The following editorials appeared recently in S.C. newspapers:
Keep lawmakers out of college classrooms
Funding the state’s universities shouldn’t be based on a personal agenda. But that sensibility was apparently lost on S.C. Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, who is pushing for funding cuts to two colleges based on their book selections for the freshmen reading experience.
Members of the S.C. House’s Ways and Mean Committee, the budget-writing committee for the House, approved $52,000 in cuts to the College of Charleston and $17,000 to USC Upstate that were proposed by Smith – essentially because the books acknowledge the existence of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Lawmakers really shouldn’t be in the position to set the reading requirements for colleges. That kind of micromanaging sets an unsettling precedent for future decisions regarding higher education.
Smith, who is the son of Aiken representative Roland Smith, said the colleges are “promoting one side with no academic debate involved” by selecting those books.
Merely by urging students to read certain books doesn’t mean those schools are pushing a particular agenda or “promoting a lifestyle,” as Smith has stated.
Academic freedom – not the kind Smith is promoting – should be a key mission of our state’s universities. That’s why a college education, especially a liberal arts education, truly matters. Students are given assignments aimed at broadening their minds, and legislators don’t need to be the ones making moral judgments about those assignments. That should be left up to the school’s administration and staff.
At USC Aiken, for instance, each book selection is made after a reasoned debate, according to Tom Mack, chair of the English Department at the university. The books at Charleston and USC Upstate were likely chosen with the same kind of attention and examination. College of Charleston Provost George Hynd explained on the school’s website that the school’s selection – “Fun Home” by Alison Bechel – will open important conversations about “identity, diversity, sexuality, and finding one’s place in the world.”
That’s a needed discussion in classrooms full of young adults on the verge of entering the “real world” that exists away from the campus.
Critics have also charged that the book’s sexual themes are too explicit and that taxpayers’ dollars shouldn’t be used in such a matter.
Literary classics written decades ago by acclaimed authors such as Henry Miller – “Tropic of Cancer” and James Joyce – “Ulysses” – certainly contain mature material, but are still considered landmark pieces and are still read in college classes. Those books shouldn’t be pulled from the shelves merely because of the knee-jerk reactions of state legislators.
Our universities should be able to champion academic freedom, and not face punitive measures from the Statehouse. We should have trust in those institutions to nurture originality, creativity and an understanding of our diverse world.
Triumph and peril remain in the Ukraine
Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich abruptly abandoned his post last weekend, leaving Ukraine’s protest movement momentarily victorious. It was an ignominious defeat for a corrupt leader who has sought to counter at every turn the popular forces opposed to his misrule.
But virtually at the moment of victory, the Ukraine faces the strong possibility that the nation’s eastern Russian-speaking provinces will secede and call in Russian troops to defend them, opening up a new chapter in Ukrainian turmoil.
Avoiding this potentially chaotic split and turning the victory for the Ukraine’s pro-democracy movement into a peaceful and stable government will call for wise decisions by Ukraine’s new leaders, firm support for a peaceful outcome by Europe and the United States, and a Russian decision to stop meddling in Ukraine. Good luck on that last condition. Time Magazine reported that Russian diplomats have already signed a declaration with pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians calling for resistance to the new government and the formation of militias “in cooperation with regional security structures,” an apparent reference to Russian forces.
Secession sentiment apparently is strongest in the Russian-speaking Crimea. There are already 25,000 Russian military personnel in the Crimea, giving Russia strong leverage.
Russian President Putin would like to undo the breakup of the Soviet empire that led to Ukrainian independence and create a “Eurasian Customs Union” trading bloc to compete with the European Union. He used a combination of trade sanction sticks and economic support carrots last year to persuade Ukraine’s Yanukovich to turn down an association with the European Union and create closer economic ties to Russia. It was that decision that triggered the student protests in November. Europe and the United States should move swiftly to prop up the Ukrainian economy, and counter Mr. Putin’s effort to undermine it.
EU and U.S. support is essential to bolster the Ukraine’s democratic forces. Putin shouldn’t be allowed to seize this moment to realize his imperial dreams.