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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Bill would ban books from UA

    PHOENIX – State legislators approved a plan that would allow UA students to demand alternatives to assigned course material when they find it objectionable.

    At Wednesday’s Senate Committee on Higher Education meeting, legislators approved SB 1331 despite concerns the bill had language that was too vague. Some said the bill was too broad to distinguish between a novel containing a passage vividly depicting a sex act and a history textbook describing an established historical account that could offend students from a certain ethnic group.

    At the heart of the debate was a novel called “”The Ice Storm,”” a book that no one in the room seemed to have read. But despite a lack of first-hand knowledge, senators were willing to call the book “”pornographic”” and “”smut.””

    The novel, written by Rick Moody, graphically details the lives of two fictional struggling families in the 1970s. The novel has passages chronicling the decisions made by adults and children alike as they experiment with sex and drugs. The book also has a vivid description of a “”key party,”” where adults at a party choose their sexual partners by pulling a key out of a bowl.

    The bill was written after an unnamed student at Chandler-Gilbert Community College objected to having to read the novel for an English class because he said he found the work to be pornographic.

    Maria Hesse, president of CGCC, said while the student did object to the material, the college went out of its way to offer the student alternatives. She said at one point, the college offered the student a way to leave the class during the eighth week to enter into a new class – without a financial or grade penalty.

    Hesse said she heard from the student’s mother late in the same semester, saying she and her son wanted the book removed completely from the required reading material.

    The Center for Arizona Policy, the lobbying organization that describes itself as the “”only organization in Arizona actively fighting in the Legislature and media for conservative, traditional views on gambling, homosexuality and pornography,”” argued strongly in favor of the bill.

    Christina Trefzger, a legislative assistant at the Center for Arizona Policy, estimated her personal beliefs came in direct conflict with her academic course work five times during her undergrad education.

    “”A lot of students are being forced to choose between their personal or religious beliefs and the demands of education,”” Trefzger said.

    Trefzger said to the committee that there are grievance procedures in place at ASU for students who feel offended during a class, but called them “”a joke.””

    Some senators shared their own accounts of the academic world clashing with closely held personal beliefs.

    Sen. Linda Gray (R-Phoenix) came close to tears when she told the room how her daughter was discouraged from entering the teaching profession after she turned in an essay saying she disagreed with the “”homosexual lifestyle.”” She said her daughter received the paper back from her professor recommending to her that she should not become a teacher because of her personal beliefs.

    Sen. Thayer Verschoor (R-Mesa), said books like Moody’s had no place in college classes.

    “”There is no defense of this book, I can’t believe that anyone would defend this base material,”” said Verschoor.

    But Sen. Harry Mitchell, (D-Tempe) argued against the bill, saying it would rob students of a “”true education”” and allow them to avoid some subjects entirely.

    “”Students need to be exposed to different ideas,”” Mitchell said. “”That’s the idea of higher education: to expose them to new ways of thinking.””

    Sen. Albert Hale (D-Window Rock) said the bill itself was too broad in its language, saying there was nothing to prevent him from objecting to a history textbook. He said some books describe battles between the cavalry and Native Americans differently.

    Hale quickly added that when the Native Americans won a battle, in some books it would be described as a “”massacre,”” and when the cavalry won it is described as a “”victory.””

    UA history professor Roger Nichols used the historical example of scalping as a subject that could not be discussed without offending some.

    Jerry Hogle, the vice provost for instruction at the UA, said the bill would be followed if signed into law, but said it would make it harder to teach certain subjects like political science and English.

    Hogle, who has taught English at the UA for decades, said he “”shouldn’t be constrained to show a movie like ‘Brokeback Mountain'”” as an instructor, and said he has always been willing to work with students who find assigned material objectionable.

    He said he fears the law would slowly evolve into a list of films and books that cannot be used in classrooms.

    ASU said in a statement that it was opposed to SB 1331 because, “”We do not believe the legislation is necessary and find the bill in its current form overreaching.””

    A survey of bookstores at NAU and ASU and the UofA Bookstores by the Arizona Daily Wildcat found that the Moody book is not assigned to any class, although bookstore records state the book was ordered for classes at ASU and the UA in 2004.

    The bill will be heard next by the Senate Rules Committee.

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