Indiana University officials ditch plan to split off Kinsey Institute, known for its sex research

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana University’s board of trustees on Friday abandoned a proposal to make the Kinsey Institute a nonprofit, removing months of uncertainty about the future of the famed sex research center targeted by Republican lawmakers.

Lawmakers blocked state dollars from going to the institute in a Republican-sponsored measure last year. The legislation led to a highly criticized internal plan to partially split the Kinsey Institute from the university to ensure compliance with the new law.

Board members instead vowed to find another way to comply with state law while maintaining the institute’s ties to the university.

Cynthia Graham, a senior scholar at the Kinsey Institute and professor of gender studies, said she and many others were “very relieved” to hear the trustees’ decision after months of anxiety.

“This is actually the best-case scenario of all,” she said.

Higher education — and how its institutions teach topics like gender, sexuality and race — has become a frequent target of GOP state lawmakers across the country.

For example, Indiana lawmakers passed a bill Thursday that creates regulations on faculty tenure and campus diversity, equity and inclusion programs, describing it as a way to make public universities and college campuses friendly to conservative students and professors.

Located about 52 miles from Indianapolis on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, the institute is named after its founder Alfred Kinsey, who disrupted cultural norms around sex. A wide variety of research conducted at the institute includes the prevention of sexual violence and the use of contraception.

The institute has been the subject of repeated conservative criticism for decades. Critics blame the institute and Kinsey for contributing to greater acceptance of homosexuality and pornography. Additionally, some of the continued opposition stems from unfounded claims about evidence of child abuse in Kinsey’s research.

The institute’s website includes a page dedicated to “correcting misinformation” about Kinsey and the institute’s research.

In November, the board of trustees voted on whether Kinsey would become a nonprofit organization but keep the collections at the university, after protests from faculty, students and academics around the world. The possible separation of the institute and the university led to fears for the future of its collections and even for the safety of its researchers.

“We really didn’t think about this and what exactly they were going to propose,” Graham said.

The board voted Friday to abandon the original proposal. According to a news release, the university will instead submit a plan to the Indiana State Board of Accounts to ensure no state dollars are provided to the institute.

“With the action taken today, we are taking steps to ensure that the Kinsey Institute remains a beacon of intellectual research,” Indiana University President Pamela Whitten said in a written statement.

University officials said the plan will demonstrate the institute’s funding sources and demonstrate that no state appropriations are being directed to it.

The university also pledged to “affirm valuable work by the Kinsey Institute, which has faced continued opposition fueled by misinformation,” the press release said.

Graham’s only remaining concern is the possibility of future attacks by state lawmakers on the institute’s activities.

“We are much more encouraged by the support we are receiving from IU now that it really seems concrete,” she said.