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Biology professor stands firm with lectures

Dr. Leslie Jones is teaching Evolution and the Diversity of Life again this spring after she was given an ultimatum in the fall by a dean that the content of her course needed to be altered.

She is teaching section A of the course, which has 130 students. This class is an introductory biology course for non-majors.

Although there were complaints last semester resulting in Dr. Jones being told to alter her teaching points, Dr. Jones plans to continue teaching the same way.

“I certainly will teach all three social issues this semester,” Dr. Jones said, referencing sex and gender, race and religion.

Dr. Jones said that she has not heard anything from Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics Pierre-Richard Cornely or any of VSU’s administration since last semester.

Dean Cornely has not responded to any questions regarding this incident.

Dean Cornely asked Dr. Jones to stop teaching her lectures on sex and gender after a parent of one of her students complained.

“He didn’t want his daughter to be learning about ‘woke s**t,”’ Dr. Jones said.

Dr. Jones had previous approval from Biology Department Head Robert Gannon, President Richard Carvajal and Provost Richard Smith after complaints earlier in her career.

Even though she has gotten complaints over the years, she does have many students that appreciate her teachings.

She included three new questions to her Student Surveys of Instruction  for last semester in hopes of getting an idea of how students really felt about the three social issues.

In response to the question “How did you feel about the fact that the class covered the connection between biological science and several social issues?” students had mostly positive responses.

Out of 125 possible respondents, 52 had positive remarks about this aspect of her class, 18 had negative things to say and nine had neutral responses.

Dr. Jones also asked, “What specifically did you learn about sex and gender, evolution and religious beliefs and ‘race’ and racism in those classes?”

Only 11 out of 75 responders said they learned nothing or something negative about the teachings.

The last tailored question asked what students learned from the course that was interesting and could be applied to life after college, and eight people included material from her social issues lectures.

VSU administration issued this statement in response to a series of questions:

“Valdosta State University is reviewing the issues raised by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and has responded to the inquiry. VSU remains committed to the protection of all citizens’ freedom of speech, expression, petition, religion, and peaceful assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and affirmed by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents policy. At the same time, the university also remains committed to ensuring that content taught in courses is consistent with the published catalog description of each course.”

However, like most courses, VSU’s course catalog description for BIOL 1010 is one sentence.

“An introduction to the diversity of life on Earth with a special emphasis on ecological and evolutionary processes and relationships.”

Dr. James Nienow, a biology professor, took part in creating the course catalog descriptions.

“The plan was to have a few basic ideas that had to be included in each course, with the instructor having the freedom to choose which examples and topics to expand on,” Dr. Nienow said.  “That way the instructor would be more interested in what they were teaching, which might carry over into student interest.  We deliberately did not set up a specific syllabus tied to a specific book.”

These course catalog descriptions have not been changed since 1998.

Dr. Jones does still have access to the attorney provided by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

FIRE has previously been involved in a case including VSU, resulting in former student Hayden Barnes reaching a $900,000 settlement for wrongful expulsion after peacefully protesting the construction of the parking deck in 2009.

As a result of the case regarding Dr. Jones, FIRE has labeled VSU as a “Red Light” university.

“Valdosta State University has been given the speech code rating Red,” according to FIRE’s website. “A red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

Written by Angel Davis, Copy Editor.


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