Roger W. Bowen, the State University of New York president that endured much criticism for allowing a controversial women’s studies conference and the Vagina Monologues at SUNY New Paltz, has announced his retirement. Although both the university and Bowen are calling the resignation voluntary, there is intense speculation that it is related to Bowen’s role in defending the right of students and faculty to use the state university as a forum for frank discussion of controversial issues.
Governor Pataki and the SUNY board-of-trustees criticized Bowen harshly for allowing a 1997 women’s studies conference that included seminars on women’s sexuality. An independent panel sided with Bowen, warning that the imposition of limitations on academic freedom within publicly funded universities would imperil “the freedom to follow ideas to their conclusion and invite into the institution a wide range of perspectives for consideration and debate.” The controversy was rekindled last year when Bowen approved a performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” a well-known feminist play, on the campus.
The American Association of University Professors has recognized Bowen as a defender of academic freedom and free speech, calling him “an emblematic figure in that conflict.” He leaves SUNY New Paltz to become the president of the Milwaukee Public Museum.