Tristan Taormino was scheduled to keynote the upcoming Modern Sex conference hosted by Oregon State University, with a talk entitled "Claiming Your Sexual Power."This past Monday, January 17th, university administrators decided to refuse funding for her talk and the conference was forced to cancel her appearance - after she had already purchased airline tickets on the promise of being reimbursed, which presumably won't be happening.
When the news hit the blogosphere the following day, the university was silent on their reasoning and have not yet released a statement regarding the cancellation. The university communications person I spoke with informed me that the appointed spokesperson was sent out of town for most of the day and when I did eventually get in touch with him he was not prepared to offer a response. I'll update this post with a response when I receive one.
The only information from OSU has come from anonymous sources who Tristan reports having spoken to who oppose the decision but are afraid to say so publicly for fear of their job security. One of those sources did, however, state that the decision was because of her "website and resume."
It leads me to question, if a resume of authoring seven books on sex and relationships, editing 18 anthologies, numerous television appearances, 75 university lectures, and a variety of awards for her writing, sex education, and filmmaking is cause for rejecting an already booked speaker, what kind of keynote was the university expecting for a conference about sex?
There is speculation that the reason for the cancellation is due to her work in the porn industry. If so, the university has overstepped significantly in this case. First off, the talk is not about porn whatsoever and to make hiring decisions based on a contractor's other unrelated employment sets a dangerous precedent around academic freedom. Secondly, if there was ever a conference where it is appropriate to invite a feminist pornographer to talk about their work, it would be a feminist conference titled Modern Sex. And finally, to turn away a feminist pornographer while allowing Playboy to annually spend a week on campus recruiting for the "Hottest Girls of the Pac-10" smacks of a horrific double standard.
The ironic part is that while Tristan's speech was not about feminist porn, I will be presenting at the conference on that exact topic - and showing clips. I suppose the difference is that because as a workshop presenter I won't be getting paid, that means they couldn't simply cancel the funding.
Tristan's press release, quoted below, includes three different university administrators to contact for those who would like to take action on the issue.
Note from Tristan:
Don't Let the Anti-Sex Conservatives Win!
If you support free speech and my mission of sexual empowerment, please voice your opinion about OSU's decision to cancel my appearance at the last minute (and not reimburse me for travel expenses) to the following people. I would really appreciate your support --Tristan
Vice Provost for Student Affairs
632 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2154
Dr. Mamta Motwani Accapadi
Dean of Student Life
A200 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2133
Dr. Edward J. Ray
600 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2128
Update: the OSU finally has responded. As reported on The Portland Mercury's blog:
University spokesman Todd Simmons says the school is "committed to free speech and open discussion" but that the higher-up administration did not get a clear picture of all of Taormino's work when the contract was originally okayed. The school decided it wasn't financially prudent to "use taxpayer funds to bring in a speaker who is a self-described pornographer and has a significant online business selling pornography." The other speakers in the conference, he says, are presenting for free, so there's no issue about use of money.
"I expect if the funders of the event had a complete picture of her work, the invitation wouldn't have been extended to begin with," says Simmons, who heard that her contract was for $3,000. Taormino is out that money, but the school says it will reimburse her for travel costs since she already bought her ticket out here to speak at the school.
It seems true that this is just about money, but that's quite an assumption for the OSU to make. The University claims that they'd expect "the funders" would not wish to contract with a pornographer, but did they ever ask them? Who are the funders? Can we ask them? What do the students think? Can we ask them? And ultimately, this means that academic speakers and lecturers will now be subject to a purity litmus test before being deemed worthy of contributing to the free and open discussion -- even for a conference on sex and sexuality.