By Sandra Emerson at The Sun
YUCAIPA >> A recently protested English course on graphic novels at Crafton Hills College will not have a disclaimer in the fall, after all.
In June, campus President Cheryl A. Marshall said professor Ryan Bartlett had agreed to place a disclaimer on his English 250 course following complaints from a student and her parents that the books contained “pornographic” and “violent” material.
Campus spokeswoman Donna Hoffman said in an email Tuesday that the disclaimer was never required or mandated.
“It seemed like the correct response at the time but, upon further reflection, Ryan Bartlett has decided not to include the disclaimer on his course,” Hoffman said.
Marshall fully supports his decision, Hoffman said.
“We all had a desire to try to work with the student and come up with a solution, but including a disclaimer is not the answer,” Marshall said in a written statement in Hoffman’s email. “Crafton Hills College strives to engage our students in discussions around contemporary, and sometimes controversial, issues. We want them to learn, grow and share their views with others who are here to be academically challenged.”
Tara Shultz, 20 of Yucaipa and her father, Greg Shultz met with college administrators to discuss four of the books taught in the class, which include nudity, sex, violence, torture and profanity.
The books they found offensive were “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel; “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi; “Y: The Last Man Vol. 1” by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra and “The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House” by Neil Gaiman.
Tara Shultz, who is working toward an associate’s degree in English, said in an interview in June that she did not believe the books should be taught in a college English course.
“I will take whatever means necessary to counter family disruption in all of its forms,” Greg Shultz said Tuesday.
Bartlett said by email Wednesday that “College is supposed to be a place where students can have real exchanges about sometimes difficult topics.”
“An English major will have to read works in the literary canon (for example Shakespeare, Chaucer and the Bible) which include similar issues present in the chosen graphic novels. If we put a disclaimer on this course, then we should put a disclaimer on all literature courses, and I do not feel comfortable going down that slippery slope,” he said.
The disclaimer has attracted the attention of advocates of free speech and the comic book industry nationwide.
The National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter to the college opposing the disclaimer, which was supported by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, American Booksellers for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, American Association of University Professors, National Council of Teachers of English and PEN American Center.
In the letter, the organization urged the college not to “set a dangerous precedent by adopting a general warning or disclaimer for this or any other course.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, also sent a letter to the college about the dangers of “trigger warnings,” on college syllabi.
“We’re pleased to see the administration at Crafton Hills College upholding the right to academic freedom for their students and faculty,” Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, said in an email Wednesday. “We commend them for thoroughly considering the issue, and affirming their respect for the professional judgment of their faculty and the agency of their students in the selection of course materials.”
San Bernardino Community College District Chancellor Bruce Baron said he supports the decision to drop the disclaimer.
Baron said after further consideration of the disclaimer, they felt it was inappropriate for the administration to be telling the faculty what should and should not have a disclaimer.
“It really put the administration in a position of dictating academic standards and I think it would have been inappropriate and a violation of academic freedom,” he said. “If a professor voluntarily wants to do that, that is their choice and that’s fine, but it’s not the role of the administration to censor or in any way tell a faculty member how he should teach his class.”
Baron, who said he went to Barnes and Noble to look at the graphic novels in question, said he understands where Greg Shultz is coming from and he knows certain people are offended by certain content.
“Probably some people are offended by Oedipus and Shakespeare, which have violence and incest and different topics that are controversial,” Baron said. “Some people still won’t read Tom Sawyer and don’t want to be in a class that teaches it. This is the modern way of communicating. Graphic novels are popular and these are some award winning and major works so we teach them as we would any other piece of literature.”