In a bold move that bolsters democracy and freedom of expression everywhere, South Carolina lawmakers have voted to remove $70,000 in funding from two colleges because they don't agree with LGBT themes on student reading lists.
South Carolina state House budget writers voted on Wednesday to punish the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate, both public schools. The House Ways and Means Committee budget went through full committee deliberations this week, and will undergo House floor deliberations beginning March 11, according to the budget schedule. The budget has not yet been finalized, and right now the proposals for withdrawing funds are tentative.
The amount of money being withdrawn from the colleges equals the amount each school spent on their respective reading programs. $17,142 is being withdrawn from USC Upstate over the book Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a chronicle of South Carolina's first gay and lesbian radio station that also includes stories about LGBT life in the Bible Belt.
Out Loud is still listed on the school's website as part of Preface, a program for first-year students that supplements reading with discussions on the book's themes and extra-curricular activities.
$52,000 is being withdrawn from the College of Charleston for the book Fun Home, a New York Times bestseller by Alison Bechdel, which looks at her coming out as lesbian and growing up with a closeted gay father. The book was selected as part of the College Reads! program, a campus-wide reading program.
Legislators said they were concerned that students reading the books were being subjected to only one view. One of the lawmakers who voted to remove the money, State Rep. Garry Smith, a Republican, told the Columbia State that to make a point to the colleges he had to "make it hurt."
Smith told The Post and Courier that Fun Home "graphically shows lesbian acts" and that the college was "promoting the gay and lesbian lifestyle" by choosing the book.
"I understand academic freedom, but this is not academic freedom... This was about promoting one side with no academic debate involved," Smith said.
Smith's fellow budget committee panel member, State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, did not support the budget cuts and accused her colleagues of micromanaging students. “[We] need to stop running a dictatorship forcing people to believe what we believe. This is a wide, wide world,” Cobb-Hunter said. USC Upstate officials said the decision was "disheartening," according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
The withdrawal of state funds actually punishes students the lawmakers are trying to protect, said Tammy Whaley, assistant vice chancellor for university communications at USC Upstate, which has seen a near 50 percent reduction in state funding since 2008. The College of Charleston has also responded to the controversy and say they plan to look at a much larger number of books for their next reading lists.
South Carolina universities have had a rough week. Apart from the book debacle, a University of South Carolina student piqued the interest of conservative commentators after taking offense at a social work textbook that criticized Ronald Reagan's presidency, and that says conservatives have "a basically pessimistic view of human nature."