Penn St. 'Sex Faire' Angers Lawmaker

ByABC News
February 28, 2001, 3:25 PM

Feb. 28 -- They say sex sells, but at Penn State University, it may be that political controversy is even more of a draw.

When a women's group at Penn State University held a sex education fair that some critics say crossed the line from educational into lurid, the presence of Rep. John Lawless at the event to shoot videotape he would use in an attack on university funding may have lured as many people as the anatomically correct gingerbread men and women.

Sex Faire, a one-day event that drew fewer than 200 students on a campus of more than 41,000, was the spark for Lawless to call for the House Appropriations Committee to hold up funding for the school. He said the Legislature should not grant Penn State's $362 million budget request until the administration takes action to make sure that events on campus do not violate community standards.

The issue raised questions of whether a university can restrict students' First Amendment rights, and of what exactly makes up the community of a university.

"I find it incredible that lawmakers would want the university to violate the constitutional rights of these students," said Robert Richards, an associate professor of journalism and law who was one of five faculty members to sign an open letter to the General Assembly. "I sat through the four hours [of the committee meeting] yesterday and what is most discouraging to me is that he [Lawless] had some supporters. He had some people who were clearly on his side."

Lawless showed four minutes of videotape culled from what he shot at the fair during a hearing Tuesday, and it drew a crowd of more than 100 people to hear lengthy questioning of the president of the university, Graham Spanier.

"I hope you're embarrassed, because I'm angered and embarrassed," Rep. Samuel Rohrer said to Spanier, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "This incident was reprehensible debauched wrong."

'Search for Truth'

The view from the campus was somewhat different. Even religious groups that objected to the message of the fair or the language in which it was expressed supported the university's decision to allow the event to be held.