Constitutional Rights Are Under Assault On Campuses

Posted: 5/20/2006 2:27:00 PM
Author: Scott Savage
Source: php?story=dispatch/2006/05/13/2006

Note: He is not a member of Librarians for Fairness, but our organization fully supports Scott Savage, the recently besieged library director of Ohio State University. We applaude him for his commitment to balance and fairness in librarianship. He is a credit to our profession.

Constitutional Rights Are Under Assault On Campuses
Saturday, May 13, 2006
by Scott Savage

I’m starting to feel like the cleanup crew that follows the horses in the parade. I trudge along behind history professor Christopher Phelps as he parades from forum to forum, and I shovel up the humbug he leaves behind concerning my treatment at Ohio State University-Mansfield for suggesting conservative books in a committee ("Newspaper off base in criticism of harassment reports," letter, last Saturday.) I thank God the events of this case have been meticulously documented in e-mails and faculty meeting transcripts, all of which are in the public record.

Phelps says the faculty "decided not to request an investigation as a body," in response to my suggesting a book, The Marketing of Evil, as a title for the campuswide first-year-reading experience. He claimed that the complaint wasn’t even about sexual harassment. In fact, during the public faculty meeting on March 13, even after being warned by the campus dean that it would violate my rights to even discuss the accusations, faculty members repeatedly accused me of "sexual harassment" because of the book suggestion.

The faculty debated and passed without dissent a resolution to refer charges of sexual harassment against me. A later meeting rescinded the resolution for procedural reasons, but faculty members were encouraged to file individual complaints against me for sexual harassment. Our human-resources officer told me I was being charged with sexual harassment. My attorneys’ letter to OSU demanding an end to the investigation was answered with the statement that the university took charges of sexual harassment seriously.

Phelps believes it is university policy to report what is clearly protected speech to OSU authorities, and that "such a referral does not imply judgment." This is a perfect mental encapsulation of the reasoning prevalent on my campus. I was publicly accused of a crime and then investigated because I disagreed with faculty members on a committee. The letter exonerating me said that no complaint should even have been filed. To suggest there was no implied judgment in the accusations, never mind intimidation, hysteria or mob rule — excuse me while I employ my shovel.

As Phelps made clear in his letter, the problem for the faculty was not merely my book suggestion, but rather, "the librarian’s unyielding defense of the book, even after the revelation of its bigotry, his disparagement of faculty expertise and his forwarding of others’ e-mails to an outside organization."

Ooookay: My second (and final) communication to the committee — in which I "unyieldingly" defended my right to make a point by suggesting The Marketing of Evil, and the book’s right to exist — constitutes harassment? Disagreeing with a homosexual faculty member about a matter of scholarship requires an investigation? Openly copying my reply to an individual at the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education makes me guilty of, well, what? Tattling?

I’m glad Phelps’ thought processes are being exposed to public scrutiny, but I’m less than hopeful that the ridicule of civic-minded people everywhere raining down on his parade will have any impact.

In his letter, he said that at another library I "displayed an anti-gay book prominently, provoking controversy there, as well." It’s true a cadre of Diversity Committee professors pressured the library to remove a book from the collection, because they thought it could harm homosexual students and because a student worker had placed it on the new book display with all the other new titles. Our librarians and our dean were united in opposing this blatant censorship attempt.

Rather than being examples of how I am "provoking controversy," these incidents underline the growing intolerance toward our constitutional rights on many campuses. Are the thoughts and speech of everyone at OSU-Mansfield accountable to Christopher Phelps and to Ohio State University diversity policies? As a librarian, I have a reading suggestion for the professor: The American Association of University Professors’ statement on academic freedom, which begs to differ.

It says: "Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition." That really says it all.