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Suggesting Anti-Gay Book for Inclusion in University Reading Program = Sexual Orientation Harassment?

That's what Ohio State University (Mansfield) professors J.F. Buckley and Norman Jones are alleging, in a complaint that they have filed with the University. A conservative OSU reference librarian (Scott Savage) suggested that several books be included in the first-year reading program; one of the books -- The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian -- is apparently anti-gay.

The professors claim in a formal complaint filed with OSU that this suggestion, and the librarian's arguments in its defense (which were apparently not otherwise anti-gay, not that this should matter), create a "hostile environment" for them based on their sexual orientation. (The complaint has been referred to as a sexual harassment complaint, but it's really a sexual orientation harassment complaint, see the first paragraph on page 2 of the Ohio State harassment policy.)

Here are copies of the relevant documents, attached to an Alliance Defend Fund letter written on behalf of the librarian. (The ADF, as readers may know, is a public interest law firm that generally approaches things from a cultural/religious conservative perspective.) My summary above relies on the copies of the documents, not on the ADF's own accounts.

The university is now investigating the complaints. It's quite sad, I think, that these university professors are responding to offensive ideas not just by arguing against them, but by trying to coercively suppress them (apparently, according to the ADF's letter, with considerable support from their colleagues). I expect that the university will promptly dismiss the complaint, since even under the university's own policy such speech is not prohibited -- among other reasons, the speech wasn't "based on a person's protected status," since the statements weren't about the complainants, and weren't targeted towards the complainants because of their sexual orientation. But it reflects badly on the complainants that the complaint is even being filed.

Oh, and one related item, from a message during this debate written by another professor, Hannibal Hamlin (no, not the Hannibal Hamlin): "On the matter of homophobia, I think you should be rather careful, Scott. OSU's policy on discrimination is not simply a matter of academic orthodoxy, but a matter of human rights." Yes, reference librarians, professors, students, everyone: On matters of certain viewpoints that are prohibited by university policies, we think you should be rather careful.

Thanks to commenter Gaius Obvious for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Accusing Librarian of Sexual Orientation Harassment
  2. Scott Savage Cleared:
  3. Interesting Tidbit About the Ohio State (Mansfield) Controversy:
  4. Suggesting Anti-Gay Book for Inclusion in University Reading Program = Sexual Orientation Harassment?
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Interesting Tidbit About the Ohio State (Mansfield) Controversy:

It turns out that Scott Savage, the librarian who is charged with sexual orientation harassment because he had recommended that the school assign to freshmen an apparently anti-gay book, is a conservative Quaker who has given up many modern things, including conventional schooling — his wife home-schools (or at least home-schooled) their five children — and cars; he takes a horse and buggy to work.

This has little to do with the specific legal and academic freedom issues raised by the complaint against him, but I just thought the juxtaposition of Scott Savage's e-mail-born controversy and his horse and buggy was interesting. And perhaps there is also a broader connection to the persistent talk about "diversity" on campus. I suspect that Scott Savage's presence and participation adds more to the cultural diversity of the campus than does the presence and participation of most other faculty, students, and staff. But of course one aspect of cultural diversity is that people who belong to some cultures might not share the dominant university culture's view on some aspects, such as sexual behavior, and might even say things that some see as offensive. What a surprise.

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Scott Savage Cleared:

Many thanks to commenter OSU Grad Student for pointing me to this Inside Higher Ed item from today:

Ohio State University officials on Friday cleared Scott Savage, a librarian at the Mansfield campus, of harassment charges filed against him based on his recommendation of an anti-gay book for a freshman reading assignment. A conservative group had threatened to sue the university if the charges were not dropped. They were dropped the same day that the group went public with its complaints about the way the librarian was being treated.

Delighted to hear it, and especially pleased that the university acted so quickly.

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Accusing Librarian of Sexual Orientation Harassment

for suggesting that the university include an anti-gay book in a freshman reading program is "not an act of intellectual oppression." It doesn't even "imply judgment," but merely "notifies the human-resources office that discrimination might have occurred" ("discrimination" here meaning offensive speech). This is especially so because of "a crucial point: the discrimination reports did not focus on the book suggestion so much as 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." That's what Prof. Christopher Phelps at Ohio State University (Mansfield) continues to insist.

Yup, unyielding defenses of a book recommendation are obviously something that human resources departments should be investigating in "a university that is a beacon of intellectual freedom." In any case, let me quote Prof. Phelps' letter so you can see his full argument in context; for my coverage of this issue, see here:

As a member of the faculty of Ohio State University at Mansfield, I write in the hope of providing a more precise rendering of a recent conflict on campus.

The campus' head reference librarian told The Dispatch in an April 21 news article that he was accused of "sexual harassment" by the faculty for what the reporter called his "tongue-in-cheek" suggestion that a book called The Marketing of Evil be assigned to all incoming students as part of a first-year reading experience. A subsequent Dispatch editorial (April 26) condemned the faculty for requesting an investigation into sexual harassment.

In actuality, the faculty assembly in March decided not to request an investigation as a body. Two individual professors did file reports, but in reference to "harassment based on sexual orientation," or discrimination, not sexual harassment. Such a referral does not imply judgment. It merely notifies the human-resources office that discrimination might have occurred.

Our faculty believes firmly in free speech. We believe intellectual freedom is critical to the life of a university. We do not fault investigators for concluding that no harassment occurred.

We believe, however, that The Dispatch is wrong to condemn the faculty members who made the referrals. University policy obliges anyone who knows of a possible case of discrimination to report it, for the obvious reason that secondary parties must be encouraged to refer such matters lest victims suffer privately, leaving the university liable and injustice unaddressed. The two faculty members who filed reports, neither of them gay, perceived that their gay colleagues were finding the workplace inhospitable.

Referral of the dispute to human resources was not an act of intellectual oppression. It was an attempt to restore an atmosphere of freedom and tolerance to the campus, including the freedom of consenting adults to love whomever they wish without discrimination.

Dispatch columnist Joe Blundo has done an excellent job of conveying the ludicrousness of The Marketing of Evil ("Left vs. right: All opinions should be heard," Tuesday). Quite apart from demonstrating its unabashed bigotry, his column makes it clear that this is a book wholly unsuited to the purpose of introducing undergraduates to the life of the mind. Why would a reference librarian, entrusted with guiding students to the best possible sources, recommend such a screed?

But the news media's coverage has missed a crucial point: the discrimination reports did not focus on the book suggestion so much as 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. The claim that his proposal was tongue-in-cheek is belied by the fact that when he was employed at Lakeland Community College in 2004, he displayed an antigay book prominently, provoking controversy there, as well.

Out faculty seeks a university that is a beacon of intellectual freedom, high scholarly standards and freedom from discrimination based upon sexual orientation. I look forward to the day when we can say with assurance that our library manifests the same principles.

48 Comments