Like many other universities, Ohio State University’s branch campus in Mansfield, Ohio has a “First Year Reading Experience” program, through which the school chooses a book for all incoming freshmen to read. The book is chosen by a committee that includes both faculty and library staff.
One of the members of this was Scott Savage, the head reference librarian at OSU Mansfield. Scott is a “Plain Christian,” a conservative Quaker who eschews most forms of modern technology, rides a horse and buggy, and endeavors to live a simple and quiet life. As a Quaker, Scott believes in nonviolence, and that evil and injustice should not be fought “with the weapons of this world.” His opponents on the committee made the mistake of assuming that because of this pacifism, Savage would be easily overwhelmed on the issue before them and that once his friendly persuasion had failed he would retreat into silence and acquiescence.
The other members of the committee initially recommended a variety of leftist works, a mixture of scholarly books and casual reads (such as titles by Jimmy Carter and Maria Shriver) for incoming freshmen. Scott objected to the one-sided nature of the list and suggested a less overtly political book, Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. After this suggestion was rebuffed, he suggested four more books, all reflecting mainstream conservative opinions: David Horowitz’s The Professors, It Takes a Family by Rick Santorum, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis by Baat Ye’or, and The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian.
The reaction to these suggestions was swift – and outrageous. The Marketing of Evil particularly angered some of the professors because it advances a traditional Judeo-Christian view of sexual morality. One professor, J.F. Buckley, responded to Scott’s suggestion with a public allegation (through an e-mail to the OSU Mansfield faculty and staff) of harassment:
As a gay man I have long ago realized that the world is full of homophobic, hate-mongers who, of course, say that they are not. So, I am not shocked, only deeply saddened—and THREATENED—that such mindless folks are on this great campus. I am ending now, with the hope that I have seriously challenged you Scott, and anyone who “thinks” as you purport to do. You have made me fearful and uneasy being a gay man on this campus. I am, in fact, notifying the OSU-M campus, and Ohio State University in general, that I no longer feel safe doing my job. I am being harassed.
In other words, Scott Savage’s very existence on campus—the way he thought and viewed the world-- made Professor Buckley fearful at work. Given the absurdity of that allegation, one might think that others on the committee would have introduced a note of sanity to the discussion. But this was not the case. In fact, the other professors immediately jumped to the support of Professor Buckley, and fellow faculty bmember Dr. Norman Jones recommended that the matter be brought before the school’s faculty association.
On March 13, 2006, after much discussion, the faculty association of OSU Mansfield voted without dissent to forward the issue of Scott Savage’s incorrect thinking to a “sexual harassment investigator of the university.” Whether out of conviction or cowardice, not one faculty member stood up to defend obviously protected speech. Not one faculty member stood up to defend academic freedom. Not one faculty member voted to stop a slanderous and false allegation. Not one faculty member voted against a motion to punish a librarian for suggesting a book.
At the University of Colorado, 199 professors signed a public petition to ask the Board of Regents to stop all investigations of Ward Churchill, including a plagiarism investigation that was unrelated to Churchill’s offensive (though certainly constitutionally protected) speech. To those professors, free speech was so important that it justified protecting a controversial professor even from plagiarism allegations. At Ohio State Mansfield, though, the faculty slandered a librarian for exercising the same academic freedom rights as other members of his committee.
So, in the name of academic freedom, leftists like Colorado’s Churchill must be protected – even from actual legal violations (like plagiarism) – when they celebrate the September 11 death of American fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. Yet in the name of that same academic freedom, these same leftists can punish conservatives merely for suggesting books that offer a traditional Judeo-Christian perspective on sexual morality.
This episode in the heartland of red state America shows yet again how deeply the culture of Leftism has penetrated the daily workings of our universities.
David French is the Director of the Alliance Defense Fund’s Center for Academic Freedom.
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