Editor’s note: After agreeing May 1 to publish the following column by Ohio State University librarian Scott Savage in “American Libraries” magazine, the American Library Association – which had said the piece was “timely and well-written” and publishable “at its current length” – abruptly changed its mind and informed Savage he had to cut the column in half or not see it published. However, said Savage, doing so would necessitate either eliminating the facts about his persecution for recommending “The Marketing of Evil” or eliminating his criticisms of the American Library Association. So he opted to let WND publish the piece in its entirety.
It was the eve of the 1977 American Library Association annual conference in Detroit, and newly hired ALA Executive Director Robert Wedgeworth was under fire. The Association had produced a film on censorship, “The Speaker,” that had already sent shockwaves throughout the organization ahead of its conference premier. The film’s storyline involved a high-school committee’s invitation to a white university professor to speak on a theory of genetic inferiority of African-Americans.
ALA elected representatives and staff were enraged by the racial theme. In a 2003 reminiscence in American Libraries, Wedgeworth noted that Clara Jones, the first African-American to be elected ALA president,
was insistent behind the scenes that I take some action to distance myself from or even punish the staff responsible for this miscalculation.
That “staff” probably would have included Judith Krug, the film’s producer and head of the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom both then and now. Given my own recent experiences on a branch campus of Ohio State University, I think I know the anxiety she may have felt as her job was hanging in the balance.
In early March, a group of professors on a committee assigned to choose a book for our campus-wide reading experience became enraged after I asked if we could consider picking a book that the students might actually enjoy reading, as opposed to any of the left-of-center, polarizing titles the other members had come up with so far. A faculty member quickly replied, basically saying it was our duty to choose books that reflected the “values” of Ohio State University concerning homosexuality (it’s good!) and Christian “fundamentalism” (it’s bad!). In reference to one of the books on the original list – Jimmy Carter’s extended polemic against conservative Christians, “Our Endangered Values” – the professor e-mailed this response:
I haven’t read the book, but some of the prejudices he seems to be attacking – like the prejudice against homosexuals – are officially condemned by Ohio State University policy, so again, I think the university has a responsibility to be polarizing, if the other pole is prejudice and bigotry. Perhaps the concern is the criticism of Christian fundamentalism more broadly. Given the introduction of religious language and issues into the American public forum in recent years, this seems an issue that ought to be discussed. Certainly this might offend some students who come from such a background or hold such beliefs. But welcome to the secular university!
My rejoinder was the casus belli for the mob action that followed: I reiterated that I would prefer we opt for something our students would enjoy reading, but if we truly wanted to encourage debate, we could just as well choose a book skewering the conventional wisdom of the university. I then suggested four very popular conservative books – tongue-in-cheek, in that I had a strong intuition none of the “polarizers” would accept a book with which they personally disagreed.
After I put forward the books for consideration, several faculty members on the committee homed in on the list’s first title: “The Marketing of Evil,” a best-selling hardback by WorldNetDaily’s David Kupelian. They claimed this book – which they hadn’t read – was “homophobic tripe” and that I was “anti-gay” and “a bigot” for suggesting it. They also made much of it not being a vetted, scholarly tome, even though most of the books they had suggested were not written by scholars, either.
“The Marketing of Evil” has chapters on how homosexual rights, abortion, teenage materialism, the sexual revolution and other movements have been sold to the public. It takes a conservative and Christian stance, but is completely devoid of angry invective – Fred Phelps, it is not.
When I sent a second e-mail message defending the book and my right to participate without being called names, committee members contacted my supervisor and the campus dean to accuse me of unprofessional conduct and to claim that I was creating a hostile work environment. Several faculty members not on the committee were forwarded the committee e-mails and then denounced me to every OSU-Mansfield employee through all-campus e-mails as a “hatemonger,” “bigot,” etc. One openly homosexual professor claimed that my presence on campus made him feel “threatened,” and “unsafe.”
A few days later, at a regular meeting of the faculty, several professors claimed that suggesting “The Marketing of Evil” was “sexual harassment” against homosexual faculty members. The faculty voted without dissent (21 for, 0 against, 9 abstentions) to request an investigation of me for sexual harassment.
Well, “who ya gonna call?” You might think – given what Judy Krug experienced three decades ago – I dropped a dime to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom, but you’d be wrong. You see, the American Library Association, that First Amendment bulwark for both the left and the right in days gone by, is no friend to a conservative librarian in 2006. Especially when it comes to fighting for job, reputation and constitutionally protected speech.
As librarian David Durant noted in his 2005 bombshell article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian,” the lopsidedly leftist, activist tilt in librarianship has resulted in “a politicized atmosphere of groupthink and intolerance,” which increasingly privileges the feelings of officially protected groups over the Bill of Rights.
I experienced a strong hint of this a few years ago at another college. Professors on a diversity committee pressured the library to remove books perceived as “emotionally harmful” to homosexual students. What a providential thing it was that we had a strong dean, willing to stand up for her librarians and free expression, because my call to the Intellectual Freedom office went unanswered for months! The polite young woman who eventually got back to me seemed uncomfortable with – if not disbelieving of – the idea that liberal faculty members could be so, well, illiberal. They’re the good guys, right?
Ultimately, ALA’s current actions speak louder than the words it once uttered as a defender of free speech. If today’s Association won’t stand up for anti-communist librarians in Cuba, I’m not holding my breath anymore that they’ll stand up for allegedly “anti-gay” me. (Memo to J. Krug: four weeks of heavy media and Internet exposure, and you haven’t called – is this a “Day of Silence” protest on your part?)
In recent policy action, ALA has cleansed itself of sincerity in advocating Academic Freedom. Like Squealer the pig in “Animal Farm” (one of the books those nasty Cuban librarians have tried to circulate), ALA and its Association of College Research Libraries at the Mid-winter Conference this year climbed up the barn wall and painted over the previous resolution in favor of academic freedom with a new one against it. “Four legs good, two legs better!”
The “old” resolution clearly told people like me that 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.
Reading the 2006 resolution – that is, hacking my way through all the “Whereas” blather and circular logic (universities don’t infringe on free speech because they say they don’t infringe on free speech) – I arrived at what today’s ALA is telling me. Bottom line: If you don’t like the Stalinist reality on campuses today, it’s just because you’re not with the program – you’re bucking “the academic community’s well-established norms and values of scholarship and educational excellence,” as a “self-described conservative,” to use some of the resolution’s loaded phrasing.
Although the American Library Association has rejected me, I am, after all, a librarian – and guess what? I know how to find things. As the situation on my campus deteriorated, I quickly located an organization that really believes the First Amendment is for conservatives and believers, too. The Alliance Defense Fund, which supports and defends the religious liberty of Christians, came to my rescue.
Shortly after three professors went ahead and filed a formal harassment complaint, ADF’s Center for Academic Freedom sent a letter demanding OSU cease investigating me, issue a public apology, and acknowledge that an investigation of my constitutionally protected speech should never have occurred. Three weeks later, under the intense public scrutiny and ridicule sparked by ADF’s vigorous defense, the university exonerated me.
If it weren’t for the existence of ADF and similar Christian legal aid organizations, I would simply be out of a job and smeared for life as a “sexual harasser.”
In 1977, the American Library Association director Robert Wedgeworth took seriously his charge to hold the line for our First Amendment rights. Judith Krug wasn’t vindictively sacked for producing a film intended to shed light on bias and suppression of free speech. Today, that noble and courageous sense of purpose seems to have disappeared under a nice, fresh coat of white paint.
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Scott Savage is head of reference and library instruction at the Mansfield campus of Ohio State University, director of the Center for Plain Living, and owner of Arbor Hill Heirloom Organics produce farm. His most recent books are “A Plain Life: Walking My Belief,” Ballantine, 2000, and a work in progress, “Brave New World Now.”