Too diverse to be 'diversity': is it "harassment" to recommend a book?

Author:Young, Cathy
Position:Scott Savage
 
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SCOTT SAVAGE, the head reference librarian at Ohio State University at Mansfield, got in trouble because of a book. No, he didn't run afoul of the USA PATRIOT Act, which infamously allows the government to subpoena library records. He suggested an assignment for a freshman reading list that two gay professors found offensive.

The controversy started last March. After the university decided to introduce a common reading experience program in which all freshmen would be required to read the same book as an extracurricular activity, Savage volunteered to serve on the committee to select the book. He took exception to the fact that many suggested texts were, as he said in an e-mail exchange with other panelists, "ideologically or politically or religiously polarizing." When one member responded that the university had not only a right but "an obligation" to polarize on some issues, Savage pointedly offered, "in that spirit," four conservative books. One of them was The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom, by David Kupelian.

As the title suggests, the book is strong stuff. Kupelian, managing editor of the webzine WorldNetDaily, gives homosexuality a prominent place in his hierarchy of evil; according to the book's promotional text, "the 'gay rights' movement--which transformed America's former view of homosexuals as self-destructive human beings into their current status as victims and cultural heroes--faithfully followed an in-depth, phased plan laid out by professional Harvard-trained marketers."

The reaction from Savage's fellow committee members was equally strong. Two English professors, J.F. Buckley and Norman Jones, filed a complaint of harassment based on sexual orientation. Buckley claimed that Savage's recommendation of the book made him "fearful and uneasy about being a gay man on this campus."

Under threat of a lawsuit from the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, the university promptly cleared Savage of all charges in April. Yet the questions raised by this incident remain contentious and highly relevant. Was the attack on Savage a simple question of suppressing unpopular speech and trampling on religious liberty, or was his behavior in some way inappropriate?

Some commenters on the Volokh Conspiracy blog suggested a hypothetical situation: What if a librarian had suggested an anti-Semitic or racist book for the freshman reading list? How about, say, The Protocols of...

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