South Carolina legislators cut university funding over gay-themed books

February 21, 2014

South Carolina legislators are debating cutting university funding over two books with gay themes (Bruce Smith/ AP).

Members of the South Carolina House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to cut $70,000 in funding from two public colleges that assigned two books about same-sex relationships to freshmen students.

The legislators voted to cut $17,000 in funding from the University of South Carolina Upstate for assigning “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” a collection of stories first broadcast on a state radio program. The panel cut $52,000 from the College of Charleston’s budget for assigning “Fun Home,” a graphic autobiography about a young woman growing up in rural Pennsylvania. The amounts reflect the money the two universities spent purchasing the two books.

“One of the things I learned over the years is that if you want to make a point, you have to make it hurt,” state Rep. Garry Smith (R), who pushed for the cuts, told The State newspaper. “I understand academic freedom, but this is not academic freedom. … This was about promoting one side with no academic debate involved.”

The amounts legislators want to cut are relatively small parts of the two schools’ budgets. USC Upstate received about $10.3 million in state funding in 2013, according to the school’s budget office; the College of Charleston received a little over $19 million in state funding.

But the cuts are certain to spark debate over whether legislators should be meddling in academic affairs. Democrats who opposed the cuts said lawmakers who wanted to manage a university’s reading list should run for positions on the state Board of Trustees, which oversees the state’s public universities.

The College of Charleston has already expanded its reading list for incoming freshmen.

Several state senators have also complained that public universities are not following a nearly century-old law requiring schools to teach the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Harris Pastides, the president of the University of South Carolina, said the law would pose constitutional challenges: It also requires students swear a loyalty oath to the United States before receiving a college degree.

Smith, who is pushing the cuts to the two universities, has introduced a bill to modernize the law, although it has stalled in the legislature.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.
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