South Carolina lawmakers OK college funding cuts over gay-themed books
South Carolina lawmakers voted Wednesday to cut $69,000 in funding to two public universities that had assigned gay-themed books as reading for incoming students.
The books are “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award, and “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” a collection of stories broadcast on a South Carolina radio show.
The University of South Carolina Upstate would lose $17,000 for assigning “Out Loud,” while the College of Charleston would lose $52,000 for assigning Bechdel’s “Fun Home,” a memoir told in graphic novel form, to incoming freshmen.
South Carolina’s the State newspaper writes, “State Rep. Garry Smith, a Greenville Republican who sits on the House’s higher education budget committee that approved the cuts, pushed punishing the College of Charleston and USC Upstate for their book choices.”
Smith told the paper, “One of the things I learned over the years is that if you want to make a point, you have to make it hurt.” He continued, “I understand academic freedom, but this is not academic freedom .... This was about promoting one side with no academic debate involved.”
College of Charleston professor Christopher Korey leads the college’s First-Year Experience, which oversees the summer reading program that included Bechdel’s book. “The [school] committee recognized the book might be controversial for a few readers, but the book asks important questions about family, identity, and the transition to adulthood,” Korey wrote in an email to the Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C. “These are important questions for all college students.”
“I’m concerned that some members of the [L]egislature believe their duties include deciding what books should and should not be taught in a college classroom .... I believe that 18-year-olds benefit directly from reading and discussing difficult topics in their courses,” Korey wrote, according to the Post and Courier.
Smith told the Post and Courier that Bechdel’s book “goes beyond the pale of academic debate,” because "[i]t graphically shows lesbian acts.” He added that the college was “promoting the gay and lesbian lifestyle.”
Bechdel is a lesbian who is open about her sexuality -- for years she authored the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.”
In a statement released by her publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bechdel said, “I’m very grateful to the people who taught my book at the College of Charleston. It was brave of them to do that given the conservative pressures they’re apparently under.”
She continued, “I made a visit to the school last fall for which they also took some flak, but to their great credit they didn’t back down. It’s sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book -- a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people’s lives.”
The funding cuts approved by the budget committee will go to the House floor for debate on March 11.
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