Many people yearn for a break from big city rat race, to return to a more simple life, full of family, community and meaningful relationships. For most people this comes during short, one- or two-week vacations each year—temporary reprieves from life’s constant push. Few people actually make the move to a truly simple life, trading in horsepower for horses, tailored suits for handmade garments, city life for country bliss. Yet even for those who do make the move, the stresses and dangers of the modern world can still creep in. This is true of former ADF client Scott Savage, who gave up a big city desk job to become a plain Christian, and eventually took a job as a reference librarian at The Ohio State University Mansfield campus, only to be ousted because of his Christian and conservative beliefs.
Some readers will remember Scott’s story. In February 2006, as Head of Reference and Instructional Services at the Mansfield campus of Ohio State, Scott participated on a First Year Reading Experience Committee. The committee was charged with selecting a book for the incoming freshmen to read as a part of their immersion into college life. During the committee’s first meetings, various faculty and staff members recommended a host of leftist books, written by Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Jimmy Carter and the like. Scott believed that the book selection should not be politically polarizing, and suggested that the students read Freakonomics. Yet committee members disagreed with Scott, and said the purpose of the book was to skewer conventional wisdom—a typical university agenda in this modern age. Thus, Scott responded by recommending a few books that would challenge the conventional wisdom of the university: The Marketing of Evilby David Kupelian, The Professors by David Horowitz, Eurabia by Bat Ye’or, and It Takes a Familyby Rick Santorum. Did the committee respond with more vigorous debate about which book to choose? No.
Two committee members called Scott “anti-gay,” said his book recommendations were “homophobic tripe,” and accused him of “homophobia.” One member then wrote to Scott’s supervisor and questioned his ability to advise students as a librarian. Then other faculty members, even those not on the committee, began sending university-wide emails denigrating Scott’s beliefs and stating that they felt “threatened” by his recommendation. Two professors then filed formal sexual harassment charges against Scott (after they failed to convince the faculty senate to do the same). All for a book recommendation.
The university eventually dropped the harassment charges after the ADF Center for Academic Freedom intervened on Scott’s behalf. But the university continued to target Scott for his views, making his working environment unbearable, which eventually forced him to resign. He then filed a defamation lawsuit against the university and some faculty members.
On Monday, a federal district court in Ohio dismissed Scott’s lawsuit. This dismissal is disappointing and constitutes another troubling step in the direction of eviscerating academic freedom on campus. But from reading news reports on the ruling, you would think nothing significant happened to Scott.
Inside Higher Ed describes the story this way: “his [Scott’s] recommendation and the comments he made about the book led to an intense debate among faculty members at the university.” An “intense debate”? That is the most passive description I’ve ever heard of what amounts to demonstrably false sexual harassment allegations being lobbed around a university campus (but not the first for Inside Higher Ed). The committee members did not “debate” Scott–they punished him, ridiculed him, ostracized him.
The Chronicle of Higher Education claims that the court rejected Scott’s and ADF’s arguments in the case. This too is demonstrably wrong. First, ADF is not representing Scott in his lawsuit. We assisted him during the thick of it in early 2006, and Ohio State responded to our demand letters by dropping the sexual harassment charges. Seems fairly successful to me. Second, a trained lawyer would know that the court ruled against Scott on several technical and legal grounds, most of which do not reach the facts of his situation.
Ultimately, it is unclear whether Scott’s lawyers will appeal the Court’s ruling and continue his battle for freedom. But one thing is sure for now—free speech is dying on campus, whether being killed by committee or buried by court rulings. Let’s hope we can return to a simpler life, where all people can speak their minds freely.