Legislators in Wyoming are hoping that when it comes to banning gender studies, the third time’s the charm.

The legislature is attempting once again to defund gender studies departments at the University of Wyoming. The budget amendment was adopted by the Senate and failed to pass the House; it could still become law via the budget reconciliation process. A separate budget amendment, which passed the Senate, would also ban most DEI initiatives at UW. 

The gender studies ban would prohibit state or federal funds for gender studies majors, minors, courses, or even extracurricular activities. According to the sponsor, the intent of the amendment is to prohibit universities from funding something that is “more of an ideology than a program.” 

“The world needs more cowboys,” said another senator. “The world does not need more social justice warriors.” Ideological meddling in higher education, then, is acceptable to the bill’s supporters – so long as it reflects a certain viewpoint.

It is hard to imagine a more severe violation of academic freedom than for the legislature to ban an entire field of academic inquiry that they don’t like. In allowing the state to “micromanage” the affairs of the university, in the words of a senator who opposed the bill, Wyoming’s proposal parallels Florida’s effort to restrict access to sociology on public campuses and attempt to severely limit the scope of teacher preparation programs. 

The attack on gender studies specifically echoes a move at the New College of Florida to dissolve the school’s gender studies program for openly ideological reasons, which PEN America previously compared to Viktor Orbán’s prohibition on gender studies in Hungary in 2018. And like in Hungary, the bans may be a signal that broader ideological attacks are on the horizon.