- Associated Press - Thursday, April 17, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Attempts by state legislators to cut university funding over plays and books which they believe promote homosexuality are causing a backlash on South Carolina campuses.

University of South Carolina Upstate and College of Charleston could lose $17,162 and $52,000 respectively if the House’s proposed cuts pass the Senate for listing books with gay themes in their freshmen recommended reading programs.

Lawmakers are specifically seeking to punish USC Upstate for assigning a book on South Carolina’s first gay radio show while CofC likewise has angered conservatives for listing Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.” The 2014 Pulitzer finalist and graphic memoir recounts Bechdel’s childhood of growing up as lesbian with a closeted gay father.

Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, pushed for the cuts. He said making a point requires impacting colleges financially.

“I understand diversity and academic freedom,” Smith said in February, after the House budget-writing committee approved his proposal. “This is purely promotion of a lifestyle with no academic debate.”

Whether the Senate will agree is unclear. The Senate Finance Committee will finish work on its budget proposal after next week’s legislative breaks.

In spite of the threatened cuts, CofC will host two performances on Monday of musical numbers from the theatrical adaption of “Fun Home,” without using state funds.

College spokesman Mike Robertson said the upcoming performances of “Fun Home” originated after the New York cast heard about CofC’s trouble with lawmakers over funding the university’s “College Speaks!” program.

Robertson said the performances will be a great opportunity for students and the Charleston community to see a Broadway performance with Tony Award nominees.

A satirical play entitled “How to Become a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less” was cancelled last week at USC Upstate after Republican Sens. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, and Mike Fair, R-Greenville, voted against the reappointment of USC’s board of trustees because of the performance.

Bright said he and his colleagues want more scrutiny and oversight over what goes on at South Carolina’s public universities.

“We want to make sure that there isn’t an attempt at indoctrination and that’s what it appears from the outside,” Bright said.

Bright pointed to USC’s Condom Fashion Show and 2008 hosting of former Weather Underground militant, Bill Ayers, as reasons for not voting for the reappointment of USC’s board of trustees. USC’s liberal culture does not reflect the beliefs of the average taxpaying South Carolinian, he said.

As for Bechdel’s memoir, Bright said it is a “pornographic cartoon book” whose images he believed were not even allowed to be displayed during the House budget debate because of decorum.

“I have businesses right now in Greenville and Spartanburg telling me that they have to go out of state to find engineers. We don’t have the workforce that we need,” the senator added. “Why would we spend public dollars on homosexual indoctrination when we are not producing the graduates that we need in this state is something I think we need to address.”

In response, an online petition asking Fair and Smith to “be better politicians in 10 days or less” has been started by 2013 graduate student Cody Owens.

“Assigning a book is not promoting a lifestyle,” Owens told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. “Debate and discussion is far better than silence.”

Other USC Upstate students called the moves censorship, and they stayed silent or wore black Thursday in protest.

Student organizer Marnique Tompkins said the ignoring of student voices reflects the current debate between the universities and legislators.

“There haven’t really been any student voices in the media and that’s really the most important aspect of it,” Tompkins said. “Cause if we weren’t here, there wouldn’t be having a conversation about this.”

A rally is planned for Monday to hear students’ concerns said Tompkins who co-founded “Stand Proudly. Everyone is Allowed Knowledge” (SPEAK) in response to the proposed cuts.

Tompkins said SPEAK is the initiative by students following a classroom discussion last Thursday over the proposed cuts. It stands for protecting academic freedom and campus diversity, she said.

“There should be no limitations on our learning,” Tompkins said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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