Lawmakers discuss academic freedom during USC panel

April 24, 2014 

Lawmakers discuss academic freedom during a USC Student Government panel Thursday evening.

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Politicians and a professor agreed to disagree at a panel on academic freedom hosted by the University of South Carolina Student Government on Thursday evening.

The conversation quickly turned to the House’s decision to cut $17,142 from USC Upstate for assigning freshmen to read “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” an essay book on coming out gay in the South and $52,000 from the College of Charleston for assigning a gay-themed book “Fun Home.”

“When those things are mandated, that’s a hard thing for South Carolinians in general,” said Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Lexington, who said there should be choices as opposed to mandates.

About 100 people, mostly students, attended the event held at the Williams Brice Building Auditorium on campus.

USC Professor Augie Grant said he disagrees with some of the books his colleagues assign, however that presents a diversity of thought and ideas.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said the decision to cut money form the schools stemmed from party politics.

“I don’t need a homophobic Republican Party telling me what to do,” he said.

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Rep. Josh Putnam, R-Anderson, said with any kind of freedom, comes responsibility.

Putnam said a similar incident happened at Clemson University over a suggestive book a few years ago. He said the school responded in an appropriate manner by allowing another viewpoint to be shared.

Putnam later pointed out that USC students were attending a public university.

“You don’t have the freedoms of a private school,” Putnam said.

He also said he has a gay cousin and he would not want his cousin to be required to sit in a class and be degraded.

In response to a question about academic freedom and upholding the values of South Carolina, Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, described South Carolinians as proud. He said they dress extremely well, regardless of temperature, enjoy their surroundings, and appreciate nature.

Then he joked he did what politicians are supposed to do — take a question and answer it however they want.

At the end of the discourse, Sellers said that when the House reconvenes on Tuesday, he would file a bill to allow USC to have two or three members of the student body to act as voting board members on the school's board of trustees.

Putnam said he would cosponsor the bill.

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