this at the end of last week, and the vote by the Board of Trustees is next week,” Peterson said. “We have many, many questions and concerns that they’re not yet able to answer.”

Watch: Kinsey Institute prepares for future without state funding

For starters, signatories said they received no answer whether the creation of a 501c3 would actually satisfy the new law that threatens to withhold state funds.

“Although the administration has argued that part of the purpose of this is to be responsive to the new state law that prohibits funds to the Kinsey Institute, it’s really not clear to us that severing the Kinsey Institute from IU is necessary to ensure compliance with the law,” Peterson said.

The university responded to a public records request in May that none of the institute’s two-million-dollar budget for 2023 came from direct appropriations from the state.

Read more: Behind closed doors, lawmakers finalize bill to ban books from school libraries

Kinsey affiliates are also worried about the future of the Kinsey Library & Special Collections, which contain over one million artworks and artifacts, photographs, rare films and books.

Professor Emeritus Claude Cookman once chaired the Kinsey Institute board of trustees, but he’s no longer involved in an administrative role. As a special advisor to the Kinsey collections, however, he strongly opposes separating the collections from the institute.

“It’s impossible to overstate how important those collections are to the history and the brand of the institute,” Cookman said. “Alfred Kinsey actually started the collection in 1937 when he began teaching the IU course on marriage. In 1947, he founded the Institute specifically to protect those collections from the political climate in Indiana.”

Read more: Kinsey Institute experts study sex, gender as misconceptions block state dollars

Indeed, any plan to separate the institute from the archives could violate the 2016 Articles of Merger between Kinsey and the university.

The agreement filed with then-Indiana secretary of state Connie Lawson dissolved Kinsey as an independent nonprofit and merged it with IU.

The conditions of the deal maintained that “the Kinsey Institute is the manager of the Kinsey Collection” and that the university would “use its best efforts to preserve the Kinsey Collection within the Kinsey Institute and IU Library system.”

The articles stipulate that IU can only diverge from those principles if three criteria are met:

  1. When required by law or serious financial exigency or at the request of the Kinsey Institute leadership;
  2. Following good-faith consultation between and among the Kinsey Institute leadership, Vice Provost for Research, and, where appropriate, the Provost;
  3. With the authorization of the President of IU

Read more: Kinsey director defends institute in Washington Post opinion piece

Vice Provost for Research Brea Perry said that she was not involved in the decision.

“The Kinsey Institute has my full and unequivocal support,” Perry wrote Indiana Public Media. “I can’t imagine our campus would want to disaffiliate from Kinsey after an 80-year partnership.”

In addition, signatories worried about what a governing board would look like for a 501c3, saying it left the institute vulnerable to people who would have it dissolved. They expressed concerns that IU’s ability to recruit competitive students and faculty would be affected by the split. And they warned that IU’s reputation as a defender of academic freedom would be tarnished if it were perceived as submitting to political forces.

Attendees of the Oct. 27 meeting said they still haven’t seen a written version of the administration’s proposal.

Trustee meeting agendas are not shared until 48 hours prior to the meeting, so as of Saturday there is no mention of the plan on the trustees’ website.

But opponents of the plan don’t want to wait. A petition on change.org created by former Kinsey Jennifer Bass had amassed more than 350 signatures by Saturday afternoon.

For its part, the university has expressed support for the Institute.

Although she stayed silent while the bill was in session, President Whitten issued a statement in support of academic freedom after the anti-Kinsey amendment was passed:

“The Institute, and its affiliated faculty, will have the university’s full and continued support in seeking and securing critical research grants and private philanthropic support,” Whitten wrote.

“I believe that President Witten and the Provost and the administration really do support the Kinsey Institute,” Cookman said. “The big thrust of what the provost was saying at the October 27 meeting was to reassure everyone that that was the case.”

“I can say that the IU administration, including the President, has continued to say that, continued to affirm their support for us and affirm that they value the work that we do with the Kinsey Institute,” Peterson said. “I think we have a different perception of what that support needs to be.”

IU issued the following statement after a request to comment: “The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University’s groundbreaking research makes it a global leader in shaping understanding of relationships and human sexuality. 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.”