College textbook debate heats up
In the midst of a controversy over textbooks at two state colleges, S.C. Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, offered his own opinion after seeing one of them.
“I will say that book was pornography,” he said. “I don't like the taxpayers' money used for that.”
A House committee has approved a penalty totaling $70,000 for USC Upstate and the College of Charleston – arguing the use of books with gay themes. The book at USCU is “Out Loud: the Best of Rainbow Radio.” Students at the Charleston school read “Fun Home.”
S.C. Rep. Garry Smith, the son of Roland Smith, initiated the legislative effort.
Garry Smith wanted both colleges to meet with parents and students about adjusting the programs and that the colleges “refused.” That means, he said on Thursday, that the universities “aren't interested in someone else's sensibilities, in someone else's opinions.”
At USC Aiken, “all selections are vetted by a committee composed of faculty from a variety of disciplines,” said English department chairman Dr. Tom Mack.
Garry Smith's remarks suggested that one side is being promoted without academic debate, but he “does not understand how such reading programs work,” Mack said. First-year students take a required one-hour critical inquiry course that encourages a variety of perspectives, he said.
However, Garry Smith continues to maintain that universities are pushing an agenda. His father suggested the legislature should scrutinize the colleges' responsibility to reject state funding for such material.
Dr. Bob Botsch, a USCA political science professor, readily acknowledged he had not read the books and could not comment, good or bad.
“But this is about academic freedom issues,” he said. “Once you start this, once you dictate one thing, where do you stop?”
It's often said that colleges are supposed to cover all the points, Botsch said.
“The larger challenge to students is that they explore the material critically and evaluate their positions. It's not to change their values.”
Rep. Bill Hixon, a state House member from North Augusta, said he had not heard previously about the books and had not read them.
“But I don't like what I hear,” he said. “There needs to be a consensus of the state about what they're teaching up there. I respect Garry and Roland tremendously. If there's something they don't like, I would go along with it. They're good, Christian men.”
The legislature should not seek a quick decision on this issue, said Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken.
“The administration and the staff have to decide what is good for the students,” he said. “I didn't want us to take action on that. I wanted that to be discussed with the colleges and the universities.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001.
He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.