Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Tale of the Whining Librarian

In the wake of the NAS Report on common reading programs, there's the result of a lawsuit involving one such program: in this case, a librarian on a selection committee at Ohio State decided he wanted to be a jackass and propose a right-wing book promoting a gay conspiracy controlling America. After a loud outcry and charges and counter-charges of harassment, the librarian, Scott Savage decided to make himself a victim by quitting his job and filing a lawsuit. Here's my thought: if you want to be a homophobic asshole, that's fine, but don't quit your job and expect a free ride from a lawsuit.

In the case of Savage v. Gee, the Court reached the right result for all the wrong reasons.

First, the court invoked Garcetti and claimed, "Issues involving curriculum, scheduling, and routine academic matters are not generally considered to be matters of public concern." Yes, they are. But the court did decide that this was an issue of public concern.

Second, the court claimed, "Savage’s expression, although it addressed a matter of public concern, was not protected under the First Amendment under the rule of Garcetti, unless some exception to that rule is applicable." Wrong again. Garcetti does not apply to the college environment, and the Supreme Court has never ruled this to be the case.

Third, the court declared, "Savage’s recommendation of a book for a book list
cannot, in the opinion of this court, be classified as 'scholarship or teaching,' however." Asking students to read a book isn't teaching? How can it not be a form of teaching?

But here's where the court finally gets it right: "There is thus no objective evidence that Savage’s employer took any action intended to force him out of his job." Savage's dean expressed support for him. The university, quite properly, rejected all of the harassment charges made by Savage or his critics.

Savage decided not to return to his job because of the “nasty and derisive tone of the University’s attorneys." Oh, please. I really wonder how the court could have satisfied Savage's demands: was the judge supposed to order all the faculty, staff, and administrators at Ohio State to refrain from criticizing this whining idiot?

Let's be clear here: there is a legal right to academic freedom; it covers everyone, not just faculty; it covers all academic activities, not just teaching and research; and the right to academic freedom absolutely does not include a right to be free from offense or criticism.

And that's what this frivolous lawsuit should have been all about.

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