You would think that including the head of your reference department on the commitee that’s selecting the common book for a freshman reading experience would promote better relations between the academic library and faculty. But that’s hardly been the case at Ohio State University at Mansfield where Scott Savage, the head reference librarian, has become the subject of harassment charges filed by several faculty members. The controversy at Mansfield is detailed in a report that appears in today’s Inside Higher Ed.
How did Savage land himself into hot water with the faculty? It seems that after suggesting the book Freakonomics, as a non-ideological and less controversial book, faculty rejected the suggestion because it lacked the sort of controversy that would engage students in debate. Savage then suggested four additional books all of which were decidedly conservative (e.g., from authors such as Rick Santorum and David Horowitz), including one title that clearly contained anti-gay content. One needs only to read some of the e-mail that went back and forth between the committee members (see the document from the Alliance Defense Fund – a conservative organization – which has threatened to sue OSU if they don’t drop the harassment charges against Savage) to get a sense of the enmity this has caused between the conflicted parties.
I don’t know if the librarians at Mansfield have faculty status along with full tenure rights, but we often debate if academic librarians actually need the protection of tenure. This may be a case for us to watch closely. Shouldn’t having faculty status give librarians the right to express unpopular views or to recommend controversial or conservative books for community reading programs without fear of retaliation. Or must we be deferential to teaching faculty for fear that we will offend them and cause them to, as one of the faculty at Mansfield indicated he would, stop using the services of the library and encourage students to do the same. Savage did not respond to requests to be interviewed so we really don’t know what he was thinking. Having faculty status and the rights guaranteed by academic freedom and tenure does not give carte blanche to act in ways that are sure to be perceived as unreasonable and insensitive to one’s colleagues. Did Savage not see the firestorm he’d be creating with his suggestions? Did he intend to provoke his faculty colleagues because they rejected his initial suggestion as lacking controversy? I suppose we’ll need to watch this story as it develops to better understand the case against Savage. But I suspect that there will be some important lessons to be learned for academic librarians, both those with and without the rights afforded by tenure.