Senator Says Budget Amendment Kills University of Wyoming; Sponsor Disagrees

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A Senate amendment to the state budget bill aimed at eliminating funds for gender studies at the University of Wyoming appears to remove all funding for university academic programs, according to a state senator and several former legislators.

However, Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, the amendment’s sponsor, said her amendment adopted Friday affects only the university’s gender studies program.

“It’s only regarding gender studies and our staff assured me of that before I ran it,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Saturday. “It was targeted at one particular program.”

Steinmetz’ amendment, approved on a vote of 16-14, specifies the university will not “expend any general funds, federal funds or other funds under its control for any gender studies courses, academic programs, co-curricular programs or extracurricular programs.”

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said during debate on the floor that the amendment is poorly written and would appear to eliminate funding all university programs.

It’s all about the commas, he said. Each item listed in the amendment stands alone and is targeted for a loss of funding — including “academic programs.”

“We just closed down the university,” Case said during debate..  “We’re just wiping out the university in saying they can’t spend any [money] on academic programs, co-curricular programs … or extracurricular programs.”

But Steinmetz said the Legislative Service Office drafted and thoroughly reviewed the amendment and said it would apply only to gender studies.

“All of our budget amendments are reviewed by our legal team and they assured me it was only regarding the gender studies program,” she said.

Several former legislators agreed with Case’s assessment.

“I understand what she is trying to do, but the effect would basically eliminate all funding to the university,” former Park County legislator Tom Jones told Cowboy State Daily.

Former House Speaker Tom Lubnau was more direct.

“Illiteracy just shut down UW. Irony at its finest,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Saturday.

Another former House speaker said he wondered about the genesis of the amendment.

“Hard to believe that is an LSO mistake which leads one to wonder if it was intentionally drafted that way?” former Speaker Kermit Brown wrote on Facebook.

But Steinmetz said objections over the amendment’s wording are not well grounded.

“Everyone likes to create black helicopters when they disagree with something,” she said.

During the floor presentation of her amendment, Steinmetz said she was disturbed to learn the gender studies program at the university teaches students to “translate feminist and social justice theories into service and activism.”

“We’re training activists here is what we’re doing,” she said. “I don’t believe it’s an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.”

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said while the amendment could be construed to stop funding to all university programs, she believes most people do know its intent is to eliminate the gender studies department she teaches in and used to head.

“To say that I am annoyed at a third reading budget amendment to eliminate our 40-year program with cutting edge classes and phenomenal students is an understatement,” she told Cowboy State Daily.

Former UW Vice President and legislator Chris Boswell told Cowboy State Daily that his problem with the amendment doesn’t stem from its wording, but its intent.

Boswell noted that gender studies courses are taught at Casper College, Laramie County Community College and Sheridan College. 

“Would those who voted for the amendment also like to eliminate course offerings at our state’s community colleges?” he asked. “The UW offerings have been in place for decades.  This just adds to the ugliness which seems present within the legislative session.”

Others had an issue with the process of making law by adding amendments and footnotes to the budget.

Gail Symons, a legislative activist who runs the website Civics 307, said the idea of legislating through the budget process is a bad idea.

“There are a number of reasons that it is inappropriate to legislate through footnotes in a budget bill,” Symons said.

“Stand-alone bills have to go through committees and provide opportunities for public comment.  The specter of unintended consequences can be averted during deliberations,” she said.

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