Despite a conservative Christian crusade and the threat of a $52,000 retaliatory budget cut from some state legislators, the College of Charleston has not changed any of the policies for its freshman reading program. It did, however, expand its call for 2014 book suggestions, narrowing down a list of about 100 submissions before deciding on a nonfiction account of a segment of the Iraq War.
College Reads!, the school's freshman reading program, caught conservative flak last summer for giving first-year students copies of Fun Home, a graphic novel-style memoir by Alison Bechdel about coming out as a lesbian after growing up with a closeted gay father.
CofC spokesman Mike Robertson says that while school leaders have not made any changes to the program's policies, they did start soliciting book suggestions from a broader range of people last fall. Previously, the school only sent an e-mail to faculty and staff seeking suggestions; now the e-mail also goes out to students and alumni.
"When the controversy occurred, they decided they were going to open it up to more input from a broader variety of people," Robertson says. He says the school has received over 100 suggestions for 2014 freshman books so far, compared to just 50 suggestions the previous year.
According to a Saturday Post and Courier letter to the editor by Christopher Korey, director of CofC's First Year Experience, the College Reads! selection for 2014 will be The Good Soldiers, David Finkel's critically acclaimed account of a young Army battalion that participated in the 2007 surge during the Iraq War. Korey's withering editorial defended the choice of distributing Fun Home to freshmen in 2013 and questioned whether CofC's politically appointed Board of Trustees was going to be used for "curricular censorship."
The selection committee whittled down a short list of 14 titles in November, eliminating suggestions including End the Fed by Ron Paul, Christian memoirist Donald Miler's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and psychologist Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender, which seeks to debunk the myths of the "male brain" and "female brain." According to a list from the selection committee, the titles on the short list included:
• A Long Way Gone, a memoir by former child soldier Ishmael Beah
• Good Kings Bad Kings, a novel by Susan Nussbaum about teenagers in an institution for juveniles with disabilities
• Outcasts United, Warren St. John's book about a refugee youth soccer team in Clarkston, Ga.
• The Book of Jonas, Stephen Dau's novel about a U.S. soldier and a young Muslim war orphan
• Wool, a sci-fi bestseller by CofC alumnus Hugh Howey
None of the titles on the short list dealt with gender or LGBTQ issues.
The college made national headlines last summer when the activist organization Palmetto Family raised objections to Fun Home. After sending out an e-mail blast about the book, Palmetto Family President Oran Smith said he objected to the book's "coarseness" and its promotion of "that lifestyle."
Last week, Rep. Garry Smith (R-Greenville) asked the House Ways and Means Committee to cut $52,000 from the budget of the College of Charleston and $17,000 from the budget of USC Upstate. Lawmakers voted to cut funds based on the amount the two schools spent on copies of Fun Home and editor Ed Madden's Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, respectively.