Intellectual Diversity at Ohio State Mansfield

Here is, for free, a quotation that will illuminate a lot about Higher Education for you:

Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.
The originator of this much-requoted gem was Wallace Sayre, a Columbia University professor. Its clarifying power is immense; sometimes it seems that a hefty fraction of academia is devoted full-time to demonstrating its truth.

Today's example is from the Mansfield campus of Ohio State University, where it was decided that all incoming first-year students would read a single common book. The committee charged with this first crack at Molding Young Minds included OSU-M's head reference librarian, Scott Savage.

The committee's initial proposals included titles by authors Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Jimmy Carter, and Maria Shriver; Savage said, (paraphrasing) heywaitaminute, why should we be mandating these ideologically-driven books? How about the relatively non-ideological Freakonomics instead?

That heated up things a bit; in response

… one committee member sent an e-mail saying that a controversial book would get more students engaged and debating. The university, he wrote, "can afford to polarize, and in fact has an obligation to, on certain issues."
I suspect Savage might have thought at this point something like: Oh, yeah? You give me tat, it's time for a little tit (almost certainly seriously paraphrasing here). From his March 8 e-mail to the committee:
But if we are decided that we want to engage our students in the kind of exchange of ideas on which the "secular" university is founded, then let's choose something that confronts the accepted wisdom of Ohio State University! Like students and young profs did in the '60s, man!
And he offered four new suggestions: The Professors by David Horowitz, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis by Bat Ye'or, It Takes a Family by Rick Santorum, and The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian.

This last title hit the fan, pushed buttons, and broke the camel's back, causing panties to bunch, cows to be had, and goats to be gotten. I haven't read it, and probably won't ever do so, but you may read the book's web promotion here; it gets good blurbs from Dr. Laura, Michelle (ma belle) Malkin, David Limbaugh, and a number of other righties. Within a few days, two openly gay faculty members at OSU-M filed a "Discrimination/Harassment Complaint Form" with the OSU HR Department. According to one, Savage's book recommendation made him feel "fearful and uneasy about being a gay man on this campus." The other characterized the recommendations as "a matter of harassment--of creating a hostile work environment."

Now if you're like me, a number of questions leap to mind, primarily: Ohio State University has a campus in Mansfield? Who knew? But it's pretty easy to see this as a heavy-handed attempt to stifle any right-wing expression on the hallowed two-bit campus, and protect impressionable young minds from any but a narrow range of "correct" ideological thought. The complaint is simply the blunt tool OSU makes available for this purpose. And, of course, the only "hostile work environment" here is the one Savage now finds himself in.

The OSU-M faculty and staff should be deeply ashamed and embarrassed. Should be, but, I bet, won't be.

The book chosen for the incoming frosh is The Working Poor : Invisible in America by David K. Shipler. The students could do worse. And if they stay at OSU-M, I imagine they will.

The history and quotes above are variously gleaned from this Inside Higher Ed article, this article at the Alliance Defense Fund website, which includes a link to a PDF sent to OSU-M officials demanding a cessation of the investigation targeting Savage. (If I notice any emerging details substantially contradicting or enhancing the history, I'll correct.)

For other commentary, see Professor Volokh and Joe Malchow.

Last Modified 2007-04-18 3:58 PM EDT