By now, Torch readers know about the budget controversy in South Carolina, where some state legislators are trying to reduce the annual budgets of the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate by the amount of money each school spent on required reading programs that included books on LGBT topics ($52,000 and approximately $17,000, respectively). Proponents of these cuts have publicly stated that the decreases are due to the LGBT content in the reading program curriculums: Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s award-winning autobiographical account of growing up as a lesbian in rural Pennsylvania, and Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a nonfiction account of South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio show.
To date, legislative amendments aimed at restoring the funding have failed. So yesterday, FIRE wrote to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (PDF) to urge her to ensure that state lawmakers do not punish state institutions for their choice of curriculum. As we wrote in our letter:
Legislative intrusions into faculty decision-making such as that presented here plainly violate the basic precepts of academic freedom. As the Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly made clear in rulings spanning decades, academic freedom is protected by the First Amendment, which is fully binding on public institutions of higher education—and, of course, state governments. Punishing South Carolina’s public colleges for pedagogical choices made by faculty members, as the proposed budget does, is a clear violation of this fundamental constitutional right and of freedom of expression more generally.
FIRE opposes attempts by elected officials to stifle discussion at public universities by threatening their funding when they assign texts or spark conversations that the officials dislike. We hope that with your leadership, South Carolina’s elected officials will recognize the tremendous benefits our society has gained from affording our institutions of higher education independence and academic freedom. That this freedom may sometimes result in consideration of ideas that politicians oppose is inevitable—but in our free society, we must answer ideas we dislike through open debate and discussion, not threats and coercion from those in power.
FIRE sincerely hopes lawmakers in South Carolina abandon this unconstitutional infringement on academic freedom, and that Governor Haley will take decisive action if that hope is not met. As always, keep checking back with us for updates as this issue unfolds.
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