From the New York Times:
Although the troubles have intensified this semester, they began when the college announced “Fun Home,” a memoir with themes that include sexual orientation, as the selection for a voluntary book experience last fall. For $52,000, the college bought thousands of copies of the book to distribute and arranged for its author, Alison Bechdel, to speak here.
But the selection angered religious conservatives. The Palmetto Family Council condemned the work as “pornographic,” a characterization its author disputes, and a state legislator, Garry R. Smith, ultimately led an effort to cut the college’s state budget allocation by $52,000. (Mr. Smith also targeted the University of South Carolina Upstate for a smaller reduction because of a different book selection.)
“Fun Home” is a critically-praised memoir by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel, which has also been made into a successful off-Broadway musical. In response to the controversy, the cast of the musical reunited for two performances in Charleston. But Republicans in South Carolina don’t believe that anyone should put on a play they don’t approve of:
Monday night’s staging of “Fun Home” — which was held off campus but hosted by the college — ratcheted up the confrontation further. Bright and several other state legislators said they viewed the event as a deliberate provocation and said they would seek to cut more funds from the school as a result. The earlier cuts, which were approved by the state House, are still under consideration by the state’s Senate.
Needless to say, this is anti-gay bigotry. And this is censorship. And this is the modern GOP.
Is that the same Bechdel as in “the Bechdel test?”
It is! (Though she always notes, when the name comes up, that it was a friend of hers who said it; she’s the one who drew the comic of it, though.)
Sure – just like Progressives don’t believe that Brendan Eich should develop software if he holds beliefs they don’t approve of.
Fair enough. But among progressives, there’s been a lot of pushback and debate about Eich from within the pro-SSM community, including from the leading pro-SSM blogs like Box Turtle Bulletin and Andrew Sullivan. I’ve seen a couple of conservatives object to what’s going on in South Carolina, but there has not been any significant pushback from within the Conservative movement, that I’m aware of.
1. Looking at various news reports, there is some validity to the claim that this book diverges from the other books selected for the program, and not just because of its LGBT content:
– it does not seem to be such a “voluntary” experience – the list is backed by book-related activities, and seems to be expected reading.
– it’s a graphic novel, and the program until now seems to have stressed conventional literary works.
– a good number of the other selections are histories, memoirs, or works with a clearer, broader “scholarly” context… I suppose this feeds into a larger discussion about the validity of “identity studies” – in which debate I probably side with those who think college kids are getting too much navel-gazing, and not enough skill acquisition.
2. More on Eich and liberal in-tolerance:
OK – but there’s a difference in order-of-magnitude – or rather, degree-of-separation – between the two.
In this case, left-leaning folks are protesting what looks like a call for direct censorship of LBGT-themed material – but many of them tacitly support the hounding of people like Eich whose “offense” is completely removed from the function Mozilla was paying him for (and there was no evidence of actual discrimination against employees).
No offensive book, policy, or action triggered the Eich hatefest – leftie intolerance extended to the personal opinions of a private citizen.
There is no parallel for this kind of witch hunt coming from the political (vs. the religious) right – which generally embraces the classical “answer speech with speech” approach.
After what happened to Eich and others, this well-intentioned conservative – and many others I know – will no longer jump to denounce religious conservatives who assert their values in a way lefties consider “oppressive”…. as in this case.
Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
It’s the left that has legitimized de-legitimization
It’s the left that built in-tolerance into its identity-driven redefinition of “tolerance”.
Yes I read your post about Eich…. I’m sorry to confirm your fears about losing goodwill, but…
This is false. Google “fired for bumper sticker” or “fired for union” or “fired for political views”. What happened to this CEO happens to lower level workers with some regularity.
It’s a “book of the year” type program — the college picks a book, and then they have various talks and other activities throughout the year related to it. No one is required to read the book, or attend the activities. My college did something similar, and not that many people read any of the books.
Why is any of this relevant, David? Does any of this make censorship okay? If not, what makes it relevant to bring up?
That was true in previous years, as well. The book-related activities are voluntary. It is required reading in some classes, but you can always avoid signing up for those classes.
Plus, who cares? If the book is “expected” reading, does that excuse censorship? Apparently you think so.
And therefore censorship is okay? And if that’s not what you’re saying, why bring this up?
“Fun Home” is a memoir.
Unless you assume that any memoir that isn’t about a white straight man is “identity studies,” I don’t see why this memoir would be “identity studies,” whatever that means, more than any other memoir.
And even if it is “identity studies,” how does that justify censorship?
Either you’re saying these differences justify censorship, in which case you’re wrong, or you’re just bringing up completely irrelevant details. Yes, of course there are ways “Fun Home” is different from other books – all books are different from all other books in some ways, or else they’d be the same book. But none of those differences make censorship okay.
Yes, but it goes in the other direction. The government trying to crush free speech in universities is simply a worse, much more to be feared problem than civilians speaking out against a CEO they don’t like.
As I’ve said over and over, we should be concerned when economic punishment is used as a reprisal for political opinions. But at the same time, free speech is not a guarantee of freedom from criticism. Everyone who has criticized Eich, or even who has said Eich deserved to be fired, had a free speech right to say that. Although I think OKCupid calling for him to lose his job was the wrong thing to do, for reasons I’ve already written about, Eich has no right to not be criticized.
In contrast, I’m pretty sure what the South Carolina legislature is trying to do to “Fun Home” is actually unconstitutional. You can’t have free speech in a system in which the legislature doles out punishment against colleges for speech the legislature dislikes. And professors DO have a free speech right to choose reading for their students without threat of reprisal from the Government.
Why should what happens in one case change your mind on a different case? That sounds very unprincipled.
It’s a pretty simple binary, Ben David. People who are genuinely for free speech, defend free speech, period. It doesn’t matter how many right-wingers are opposed to free speech (and many of them are) – I will always support free speech for everyone.
If your support of free speech is conditional on the politics of the person being censored – and what you wrote certainly implies that your support is conditional – then you don’t support free speech at all.
You have this entirely backwards. The religious conservatives who are in a tizzy over this aren’t “answering speech with speech.” They are using the force of the government to punish the school for teaching the book.
The left-wingers who are in a tizzy over Brandon Eich are the ones “answering speech with speech.” I disagree with some of that speech, but they are not using the force of the government to violate the free speech rights of others.
They’re trolling. They spent $52k and the book retails on Amazon for $8.44, so that’s a minimum of 6161 copies for an institution with only 9900 undergrads. They basically carpet bombed the place with a lesbian coming of age memoir/comic book by a woman mainly famous for moaning about 80s action films. I bet they’re delighted with the reaction.
This is nothing to do with censorship. It’s a crazy and deliberately provocative extra-curricular spending decision. They deserve a kicking.
I checked, the committee includes students and administrators, they’re not faculty and don’t have academic freedom.
Amazing how quick the conservatives here are to make excuses for censorship, isn’t it? I’ll remember this the next time either Ben David or Abbe Faria claims to be against censorship or for free speech.
Abbe, a committee consisting of students, administrators, staff, and faculty choose the books to be read. They do so as part of an official College program; you’re dreaming if you think that academic freedom doesn’t apply.
They spent $52k not only on the book, but also on whatever employee costs they have, administrative costs they have (you can’t distribute 2500 copies of a book to 2500 specific list of individuals for free), plus the costs of at least nine associated events, including bringing Bechdel herself in to speak. In any case, if the legislature believes that someone is embezzling, it’s well within their power to arrange to have a forensic accountant look at the books. My bet, however, is that it’s all on the up-and-up, and you just underestimate how much these things cost.
“…by a woman mainly famous for moaning about 80s action films…”
Maybe you should try reading something that isn’t a blog once in a while? From Fun Home’s Wikipedia entry:
No doubt another example of Stigler’s Law, Harlequin.
Agreed, Amp. Good post.
Yeah, but those are all liberal sources, so they don’t count.
Chris (comment 9) – I specifically differentiated between the political/libertarian right and the religious right.
Basic thrust of Amp’s reply to me:
1. Not really – but I’m still operating under the moral code of classical Western (small-L) liberalism…. which the Left has abandoned in the Age of Eich.
2. Not really – but it does indicate that the choice was provocative, and that it’s realistic to question its political motives and educational value – and to expect objection when you “shock the bourgeois”…. which leads to:
3. In the post-Eich era expect many to see this less as a straight censorship issue, and more as another case of lefties playing upon Western rules that they don’t adhere to themselves to promote their agenda…
What if the book selected was the memoir of an unrepentant KKK leader?
Is there any doubt that there would be huge outcry and demands that the legislature step in to disband the body that made such a decision, and heavy pressure to drop the book – now, in the Age of Eich – when even Ayaan Hirsi Ali is “controverial” on campuses infused with political correctness, and phony hate crimes are accepted by the Left as “fake but accurate”?
I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the left-leaning folk who’d consider a KKK memoir an “edgy” choice that “challenges community assumptions”.
See – there’s that word: community.
As in: the people paying for this book fest (according to recent news reports, I’d be deemed a raaaaacist if I said fiesta instead of fest…).
Sorry – gotta expect pushback when you go edgy. And money talks – freedom of the press requires a press.
Sorry – get ready lefties, for more pushback in the Age of Eich, when more people doubt the purity of your motives – or your commitment to the liberal Western social fabric.
Then comes this fascinating bit:
But you know as well as I that the post-60s Left created the whole notion of “identity studies” that explicitly excludes “white straight men” and brands them as others and oppressors….. and now, by an astounding inversion/projection – you actually hope to get away with blaming conservatives for the racial balkanization of “identity” on campus?
Yowzers you’ve got chutzpah.
Moral relativism comes home to roost.
As an Israeli, I’ve been told “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”.
Well, in the Age of Eich – one man’s censorship is another’s “protection of Western values” or “creation of safe space”.
(In Hebrew there’s a lovely phrase lifted from some Yiddish dialects: HaKozak HaNigzal – the marauding Kossack who complains he’s been robbed…)
In the Age of Eich, fewer and fewer people accept the Left’s purity of motives. Fewer and fewer accept at face value the claims of PC victimhood. More and more see the Left’s selective, agenda-driven embrace of liberal principal.
Let the LGBT activists use their own money to promote the book. Now that the Left itself has weakened liberal principals, let ’em duke it out with the legislature…. This Westerner is gonna sit on his hands from now on….
You’re trolling, right? You can’t possibly think that students aren’t due some measure of academic freedom–especially when they are participating in shared governance on their college campuses by getting involved in campus-wide committees.
Ben David, stop trying to make “The Age of Eich” happen. It’s not going to happen.
Yes, and as we all know, before the ’60s left created identity politics to use as a hammer against the white man, America was a Candy Land of racial harmony where no one was segregated against based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.
If only anyone on the left appreciated the unprecedented oppression faced by wealthy Internet CEOs who have had to deal with being discriminated against by people who refuse to do business with their extremely successful companies.
Chris desperately spins a safe-but-totally-irrelevant straw-man argument:
But hey – thanks for at least admitting that the Left created identity politics – which is less than Amp did.
Ben, it’s not a strawman argument, it’s the logical extension of your assertion that the left “created” identity politics (an assertion I did not “admit,” but was clearly satirizing). The notion that the left created identity politics ignores the history of oppression which made identity politics necessary.
If you would, would you define what you mean by identity politics? Thanks.
That is NOT identity politics – but an demand for equality based on Judeo-Christian notions of human brotherhood.
That IS identity politics –
1. Asserting that what previously was thought should not matter actually matters – and always will – in order to perpetuate divisiveness and grievance.
2. Replacing the Judeo-Christian West’s unifying notion of humanity with a divisive, material one, more in line with Left-wing theory.
3. Replacing the notion of equality that flowed from Judeo-Christian humanism with the Orwellian assertion that only special treatment is “equal” – an irrational construction that allows perpetual, and mutually contradictory, claims of victimhood.
Since this started with Chris’ sarcasm about “the good old days” – we are now at a point where feminists and others steeped in leftie identity politics are spray-painting their own front doors, and creating false hate crimes to perpetuate the system of grievance.
Could Chris please explain how left-wing identity politics has led to an upsurge of Peace, Luv, and Understanding compared to the Bad Old Days when Judeo Christian equality was the (slowly, imperfectly realized) goal?
Other than my vehement disagreement with just about everything Ben David wrote in comment 22, my strongest feelings come from his repetition of “Judeo-Christian” when referencing philosophy, morality and equality. My experience of Judaism has nothing in common with these so-called “Judeo-Christian” values. I think of them more as “American Protestant” values. The “Judeo” in “Judeo-Christian” just doesn’t exist.
Yes, Ben David, because as we all know, that was the only speech MLK Jr. ever made. He certainly never favored affirmative action, reparations, redistribution of wealth, universal healthcare, or anything else the left favors today.
And yes, this is all sarcasm, but that’s really all I can muster against trolls who like to derail every discussion by trying to get people to defend the entire history of left-wing politics.
Your entire argument is essentially “this instance of censorship doesn’t matter because the left sucks anyway.” It’s not a serious argument, so it’s not worth engaging in a serious way.
I truly am not seeing the logic in the idea that some people faked hate crimes, therefore it’s OK to censor books with gay themes.How can one get from the first clause to the second without a major leap?
Are you trying to convince me that any reasonable chunk of $52k would not buy a lot of books? I also fail to see how not being given a blank check for $52k to spend on the book of your choice is censorship.
I make this point because there is is an enormous difference between how this is presented. Assigning the novel – placing the book on a reading list in feminism 101 and buying a couple of dozen copies for the library – seems perfectly legitimate. Funding mass distribution because enough social justice warriors got on the right committee is eccentric.
Phil – I don’t agree with you on the scope of academic freedom. Students do not have academic freedom – for example, they can be expelled for failing exams. Governance is not academic – for example, football coaches, housing admin, janitorial supervisors etc cannot claim academic freedom as an excuse for budget mismanagement.
You might want to reread the 1940 statement of principles which quite properly restricts academic freedom to faculty in teaching and research.
The point is the program – and public money – got highjacked by a bunch of of politically motivate people to propangandise their views.
Ampersand can throw around slurs like ‘anti-gay bigotry’ and you can accuse opponents of wishing to censor books with gay themes. But the fact remains this would be improper whoever did it, and I think your support is perhaps co-incidental on your agreement with their choice.
Let’s have a look at some of the other Amazon.com books of the year. Do you think no members of the GOP would object if democrats got the majority, and funded The Audacity of Hope instead? Or geeks bombarded everyone with World War Z? Or how about the 9/11 report or The Looming Tower, would they be non-controversial? Or maybe everyone would be happy with cookery or ornithology books? Or how about the climate change book? Or any other of the equally trendy middlebrow literary experiments? Do you think there’s any selection you would be uncomfortable with?
So my takeaway from this is that conservatives don’t think people should be allowed to make free economic decisions (as in the Brendan Eich matter), but believe that the government should be able to economically punish universities for expressing views they disagree with.
That’s their commitment to free speech, boys and girls. There it is.
The implication that MLK did not believe that Race Mattered because he dreamed of a day when it wouldn’t is just so fantastically ridiculous. The idea that Justice Sotomayor does not dream of a day when race will not matter is obscene. It seems that dreaming of a day is the only thing people of color are allowed to do to fight or acknowledge racism without stepping out of line in the eyes of conservatives.
Let’s fill in the gaps in Ben David’s ellipsis as well:
To claim that that is a fundamentally opposing position to MLK’s position is absurd.
The fundamentally absurd position on what MLK advocated for (and said) is one of the foundations of modern conservatism, Charles. Sometimes it’s far too tiring to mock and laugh at it, so I’m glad you were up to it today.
Thanks. Weirdly, the fact that I’m already really tired helped.
Ron, a serious question about evidence:
Are you set in the position that “it is reasonable to believe that in-person voting fraud is a widescale problem,” such that you can’t ever change your mind on it?
If the answer is “no, I’m not, I could change my mind,” let me ask you: What evidence would you have to see for you to conclude that it is not reasonable to believe that in-person voting fraud is a widescale problem?
It’s important to note that the document you link to is about academic freedom and tenure and, as such, is not intended to address the question of academic freedom for student. Nonetheless, the document contains the following statement:
In other words, the AAUP clearly sees a connection between the academic freedoms of faculty and students. This document, also on the AAUP website, gives a much fuller treatment of the organization’s position regarding student academic freedom. Here is the first section that deals explicitly with student academic freedom:
The document then goes on to discuss the legal status of student academic freedom, which it says is far from clear in terms of settled law, but clearly the notion that students are entitled to some form of academic freedom is central to the concept as understood by AAUP.
Thanks for your response.
I must confess, though, that I don’t see much difference—in terms of whether or not to call them identity politics—between an identity politics that privileges so-called “Judeo-Christian” heritage and values over and against other heritages and values, implying that the experiences of those from those other heritages are somehow “less,” and one that privileges the notion that identities and experiences are diverse, that this diversity includes different kinds of relationships to power, and that this difference matters in understanding first how and why the world is organized the way it is and, second, how we might go about changing that organization for the betterment of everyone.
That these kinds of identity politics are different, of course, is obvious, and we can debate those differences from here until eternity. I just think that calling the latter one identity politics and suggesting it was invented by the left is more of a diversionary tactic than an actual argument.
(I would also add, though this is perhaps a slightly different point, that the conservative and then orthodox Jewish education I received in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s—from people, especially the orthodox ones, who were in no way “lefties”—fits in many ways that pejorative definition of identity politics that you give.)
The point is the program – and public money – got highjacked by a bunch of of politically motivate people to propangandise their views.
It would be interesting to see any evidence for this point, since you’ve offered none so far except that you’ve never heard of Alison Bechdel outside of the “Bechdel test” and don’t know a thing about Fun Home except that it mentions teh gayz in a vaguely positive way.
This might be veering too far off-topic, but it struck me as I was reading through this thread (lurk-style), so I thought I’d mention it:
It is actually fairly reasonable to assume that the school spent more money on these books than the couple hundred dollars it would take to stock the library with a handful of copies. In my experience, that’s something a high school is more likely to do than a university; students at the university I attended were expected to get their hands on required reading for their classes on their own, so few if any library copies were provided there, but when it came to optional reading that the school wanted to promote, students were provided individual copies free of charge, with no expectation that they would be returned. Otherwise, how many college students are going to read an optional book they have to pay for out of their own pocket, or at best, schlep to the library to peruse?
The university I attended picked one book every year to send to incoming freshmen and encouraged them to read the book over summer and attend author lectures and discussions of the book once they arrived on campus for start of term. My particular incoming class was a little over 4,000, and the book was The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan — which is a nonfiction book concerned with food ecology, environmental preservation, and trying to persuade the reader to eat organic, local produce. (I assume. I couldn’t get much past Part I. Maybe he gets all the way to global warming or the evils of GMOs by Part IV, I don’t know.) The author is a pop science writer who produces a new book in a similar vein every 2 years or so. I would not say this book has any particular literary merit, and it’s certainly got a liberal slant to it.
Nevertheless, the university purchased a brand-new trade paperback copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma for every student of the class of incoming freshmen and mailed them to the student’s home address some time during July. That includes students whose home address was on the opposite end of the country; I don’t know if they mailed them to international students.
Assuming the books cost them the same as Barnes and Noble’s current list price — which I would not assume in reality, actually, because that was several years ago and the reprint is much cheaper now; then again, they might have gotten a bulk discount — that’s 4,000 x $9.88, or just under $40,000 for the books alone. Add to that the cost of mailing them by USPS to 4,000 households all over the country, and I imagine my school spent much more money on their welcome gift to new freshmen than $52,000.
Judging by the linked article, this arrangement was the one used by the College of Charleston, as well.
I only have the model of my own college experience to draw on, but this seems to be pretty par for the course. I would be surprised if a school expected distracted, cash-strapped 18- and 19-year-olds to read a book that wasn’t required of them unless it was figuratively shoved in their faces.
I imagine this whole controversy got a whole lot more students to read the book than would have read it otherwise. Kind of reminds me of the time in high school when our AP English teacher wanted to assign an ancient Greek play (I think it was The Frogs), and the only way to buy it in school editions at the time was as part of a collection that also included Lysistrata. Someone on the school board objected to Lysistrata, and approved The Frogs only on the condition that, when he handed out the books, the teacher told us that we weren’t supposed to read Lysistrata. The teacher, seeing a great opportunity to get us to read two Greek classics, rather than just one, readily agreed, with the predictable result. (I have no idea why the school board objected to Lysistrata, where none of us could really understand most of the sex references anyway, but didn’t object to Brave New World or Gulliver’s Travels or any of the several other books in the curriculum with sexual scenes that we understood completely.)
Hey RJM – sorry it took me a while to repond. You wrote:
I read this as a pretty “pareve” restatement of the “multicultural” plank of the the modern left-wing litany. It sounds all nice and cuddly – but it’s basically a one-sided attack on the Judeo-Christian West, holding that culture to be uniquely unworthy of celebrating itself – despite the considerable achievements of that culture compared to the more brutal and clannish cultures that are now to be equated with it.
(Oooooh there I go making “value judgements” . Yep.)
In the left-wing universe, it is always, only the Judeo-Christian West that has to “check its privilege” and negate itself. No other culture is called upon to learn from – and accommodate – the “heritage and values” of other cultures. The most glaring example of this double-standard right now is the blind spot of lefties to Islamic misogyny and tyranny.
Sorry – I don’t buy into the notion that the Judeo-Christian West represents a uniquely evil or unequal set of “values” – or that its story represents a “heritage” of oppression.
In fact, the leftie call for (one-way) “tolerance” is based on the ideal of a free and egalitarian society that is unique to Western culture – and flows directly and uniquely from Jewish teaching on monotheism and free will. It’s an attempt to use the West’s greatest ideas against itself, to undermine the free, equal West.
So I don’t see why Western universities cannot “privilege” promotion of our own culture, heritage and values. In fact, this is common sense and what all other cultures do to transmit their cultural heritage and values…. and Western freedom includes the freedom of all those other cultures to promote themselves – on their time, on their dime.
Again: the starting point – hidden behind the multiculti-pluralism palaver – is the tacit assumption that Judeo-Christian Western culture is uniquely unworthy, uniquely obligated to negate itself before other cultures…. cultures which have done far less to free people (or even to feed them!) than the West has.
Now it’s my turn to apologize for taking so long to respond. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time, since it is the end of the semester and I am up to my neck in grading and other such things, so I will just point out this. You wrote:
I will simply point out that I never said such a thing, and I will tell you, having lived abroad and having been quite intimately involved with cultures that are not part of “the Judeo-Christian West,” I do not believe such a thing. I do not think this is an either/or situation. We have plenty to learn—and, in fact, have learned plenty—from other cultures, just as there is much they can learn from us. As usual, though, the devil is in the details, and, as I said, I don’t really have the time to argue them now.