It is with interest that I read in the Aiken Standard that the South Carolina House of Representatives plans to financially punish our state universities for having two books about homosexuals as part of their college curriculum.

I am taken aback that only two books were unfunded. Had the legislators become more scrutinizing when reviewing the college reading lists, they may have stumbled across hints of Darwin in biology texts, paintings of nudes in art history, or even poetry by Walt Whitman. Perhaps the state could save even more taxpayer dollars had they only done a more thorough scan of what our college students are reading.

In S.C., our poverty level is ranked among the bottom 10 states in the nation, SAT scores among high school graduates rank 47th and the unemployment rate is in the bottom half of the country. Instead of focusing on issues that address our economic future, we have legislators attempting to influence viewpoints they deem different than their own.

Moreover, to accomplish their mission, they did so through a clumsy budgetary gambit that basically censored the books by denying access – always a tricky business by elected leaders for which history has been unkind. Part of the reason a democracy creates higher education with all its bothersome ideas is to create a space for discourse and studying issues that are suspect. Part of a university’s role in our society is to examine ideas and people different than us.

Aside from the censorship business, however, is the real danger. S.C. is no longer an isolated state, it competes in an international marketplace.

Our future is dependent on educating a workforce that can understand and thrive in a 21st century economy.

If our state is to improve economically, attract industries and recognize diversity as strength, we must be open to what seemingly may be different ideas. The recent behavior by lawmakers will surely reinforce impressions of a state that time has left behind.

Chip Johnson