CSUN Sex Research Center Set for Audit
Professor James Elias thinks “Porn 101” is a little too racy a title for his forthcoming volume on the San Fernando Valley’s most notorious industry.
A voluminous collection of essays on pornography, Elias wants to call it “Eroticism and the 1st Amendment,” but his publisher says the book will sell better with a less scholarly name.
They’re probably right, but Elias still prefers his title.
“ ‘Porn 101’ makes it sound like we’re teaching people how to make pornography,” he said.
That’s the problem with being a sex researcher, says the Cal State Northridge professor--people often mistake the scholarly with the prurient.
It happened when he researched adolescent sexuality for President Johnson’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. And he said it happened again in Sacramento on Tuesday when state Sen. Ray Haynes, a conservative Republican from Riverside, requested an audit of Elias’ Center for Sex Research and its 1998 World Pornography Conference.
Incensed by suggestions that the event was less an academic conference than a porn trade show on the public’s dime, the 12 members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee opened fire on CSUN for “promoting pedophilia” and unanimously ordered an audit.
State Auditor Kurt Sjoberg said a team of state investigators will visit the campus this week to review the center’s finances and examine its arrangement with CSUN.
“We want to find out if state funds--university funds--were involved directly in the center or services to support the center,” Sjoberg said. “We need to know what the university’s role is--directly or indirectly--supporting an operation like this or allowing it to use the university’s name.”
Sjoberg said his office will issue a report on the audit in September.
Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Sylmar, said the fact that university personnel wrote a news release for the pornography conference on university letterhead shows that the center may be receiving taxpayer-funded services.
CSUN spokesman John Chandler acknowledged that his office issued a university news release on the porn conference. The office also announced a prostitution conference in 1997.
“It’s been our customary practice to do news releases for a wide range of individuals and entities around the campus,” Chandler said. He declined to outline his office’s criteria for issuing such announcements.
The audit will also focus on the University Foundation, a nonprofit campus auxiliary that raises funds, disburses grants and supports research and campus activities. It handles the accounts of 31 independent campus organizations, from the Center for Ethics & Values to the Center for the Study of Leisure & Play Behavior.
Haynes and other legislators took issue with several workshops at the 1998 conference, including one that he said promoted pedophilia, and another called “The Money Shot,” which he said was a how-to course on pornography.
“There’s no nice way of saying what a money shot is in a pornography film,” Haynes said.
Elias said the Center for Sex Research operates fully within university guidelines. The center collected $31,000 last year, Elias’ records show, most of it coming from registration fees from the participants of the porn conference held last August at Universal City. According to the records, no state funds were used to support the center.
He also denied Haynes’ accusations that CSUN rendered services--copying, depositing checks, providing staff--to the center. In fact, Elias said, he paid for the Toshiba copier in his campus office with his own money.
Additional photocopies were made at a retail copying store and paid for with registration fees collected during the 1997 International Conference on Prostitution. (Elias said the prostitution conference was funded with registration fees from the center’s Congress on Transvestism and Transsexual Issues in 1995.)
Registration checks were handled by the University Foundation and staff was hired with center funds, Elias said.
Each Cal State campus has such auxiliaries, which handle essential university functions not included in California’s Education Code, such as the funding of bookstores, food services and student government organizations. These foundations also receive and disburse all government grants and provide oversight for the expenditure of such funds.
And while state universities have numerous regulations limiting their ability to accept money and use it for research and other purposes, foundations have much more flexibility, Cal State officials said.
At CSUN, organizations like Elias’ must submit a five-year charter and an annual report on their activities--conferences, seminars, publications--for review by college officials. Their finances are also reviewed by foundation administrators to make sure that they are used appropriately.
Other campus organizations with foundation accounts include the Entertainment Industry Institute, which sponsored an animation conference this year; the San Fernando Valley Research Center, which publishes reports on the fiscal health of the area; and the China Institute, which has offered exchange programs and cultural awareness seminars.
Despite the Center for Sex Research’s controversial conferences, William V. Flores, dean of the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, said Elias’ program has passed its annual reviews with flying colors.
“Some of the people in Sacramento said the conference promoted pedophilia,” he said. “That’s ridiculous. We would never do that.”
Flores said he recently turned down a qualified job candidate who wanted to teach a course on the history of pedophilia.
But Haynes said the distinction between the Cal State campuses and their nonprofit auxiliaries is still not sharp enough.
“If [the Center for Sex Research] is housed at the university, that is not acceptable,” Haynes said. “If they used the university’s name, they got a benefit from the university and the taxpayers.
“California State University has a lot of prestige and is always looking for money. The pornography industry has a lot of money and is always looking for prestige.”