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The Kinsey institute faces possible separation from Indiana University

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For 75 years, The Kinsey Institute, world famous for its study of human sexuality, has been a prominent part of Indiana University. That relationship could soon change. Tomorrow, university trustees could vote to create a Kinsey nonprofit separate from the university. The vote comes months after state lawmakers blocked public funding from the institute, and faculty say the proposal to split the institutions could do irreparable harm to the reputation of both. Ethan Sandweiss from member station WFIU has more.

ETHAN SANDWEISS, BYLINE: The Kinsey Institute has been controversial from its very beginnings when Indiana professor Alfred Kinsey began studying and writing reports about human sexuality in the late 1940s. There were even efforts early on to defund the institute. Each time, the university thwarted these attacks. Defunding became a reality earlier this year when freshman Republican Representative Lorissa Sweet pushed a successful amendment to cut any state funds for Kinsey. She claimed that Kinsey researchers are conducting sexual experiments on children.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LORISSA SWEET: Who knows what they're still hiding. Could they be hiding child predators?

SANDWEISS: Democrat Matt Pierce, who represents the district where Indiana University is located, said those false claims have long been debunked.

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MATT PIERCE: This amendment is based on old, unproven allegations of conspiracies that did not exist.

SANDWEISS: Nevertheless, lawmakers approved the legislation, which prohibits state funds from supporting the institute. Most of the institute's money comes from grants, and it receives around $2 million a year from the university. IU says any financial impact from the new state law is negligible.

Even so, the university proposes splitting the Kinsey Institute. The plan calls for making a nonprofit that would handle most of the administrative details for the research center without university money, while the Kinsey collections would remain at IU. It's a partial divorce that's generated lots of protests.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Kinsey.

SANDWEISS: Recently, demonstrators gathered around a bronze statue of Alfred Kinsey on the university's campus. Freshman Kyleigh Brown says administrators are making the wrong move.

KYLEIGH BROWN: I think that we can't consider ourselves the same way if we got rid of the Kinsey Institute as part of IU.

SANDWEISS: The organizer of the protest, Jennifer Bass, worked at the Kinsey Institute for 20 years. She says the administration is simply caving to political pressure. She held a scroll containing the signatures of 5,500 people who oppose the plan.

JENNIFER BASS: Something has to be done - I appreciate that. But I believe strongly that there are other ways to do that other than separating the institute.

SANDWEISS: Kinsey researchers like Professor Zoe Peterson say they weren't told about the proposal until two weeks ago, and they still have lots of questions. Peterson and other protesters say it's not just about money. It's about academic freedom.

ZOE PETERSON: It's hard to imagine how this separation wouldn't impact the productivity of the work we do and the visibility of the work we do.

SANDWEISS: IU Bloomington Provost Rahul Shrivastav says he understands people feel uncomfortable with the plan, but creating a standalone Kinsey nonprofit will ensure research will continue without violating the law.

RAHUL SHRIVASTAV: I think a lot of their concerns are fear of the unknown, which is very normal. And when they hear some of the details, I think they are less concerned.

SANDWEISS: However, Claude Cookman, who's served on the board of the Kinsey Institute for many years, says Kinsey needs outspoken support from the administration more than ever.

CLAUDE COOKMAN: The legislator who brought this bill has said she's still coming after Kinsey. They're not going to quit - whatever IU does in its relationship with Kinsey.

SANDWEISS: Now, Kinsey's critics and defenders alike are waiting on the outcome of a trustee vote that could have deep implications for an institute that has long weathered attacks.

For NPR News, I'm Ethan Sandweiss in Bloomington, Ind.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM SZIRTES' "BLISSED OUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ethan Sandweiss
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