Does the State of South Carolina have any constitutional authority to mandate teaching college students the founding documents of the country?
It’s a question state colleges and universities have periodically faced since the passage of a 1924 law, which has once again become an issue.
Under Section 59 of the S.C. Code of Laws, all high schools, colleges and universities that receive public money are required to teach the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers, as well as “the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals.”
The law further states that students can’t graduate without passing an exam on the documents, “and, if a citizen of the United States, satisfying the examining power of his loyalty thereto.” The law further states that this instruction “shall be given for at least a year.”
Over the past 90 years, strict enforcement of the law has gone in and out of fashion. But recently, pressure has ramped up.
In a December 20, 2013 letter, S.C. Sen. Larry Grooms pressed University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides on the matter, noting that while USC students are required to take at least a semester of U.S. history, they aren’t required to take “a history course that includes America’s founding era.”
This past spring, Grooms led a State House charge to take retaliatory measures against the University of South Carolina Upstate and the College of Charleston for using gay-themed books as part of their freshman reading programs. Both schools are now required to spend the same amount of money ($52,000 for College of Charleston, $17,000 for USC Upstate) teaching the founding documents as they did on their 2013 reading programs.
USC Provost Helen Doerpinghaus has seen the matter come up before during the past seven years, but never so intensely.
“It’s being hit harder now than I’ve ever seen it hit,” she says. “In other words, the General Assembly seems more convinced this needs to be more enforced the way it was written originally.”
For educators, it’s become an issue of both academic freedom and practicality — whether the state can legitimately tell colleges what to teach, and whether strict adherence is even practical.
The S.C. solicitor general, Robert Cook, has said the law is “constitutionally suspect and problematic,” particularly the loyalty provision. USC President Harris Pastides said in a letter to Sen. Grooms that the same provision “could lead to varying and subjective determination of a student’s loyalty by each individual school, instructor or faculty member.” He raised the specter of lawsuits, for which taxpayers would have to foot the bill.
Doerpinghaus says the school has been meeting the spirit of the law both in classrooms and in Constitution Day observances, and that times have changed over the past century. There are Advanced Placement classes in high school, for example, where students may well have tested successfully on Early American history.
Also, the year of instruction — two three-hour courses over two semesters — would slow graduation down, she says. She points in particular to engineering students, who have to follow a very rigid sequence of courses.
USC history professor Woody Holton says the law is a relic of the post-World War I “Red Scare” era, when both the state and country were gripped by fear of Soviet-style anarchy.
“If the Legislature ever forced me to teach those documents,” he says, “the main claim I would make to my students is that the spirit of those documents is that the government shouldn’t be dictating what goes on in classrooms, even in state institutions.”
“To me, it’s very similar to the concern that people have about the federal government telling the local level what to teach in their schools,” says John Masterson, Interim Senior Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs at USC Upstate, invoking recent concerns over federal Common Core standards for K-12 students.
“I can speak very unequivocally that it is a troubling issue,” says USC Upstate history [online copy corrected] professor Paul Grady, “and that obviously there was a lot of political partisanship in how it was done, and the atmosphere in which it was done.”’
Both USC Upstate and the College of Charleston are trying to come up with ways to meet the demands of the Legislature.
“The College of Charleston is currently in the process of researching ways to comply with the General Assembly mandate,” Media Relations Director Mike Robertson says via email. “We fully intend to follow the Legislature’s directive.”
Masterson says USC Upstate is considering having speakers address constitutional issues.
And USC Upstate history department chair Rob McCormick says he’s all for teaching about the founders — but notes that dogmatic approaches to the subject often fail.
“You had some of our founding fathers who had no interest in states, and were very much in favor of a strong central government,” he says. “You had others who wanted a very different kind of relationship — tremendous power to the states. That’s part of the history of the United States.”
Make Your Own Beer and Wine!
Come get started on your “liquid hobby” and help us celebrate our 46th year in the Columbia area. Bet Mar Liquid Hobby Shop: 736 St. Andrews Road.
Relaxation, Pain Management, and Stress Relief
Licensed massage therapist Allison Morris of AMR Massage offers 50% off your first session and every 5th session free of charge. Click here for location, hours, and more information.
Happy Hour and Sushi Specials All Week
Red Bowl in Lexington now has great early bird and late night sushi specials 7 days a week, as well as 99-cent kids meals on Saturdays! Click here for special information and hours.
Accepting Applications for Shakespeare’s Kidz!
Students ages 10-16 are invited to join South Carolina Shakespeare’s new youth company, with classes running September 20th-December 11th followed by a final performance. Contact Katie Mixon with questions about scholarships and applications: PKatieMixon@gmail.com.
Brew Pub Site Available
3520 Augusta Road, West Columbia. Click for more information.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Free Times is looking for a highly organized, detail-oriented self-starter to assist in gathering material from advertisers, coordinating between the sales and production departments, and handling routine clerical tasks. Must be proficient on a Mac, able to conduct business via phone, email, text, Dropbox, social media platforms and face to face while under deadline in a fast-paced, sometimes distracting work environment. The position requires the ability to multitask, excellent oral and written communication skills, and solid experience in quickly learning new computer programs. This is a full time position with benefits. Send a cover letter, resume and salary expectation to email@example.com.
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Wing Zone is now hiring for experienced delivery drivers, cooks & cashiers. Apply in person @ 132 Assembly St. or call 803-933-9464.