Helen Dragas was not gaga for Gaga.
Dragas, the rector of the University of Virginia's governing board, was at the center of a controversy in June over the ouster -- and eventual reinstatement -- of the school's president, Teresa Sullivan. Several media outlets filed open records requests for copies of emails between Dragas and other UVA officials.
Included in those emails reveal an exchange where Dragas raised concern over a course, ENWR 1510, "GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender and Identity." It was one of a set of courses offered at UVA that address timely seminar-style topics.
Dragas heard about it from a blog post from The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank. According to the Washington Post, she fired off an email (PDF) to Sullivan and Provost John Simon with the subject line: “tough headline.”
The Heritage blog post, "The Lady Gaga-fication of Higher Ed," discussed UVA, the University of South Carolina, Wake Forest University, and Arizona State University offering courses on Lady Gaga's influence on pop culture. The Cavalier Daily reported in 2010 their UVA version was an introductory course to argumentative essay writing, "where students analyze how the musician pushes social boundaries with her work," and is taught by a graduate student.
Heritage's Leslie Grimard wrote about how many universities required students to study western civilization, history, U.S. government or economics. "[S]tudying the foundations of our society no longer seems to be a priority for American universities," Grimard said.
The post was written in Dec. 2011, in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street movement. "[V]illains don't always wear designer suits; sometimes, they wear tweed jackets," Grimard concluded in her post. "Maybe it's time to occupy the universities."
Dragas said in a Dec. 2011 email exchange she appreciated the core of the course could be identified, "but the title of the course and the headline of the article probably aren't helping us justify funding requests from parents, taxpayers and legislators."
She added that the University should be mindful of what others may find appropriate for course topics.
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