Harassing Academic Freedom at OSU-Mansfield

April 24, 2006
Last week, the Ohio State University at Mansfield finally dropped its sexual harassment investigation against research librarian Scott Savage, who recommended that four conservative books be added to a first-year students’ reading list. In a ridiculous misuse of sexual harassment regulations, two professors filed charges against Savage simply they considered The Marketing of Evil, one of the books he recommended, to be “homophobic tripe” and “hate literature.”
FIRE was not involved in this case because our mission limits us to representing students and faculty (Savage is a staff member). But this case is so absurd that it warrants comment.
The idea that a simple book recommendation can constitute “sexual harassment” and somehow create an unsafe working environment is patently absurd. The Supreme Court held in Harris v. Forklift Systems, 510 U.S. at 17, 21–22 (1993), that in order to establish a hostile environment claim, a plaintiff must show that
…the workplace is permeated with discriminatory behavior that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a discriminatorily hostile or abusive working environment. This standard requires an objectively hostile or abusive environment—one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive—as well as the victim’s subjective perception that the environment is abusive.
Under this standard, there is absolutely no way that Savage’s act could ever constitute sexual harassment. It is, frankly, both shocking and appalling that the university did not simply dismiss this complaint.
These actions are no real surprise; Ohio State University, a red light school, is certainly not a friend of liberty. It maintains unconstitutional speech codes that ban “offensive public conversations,” using the “terms of address such as honey, baby, chick, hunk, or dear,” and “staring at an individual or focusing on a particular area of the body” (next time you have a conversation with someone at OSU make sure not to look at him or her). All of these ridiculous Ohio State University policies and more are available on Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource.
Also, one should not overlook the negative effect that filing unsupported sexual harassment charges have on the system. The continuing abuse of sexual harassment regulations only furthers what is quickly becoming a commonly held belief that almost all such claims are without merit. Because this belief is supported by examples such as this case, a person with a legitimate claim may find that it is extraordinarily difficult to prove that actual harassment existed.
These professors should be ashamed of their actions. Universities are marketplaces of ideas where opposing viewpoints should be explored—not punished.