(NEW YORK)—PEN America today called a dean’s threat to punish a professor at Georgia’s Valdosta State University in response to a parent’s complaint about a biology lecture “outrageous” and an infringement on academic freedom.

The introductory biology course, “Evolution and the Diversity of Life,” which was taught by professor Leslie Jones, included a lecture entitled “Cultural Construction of Gender.” After a parent allegedly told Dean Pierre-Richard Cornely that “he didn’t want his daughter being taught that woke [expletive],” Cornely instructed Jones to alter her lesson or be reassigned. In response to criticism, the university suggested that the lesson might not be “consistent with the published catalog description of [the] course.”

Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, said in a statement:

“Dean Cornely’s response to this controversy is outrageous. Jones is clearly acting within the scope of her duties as a professor by including material about theories of gender in a biology course.To suggest that any individual lesson is at odds with the brief text in a published course description is a fundamental mischaracterization of how teaching and open inquiry work in college classrooms.

“Not only is the university infringing upon Jones’s academic freedom,” Young continued, “it is allowing a parent to impose a veto over what every student in the class can read or study. 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.”

Valdosta State University is a public university in Valdosta, GA. It is one of the four comprehensive universities in the University System of Georgia with over 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057