Possible 'Fun Home' compromise in the works; incoming C of C president McConnell weighs in

Legislators are attempting to cut funding for the College of Charleston's freshman reading program. The critically acclaimed illustrated memoir "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" is at the center of the debate.

COLUMBIA - The state senator who staged an hours-long filibuster this week to prevent budget cuts to the College of Charleston over its summer reading book choice said Thursday a deal is in the works to move beyond the impasse. The school's incoming president, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell also said he was against the cuts.

The debate over "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" is expected to continue next week when the Senate resumes its discussion over the budget. Some in the Senate want to punish the College of Charleston by cutting $52,000 from its budget for assigning the book, which they view as taxpayer-funded pornography because the critically-acclaimed illustrated memoir has an illustrated depiction of two women having sex.

Senators are also seeking some $17,000 in cuts to USC-Upstate for assigning a book with homosexual themes.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangebusrg, staged an hours-long filibuster Wednesday to prevent the cuts and the Senate didn't take the issue up on Thursday. Hutto said the compromise in the works involves requiring colleges to allow students to read an alternative book than the one assigned. The compromise would not involve the General Assembly dictating what books would be assigned.

"They could still choose 'Fun Home,'" Hutto said. "If somebody were offended by that, they would have a second choice."

Still, the primary impasse remains over whether funding should be cut from the schools. Hutto said that he does not support cutting funds from the schools because it would trample on their academic freedom, embarrass the state nationally and punish the schools for a past decision.

"Either we're going to work out a compromise or one side will have more votes than the other," Hutto said.

The vote is expected to be close.

McConnell said in an interview with the Post and Courier that he would recuse himself from a vote if a tie occurs because he has a conflict of interest. The lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, typically breaks a tie.

He said, however, that if he had the choice he would vote against the cuts.

McConnell was named the C of C's president in March and is expected to start in July.

However, McConnell said that recusing himself has the same result as voting the way he would have - a tie vote on the matter would kill the proposed cuts.

"I'm not going to walk away from my responsibility to preside," McConnell said. He said he disagreed with the proposed cuts.

"It is terrible public policy to put financial penalties on people because you disagree with them," he said. It also tramples on free speech and academic freedom, he said. College of Charleston professors now have the benefit, he said, of seeing the reaction to a controversial choice.

"I don't think it's my role to tell college professors what to teach, that's academic freedom," he said. "They need to ask themselves, 'is it worth it? And if it's worth it, be prepared to defend it." He added: "It certainly wouldn't be my book of choice . but I'm not on the committee and that's not my job."

Students at the college are anxiously awaiting the decision.

Brandon Fish, a senior, said Thursday the students support academic freedom, but the issue is bigger than that.

"It's life and death for LGBTQ youth," he said.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.