Tristan Taormino, Ann Coulter, And The Disgrace Of Oregon State University

Oregon State Playmate 2005

Fun fact: what do Ann Coulter and Tristan Taormino have in common? They were both invited to be speakers at Oregon State University.

Except while Coulter told Oregon State University on November 19, 2001 that liberals were responsible for 9/11 and “all Middle Easterners are camel riding nomads,” this week OSU decided that paying Taormino to speak about being a bestelling sex-ed author and feminist American pornographer would be inappropriate. After her invitation was secured and the marketing materials were distributed, someone at OSU decided that Taormino should not speak because of what she does for a living. After being confronted, OSU’s story left everyone with more questions than answers:

Organizers of the upcoming Modern Sex Conference at OSU recently sought approval to bring in a speaker for that event by presenting a partial description of the speaker in question as a writer and sex advice columnist. However, as arrangements were being made to complete the contract for the speaker, it became clear to those providing taxpayer funding for the conference that the speaker, in fact, is also a self-described pornographer with a significant online business in video pornography and related material. A decision was made by Student Affairs leadership that using public funds to cover a speaking fee and travel expenses for the speaker constituted an inappropriate use of those funds, and the speaker’s appearance was thus cancelled.

OSU Taormino speaker schedule cacheHer travel was already paid for, and Taormino told OSU she’d come speak without the taxpayer money.

Here’s the funny part: they state that they didn’t know Taormino is a porn director. Also funny: their Student Health Services recommends Taormino’s sex ed book (the “related material?”). Funnier: they still have a porn director on the lineup, described as the winner of the 2010 Feminist Porn Awards.

Wait, even funnier: the conference is called “Modern Sex.”

It’s like a slapstick comedy of hypocrisy and hyperbole, except the decision makers don’t seem to realize that they are not operating in a vacuum. The online momentum on this is really quite remarkable: people are pretty upset. The students are riled and have started a petition; and as of today Steven Leider, the point person for speaker negotiations (also the LGBT Outreach and Services Coordinator) resigned over the issue. It’s actually not all that funny.

When a respected institution invites a speaker, we expect them to do due diligence: considering that Taormino was the event’s keynote, we expect that an institution spending taxpayer dollars and deeply concerned with the appearance of how those dollars are spent would know how to use The Google – on the keynote speaker, at the very least. That they feigned a bait-and-switch of how Taormino was represented to anyone looking at the materials is truly disgraceful. And not very believable.

So I’m just trying to figure this all out. There seem to be two issues here. Aside from the he-said, she-said (and no ze-said) about Taormino allegedly being misrepresented, it’s clear that they still have a pornographer on the lineup. So creating porn can’t be the real issue. It must be about the money.

Oregon State University is doing a huge disservice to its students. Not only in missing the opportunity to have Taormino speak (an already-vetted speaker at dozens of universities) – but in assuming the students are ignorant about how taxpayer-speaker money is spent. Tristan Taormino takes private money to make pornography (among other sex ed products). OSU does not give speakers money to make products – unless OSU has something they need to tell us about paying for the creation of Ann Coulter’s 2002 book “Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right.”

OSU would not be giving Taormino taxpayer money to make porn, or to “fund pornography.” They would be giving her taxpayer money to speak. The difference is immensely important.

But hey – OSU has a reputation to uphold: they are clearly and firmly a Coulter-porn supporting institution. No two sides about it.

I think that the final disgrace of Oregon State and its behavior around Modern Sex is how OSU now looks compared to other universities – and how they’re comparing to the opportunities those teaching institutions provide to their students.

Disappointed Oregon State students can take comfort that Playboy’s welcome re-visit to Oregon State last week searching for women to appear in the magazine’s spread “The Hottest Girls of the Pac-10” will likely not be fruitless.

But since they’re cool with Playboy trolling the campus, would it then be okay for Taormino to speak if Hef sponsored it instead?

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  1. I work at a small college, not at a big university, but I can see some funding connections that might not be obvious to the outsiders. First of all, Jason is absolutely right about the job shortage–I hear about that at, and I’m a prof, not in administration or student life. Secondly, it isn’t just funding for staffing, or funding for the event in question. There is also the possibility that ‘word will get out’ that conservative alumni with large pockets might be offended. Which shouldn’t matter for academic discourse. But it does, especially as state and federal funding is vanishing. Tuition just is not enough to run the many functions and support/repair needs of a college or university. Which means those phobic rich alums matter more than ever.
    I would infinitely prefer an intelligent speaker on sexuality to a toxic political opinionator (of any political persuasion). But I’m not a rich alum, so my opinion is not going to have much influence. I can only control my own classroom.

  2. Jason, you obviously feel very strongly about your opinion since you’ve posted it on multiple blogs. I don’t understand why you want to hold fast that this is *all* about funding and you fail to see the political implications of the situation, which have been eloquently illustrated by folks on Sex in the Public Square ( and the Sexademic (, among others. I want to correct some of your assumptions with the facts: the students did not apply for nor “try” to use general funds. They were given general funds to fund the Modern Sex conference by the ISS. Students searched for a policy about how the funds could be used and asked repeatedly but were never given any information. This is not about someone not knowing the rules. There are no formal, written rules that anyone has been able to point to. It’s clearly “at the discretion” of administrators, who decided it wasn’t a good idea precisely because of my involvement in porn, according to their statements. No other student group has been denied funding for a speaker recently, so this is an anti-sex, anti-porn statement. In fact, my replacement, Charlie Glickman, is being paid with the same funds denied to me. How is this just about funding (a rhetorical question, really).

  3. From the press release it looks like it boils down to money. SO many awful decisions boil down to $$$.

    The whole thing is so unfortunate. I never thought I’d see the day that Tristan Taormino got slut-shamed. They hoped in this patriarchal society, blaming it on pornography would shut people down, because porn is a bad word, especially when linked to a woman.

    So funny that people spend more money on porn than theater,opera,ballet,art shows combined. I picked up that fact reading Sex at Dawn.

    And now they look like hypocrites and bullies. “Modern Sex”?!? Try again. Let this be a teaching moment.

  4. This is really sad to hear. There isn’t enough sex-positivity aimed at college/university students as it is, plus I bet Tristan would be great! Things are (as per usual) worse in the U.K. I’ve been invited to speak at universities, and then cancelled at the last moment without reason. However, one good experience was when I went to Manchester University last year. I had a great time giving a talk about my experiences of writing queer erotic fiction. The whole thing was organised by volunteers, and I covered my own expenses, but I was aware that everyone was being very careful about it. I sold a load of books and made many new friends. I overheard one of the students later saying, ‘I thought I’d be bored by this, but now I’m really horny. I want to write something!’

  5. I have an almost entirely unrelated and largely trivial question, which I’ve wondered idly about before but it came up again because of the Playboy cover here, and you might know the answer.

    When they do those body paint costumes, how do they handle the vulva? The girl in the picture obviously isn’t wearing any actual pants, but she doesn’t seem to be sporting any painted-over labia either. Do they slap some kind of patch on it and paint over that? Or what?

  6. @Jason, it’s always great to see your name. Please don’t be a stranger!

    Thanks for chiming in; obviously lots of us are on the outside (like me) and your comment sheds a lot of light on what could be (most likely) happening here. I hate that we’re still guessing, but your comment is illuminating.

    It just sucks all around. The problem is exactly that we’re all guessing, and the CYA being done by OSU is just totally confusing and contradictory – which is why the blogosphere is going into bizarro-land about the sex issue.

    That’s why I (and I hope it came across) made the point that it can’t be about the sex – but it’s not good that OSU’s statement claims it is about Tristan’s website or profession. OSU isn’t being clear – but they *need* to be. I felt it was necessary to point out Coulter so that people could see that OSU has done far more controversial things in the past than ask a pornographer to keynote a Modern Sex event.

    I actually think this is a tremendous opportunity for OSU to pivot and make lemonade. With the amount of negative attention they’re getting over this, they could make that into a whole lot of positive attention. They could start by getting Tristan back on the schedule (it would be highly attended at this point) and ramping up the Modern Sex event to be the most talked about event of the year.

  7. Ugh. Jason’s comment is so depressing, how it seems to ring true. I’ve watched California’s public universities under financial pressure for god knows how long now. This actually makes more sense than a “direct” censoring of Taormino (though, effectively, it is an “indirect” censoring in response to expectations of perceived criticism)

  8. Ok, this is the last time/place I’m going to give a different perspective. The responses are tending towards an echo chamber with very little consideration of what’s going on at Oregon State. I’m not there, but I am related to a state university and have been at a few previously as a student. I’m seeing similar issues occur in non-sexuality contexts.

    In 2001, public university budgets were relatively stable and secure. Administrators could permit risks without putting uninvolved peoples’ jobs at risk. And if someone was laid off, there were other jobs out there.

    In 2011, public institutions have already eaten at least two rounds of at least 5% budget cuts. Those cuts affect the staff the most. At my university, staff members are doing the work of from two to five people, and many who know the rules and regs for funding in areas are gone. (The UC system is terrified right now of having to cut everyone who actually knows the laws and rules about funding with the upcoming 16% cut…) No, they didn’t plug her name into Google. They’re too busy with demands from larger groups with more money involved than this conference.

    This is what happens when you dump more work than a human can do on an already underpaid staff member.

    Also, a quick check of the Oregon State student affairs pages shows that the higher levels have changed since 2001. Indeed, the year 2001 appears in a few peoples’ hiring dates. Stories behind 2001-dated staff changes may be worth some investigation. The people involved in the 2001 decision are not the same as those in the 2011 one.

    And yes, if Hef sponsored the entire conference, THIS PROBLEM WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED IN THE FIRST PLACE. Her un-invitation is directly related to the source of funding. That others slipped through just means other screw-ups. And the rest of the “reasons” being sent now are people covering their butts and desperate to keep their jobs through the *next* round of layoffs. The story up to the latest butt-covering has been utterly believable to someone who deals with funding at a public university. My knee-jerk reaction on hearing of the un-invitation was literally “whoops, someone tried to use general funds for this.”

    The actual subject matter here (sexuality) isn’t the core issue of *this* problem. I’ve seen people have their funding cut for mentioning ultra-conservative people simply as examples. Schools are running scared and running out of money with increasing demands. The lack of funds gives political groups with strong pro-this or anti-that positions a ridiculously strong tool. And this is state-level, so it’s quite difficult to free up money by, say, not fighting wars or legalizing things that would become huge revenue sources via taxes.

    This situation sucks all the way around. I don’t know the Oregon State folks, but people in similar situations elsewhere already are horribly demoralized. I’d bet most at Oregon State aren’t feeling good about this. And with the echo-chamber-feeling response of “Oregon State bad,” I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire conference is cancelled just to make the extra work load go away.

  9. As a former student at OSU, I’m not surprised that the Student Affairs pulled the plug on this. In spite of OSU’s solid reputation as a party school, Corvallis is a small, rural-ish and very conservative town with a prolific religious community. This sounds more like community pressure than anything to do with tax dollars and state funding.

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