Last week, South Carolina state senator Brad Hutto led an hours-long filibuster to prevent punitive budget cuts against two colleges that had incorporated LGBT-themed books into elective reading programs. Hutto has hinted a compromise is in the works to try to preserve the budgets of the affected schools.
The budget cuts specifically affect two schools: College of Charleston, which had used Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home in a voluntary summer reading program for incoming freshman, and the University of South Carolina Upstate, which had used Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio for a similar program. Neither school required students to read the books.
The South Carolina House of Representatives passed the punitive budget, which was sent to the Senate for approval. CBLDF joined a coalition of free speech advocates to urge the South Carolina Senate to reject the budget cuts, and the Senate Finance Committee rightly rejected the proposed cuts. However, the full Senate continues to debate the budget. If the proposed budget passes the Senate, both schools would see budget cuts exactly equivalent to what they were given for the reading programs.
Hutto’s compromise would require the availability of an alternative reading assignment, and he maintains that it would not allow South Carolina’s General Assembly to dictate which books are assigned. However, based on the available reports, Hutto’s compromise may be one-sided: There seems to be general consensus that the vote on the cuts will be close.
The issue is further complicated by Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell’s appointment to the presidency of College of Charleston. In the event of a tie, McConnell would normally place the tie-breaking vote. However, he has indicated he would recuse himself from such a vote. McConnell doesn’t support the cuts, and his abstention would ultimately have the same result as casting an oppositional vote would. The budget cuts would not pass in the event of a tie.
Diane Knich and Jeremy Borden with Charleston’s The Post and Courier shared McConnell’s comments on the budget cuts:
“It is terrible public policy to put financial penalties on people because you disagree with them,” [McConnell] said. It also tramples on free speech and academic freedom, he said. College of Charleston professors now have the benefit, he said, of seeing the reaction to a controversial choice.
“I don’t think it’s my role to tell college professors what to teach, that’s academic freedom,” he said. “They need to ask themselves, ‘is it worth it? And if it’s worth it, be prepared to defend it.” He added: “It certainly wouldn’t be my book of choice . but I’m not on the committee and that’s not my job.”
The Senate did not vote last week and did not convene today, so the debate continues. We’ll post an update as soon as more information is available.
Previously on CBLDF: