In a move indicative of the larger assault on the humanities at institutions of higher learning, USC Upstate has opted to shut down its Gender Studies Center as of July 1, 2014. The closing of the Gender Studies Center is being described as a necessary austerity measure, part of a $450,000 reduction in university spending, but many believe the attack on USC Upstate’s Gender Studies Center to be a calculated political move, with one faculty member reporting, “In my personal opinion it’s an act of retribution.”
In addition to the general homophobic rhetoric that the center has received over the past several years from South Carolina state lawmakers, several state senators and assemblymen have cited specific programs and events the center has supported as antithetical to their ideas of acceptable education. State Senator Kevin Bryant, for example, told The State, “If they’ve got extra money sitting around to promote perversion, obviously they’ve got more money than they really need.”
What the remarks of Sen. Bryant and others like Rep. Mike Fair and Sen. Larry Grooms indicate is a willingness of South Carolina lawmakers to make decisions for public universities on what is and what is not acceptable to learn. While couched in a language of fiscal responsibility, the actions of Bryant, Fair, and Grooms, as well as their like-minded counterparts in state government, are targeting particular kinds of learning. Those already marginalized students of the LGBTQ community at USC Upstate have now lost an important forum for cultural expression. What’s more, the South Carolina Senate, in their retooling of the budget, reallocated $17,000 that was previously cut from USC Upstate’s funding, provided that money be used to promote “the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals.”
It is clear, then, that all across the country, with USC Upstate only one example of many, public universities are under assault. Not only are they being constrained financially (with an ever shrinking contribution of state funds and an over-reliance on individual beneficiaries) but particular programs, departments, and centers that do not fall in line with dominant and normative ideals of neoliberalism, heterosexuality, and christianity run the risk of being shut down by political zealots. The happenings at USC Upstate represent not a aberration, but the new normal for public institutions.