Saturday, April 15, 2006

Another librarian censorship/selection dispute

From Inside Higher Ed comes this tale from Ohio State University ...

Like a growing number of colleges, Ohio State University at Mansfield has decided to ask all freshmen to read a common book, in the hope of creating a more unified intellectual experience for new students. But the effort over the last month to pick a book for the next group of new students hasn’t exactly been a unifying experience. The
suggestion of one member of the book selection committee that an anti-gay book be picked angered many faculty members, some of whom have filed harassment charges against the person who nominated that book. The faculty members in turn are being accused of trying to censor a librarian — and a conservative group is threatening to sue.

Whether the debate at Mansfield is about faculty members standing up for tolerance or displaying intolerance all depends on whom you ask.

You can read the full article for the gory details, but here's the main point: a book recommended by head reference librarian Scott Savage:

As an example of a non-ideological book, Savage suggested Freakonomics. But his comments to the group against picking an ideological book struck some the wrong way. Then one committee member sent an e-mail saying that a controversial book would get more students engaged and debating. The university, he wrote, “can afford to polarize, and in fact has an obligation to, on certain issues.”

With that invitation, Savage offered his own suggestions on books that might fit the bill, including new books by Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican who is much loved by social conservatives, and by David Horowitz, the conservative gadfly who has pushed the Academic Bill of Rights, which is derided by faculty groups as taking away their rights. But the suggestion that created the furor was another one: The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom, by David Kupelian.

While the book has many targets, gay people rank high as a source of problems, with frequent implications of a gay conspiracy hurting society. Publicity material for the book blasts the gay civil-rights movement for changing “America’s former view of homosexuals as self-destructive human beings into their current status as victims and cultural heroes” and says that this transformation campaign “faithfully followed an in-depth, phased plan laid out by professional Harvard-trained marketers.”

Almost immediately, fellow panel members (and soon others at the university) not only objected to the book (which never seems to have been in serious contention for freshmen to read), but to the idea that it would be offered for consideration.

In the end, the committee selected the book The Working Poor, by David K. Shipler -- but that's not the issue. The issue involves calls to dismiss this academic librarian and charges of discrimination against GLBT students, staff and faculty, as well as the librarian's threatened lawsuit claiming discrimination against Christians. I'd be interested in what LIS569 students think of this article in light of the historical debates we've been considering.


SarahStumpf said...

I think that there are a lot of problematic things going on here.

First, I really really really don't think that a controversial political/cultural book is in any way appropriate as a mandatory freshman reading assignment since most incoming college freshman don't have the scholarly experiance or critical thinking skills to really debate it. I would guess that most who read it would just take it as fact, and not look at the sources. And a book that is condemned as unscholarly is a bad choice, no matter if it is controversial. I think that whomever suggested a controversial book and this Savage guy with his list o books are both showing spectacularly bad judgement.

Second, I think it is fishy that all the "controversial" books are very right wing. I can think of a lot of liberal books that are controversial. The fact that the librarian can only think of conservative controversial books flags my interest, but I'm thinking job performance evaluation, not a lawsuit, is what is needed here. Lets figure out if he does his job well, would he guide a student to good materials on LGBT scholarship or just more hackneed crap? That should determine it, not the court system.

Third, I think that the gay people on this campus would appreciate not being made into learning experiance guinea pigs for the entire freshman class. They can't find any books that don't single out a group and make them feel like freaks? I wouldn't want to be out on that campus. I don't think it is censorship, its just rude, divisive, and tacky. Gay people in college have enough to worry about now without being put in the middle of a campus ideological war. Pick a history book or an economics book or a fictional story. Please just leave us out of it.

Fourth, my personal opinion is that the Alliance Defense Fund is scum. For people who are not familiar with the group, they spend their time attacking gay people with the court system... and they attack hard. They're in thick as thieves with Focus on the Family and the Pat RObertson/Jerry Falwell crowd. They sue on behalf of organizations like the Salvation Army, claiming they shouldn't have to obey anti-discrimination laws in employment in states where firing based on being gay is illegal. They fought the introduction of civil unions in Vermont and civil marriage in Mass. They were huge in California with the San Francisco marriage liscenses cases. Their involvement has nothing to do with poor Mr. Savage and his horse and buggy, and everything to do with another chance to bash the homos in the name of "family values". I think that if they just kept their nose out of it, this issue would not be making news at all.

Emily Schearer said...

"Savage is a member of a conservative Quaker group known as “plain Christians.” As such, he avoids much modern technology, according to the fund, using a horse and buggy for transportation, for example. But he does use e-mail extensively for his work."

This part of the article, although very small, really struck me, because I think it fits well with our readings this week on libraries and technology. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I think it shows the importance of technology to libraries and librarians today. It is not just one part of the job, but has become integrated into all aspects of librarianship and is really hard to avoid under any circumstances.