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See You in The Funny Papers!

During preliminary budget debates this week, College of Charleston had their upcoming budget reduced by $52,000 because of a book listed on the incoming freshman reading list. Let me back up . . . it really wasn’t a book . . . it was a “graphic novel.”

Merriam-Webster defines graphic novel as “cartoon drawings that tell a story and are published as a book.” Yes. College of Charleston’s required reading list for incoming freshman requires them to read a comic book. Gone are the days when students were required to translate Latin and Greek to enter a state college. (Of course, that was the 1800’s, so I guess that isn’t relevant.)

The graphic novel entitled Fun Home and written by Alison Bechdel chronicles her growing up years in Pennsylvania. It was on the New York Times Best Seller list and received numerous awards. The author is also the creator of the ever-popular comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, though I don’t recall seeing it in The Greer Citizen or The Greenville News. Not exactly Charles Schulz . . . or Oscar Wilde, for that matter.

There are two major problems with requiring incoming freshman to read Fun Home.

First are the graphic sexual – or what some might term “obscene” or “pornographic” – drawings in the book. Feel free to use your favorite search engine to find these if you want to use the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart approach to pornography of “I know it when I see it.” Having reviewed the book, the drawings are indeed sexually graphic . . . and juvenile, like something a janitor would have to scrub from a wall.

Second is the use of a comic book in a freshman setting. To be fair, graphic novels have become accepted as a literary medium, but that does not place them at the top of the Canon of Western Literature. They may be acceptable as the subject of an advanced elective course, but having them on the required freshman list is just another evidence of the dumbing down of our college curriculum. Given the limited amount of exposure that a freshman will have to standard literary texts, should this comic be part of it? Judge for yourself. Take a look at how this comic is analyzed by a University of Florida literary publication by visiting here.

We should expect more from our tax-supported state colleges and the trustees that we elect to oversee their direction. The Legislature, as a rule, should not micro-manage state colleges. However, when trustees and college administrations exercise egregious ignorance as evidenced in this case, legislators should step in. Which is what Rep. Garry Smith from Greenville did when he let the effort to cut their funding.

Predictably, Rep. Smith is taking fire from certain groups as discussed here. Though their rhetoric unfurls the banner of academic freedom, their actions swing the iron fist of academic tyranny.