With representatives from the College of Charleston gathered at the Statehouse for the college’s official day of recognition, South Carolina Sen. Marlon Kimpson took the opportunity to share a message about academic freedom with board members and his fellow legislators.
"Let me encourage you to maintain the principles of academic freedom, freedom of expression, where your students can continue to exercise their First Amendment rights," Kimpson said on the Senate floor. "And that equally applies to the professors. We want to encourage discourse, whether we agree or not with a subject or political matter in our schools."
This issue of academic freedom has been of main concern to both professors and students at the College of Charleston following the most recent presidential election. As previously reported by the City Paper, deans and department chairs at CofC received an email from the school’s provost and vice president of academic affairs, Brian McGee, in the days following the election of President Donald Trump, saying that school officials had received several reports of students "perceiving that election discussions in a class meeting were not relevant to course content, were inappropriately one-sided, or were crudely partisan." McGee acknowledged in his email that he had not attempted to confirm the accuracy of most of the accounts — in one case, dismissing the accuracy of the account altogether — and instead cautioned faculty about "demonstrating respect for students and about the intersection of teaching and political commitments."
With concerns that their freedoms in the classroom were being challenged, faculty members met for a forum in January to discuss issues surrounding what constitutes inappropriate and partisan comments. One main topic of discussion was 2014’s Fun Home controversy that drew legislative actions from state officials. Provided as a part of a college reading program for faculty and incoming students, Alison Bechdel’s memoir detailed the events of her childhood with a closeted gay father and her coming out as a lesbian.
At the time, Kimpson objected to his fellow senators’ preoccupation with the book and efforts to sanction the College of Charleston for introducing it to students. With new concerns bubbling up over academic freedom at the College of Charleston, Kimpson found it important to address school officials and state lawmakers about the importance of free speech in the classroom.
"I wanted to remind board members that college is a place for robust discussion of all kinds of viewpoints. We should encourage this type of communication. It’s 2017, and we must recognize that students and faculty alike may encounter viewpoints and opinions that may be new for members of the legislature," Kimpson said when reached for comment Friday. "We spent a considerable amount of time speaking on the Fun Home issue, and I regret that we interfered and micromanaged a freshman book list, primarily because the author was lesbian."
Speaking to recent reports surrounding academic freedom at the College of Charleston, Kimpson added that "conservative students should feel comfortable expressing their viewpoints, while professors, board members and the administration should foster free conversation in the classroom."