The Associate Press reports that today, the South Carolina Senate Finance Committee voted to reject a budget plan 11-7 that would cut $17,162 from the University of South Carolina and $52,000 from the College of Charleston. Why do I suddenly care about South Carolina politics, you ask? Well, the budgets were supposed to serve as punishments to the two schools for two of the books on their summer reading lists.
The issue began in February, when it came to public attention that Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and Ed Madden's Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio were both on the summer reading reading curriculum. Fun Home is a graphic memoir focusing on Bechdel's upbringing in Pennsylvania. The story pays close attention to Bechdel's relationship with her father, as well as detailing her understanding and exploration of sexual identity and gender roles. Out Loud is a collborative project between Madden and Candace Chellew-Hodge. It details Madden's work for Rainbow Radio: The REAL Gay Agenda, Madden's LGBT focused, weekly radio broadcast. Rainbow Radio is the first LGBT radio show in South Carolina.
The budget plans drew heavy criticism back in March from both the Comic Book League Defense Fund and the South Carolina ACLU chapter. In a letter penned to the South Carolina Senate, the organizations warned that "“Penalizing state educational institutions financially simply because members of the legislature disapprove of specific elements of the educational program is educationally unsound and constitutionally suspect: it threatens academic freedom and the quality of education in the state, and could well expose the state to potential liability on First Amendment grounds."
While the budget has been struck down for now, the full Senate takes up the full stage budget next week, and the issue is likely to resurface. Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler has voiced his support for the budget, and State Sen. Larry Grooms warned “If lessons weren’t learned over there, the Senate may speak a little bit louder than the House. There would be a number of members in the Senate that would have a great interest in fixing the deficiencies at the College of Charleston.”
However, not all conservatives in the South Carolina senate support the budget. Senate President Pro Tem John Courson (R), told the AP that he doesn't think the government should be micromanging curriculums. He said, "I think that should be up to the presidents of the institution and the board of trustees which the General Assembly elects."
Bechdel reacted to the controversy by bringing the Off-Broadway Production of Fun Home to the College of Charleston for two performances.