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Restore academic freedom

"Fun Home" is not likely to be among any S.C. state senator's top 10 favorite books. But that isn't keeping some members of the Senate from doing the right thing.

In late April, by a vote of 11-7, the Senate Finance Committee restored to the proposed budget the $52,000 that the House wanted to cut from the College of Charleston's funding because the book was selected for a summer reading program.

This week, the full Senate has been engaged in a heated debate over the issue, with some defending academic freedom and others declaring the book state-sponsored pornography.

In "Fun Home," author Alison Bechdel describes her life growing up as a lesbian with an abusive, closeted homosexual father. Some social conservatives deemed it inappropriate for college students and suggested that it promoted homosexuality.

Then they really got annoyed when the cast of a musical inspired by the book volunteered to give two performances at the college - and school officials accepted the offer.

That's when Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley said, "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."

Fortunately, and wisely, a number of senators recognize that it isn't their job to choose reading material for college students.

The question is whether there are enough senators who realize that. Next week's vote on the funding is expected to be close.

That the House - and now the Senate - have even taken up the issue is unsettling.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who is schedules to become College of Charleston president in July, got it right this week when said, "It is terrible public policy to put financial penalties on people because you disagree with them."

Further, faculty members have much more insight into what literature would lead students to read, think and debate. And surely students don't become indoctrinated by reading one book. By the time they graduate they will have read lots of books dealing with a wide array of subjects, some of them mainstream and some not.

Should the Senate Finance Committee's recommendation stick, the House could still vote to restore the cuts, sending the bill to a conference committee.

The legislative process gives lawmakers a forum for voicing their opinions and concerns, and some are clearly offended by the premise of "Fun Home."

But legislators should also remember their role. It's to make laws to keep the state safe and economically sound. It's even to ensure there are good educational opportunities for the people of South Carolina.

But it's not to meddle in professors' syllabuses.

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