The University of South Carolina Upstate, in Spartanburg, announced last week it would close the school’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies (CWGS) as of July 1, spurring outrage from feminist groups and praise from conservatives. At the same time, the South Carolina legislature allotted $17,000 for the school to teach students about the Constitution.
The university revealed that due to increasing costs and declining state support, it would cut $450,000 annually through administrative changes and program reductions, the bulk of which would come from moving several staff from 12-month positions to 9- or 11-month positions, officials said. In addition, the school announced cuts to several programs including closing the women's center, which will save $45,000 a year.
Supporters of the women’s and gender studies program claimed discrimination, accusing the school of bowing to conservative political pressure. In March, USCU came under fire from the state legislature for requiring all freshmen to read the book Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a collection of Southern gay radio shows. The state House voted to cut more than $17,000 in funding to the school, the same amount spent on the reading program.
Last week, the state Senate restored the funding on the same day the school announced it would close the center. But the funding reinstatement came with a stipulation: USCU must use the money to teach students about the U.S. Constitution and other founding documents, as well as give students the freedom to “opt out” of other required reading they might find offensive due to moral or religious beliefs.
Protesters took to social media, starting a petition at Change.org to reinstate the center and organizing a protest rally. About two dozen demonstrators marched in front of the USCU administration building on Wednesday morning.
Concerned Women for America (CWA), a conservative Christian women’s activist group, also noticed that the university’s decision to close the center and the state Senate’s decision to restore funding happened on the same day.
“We applaud the University of South Carolina Upstate for closing the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and allocating those funds to teach America’s founding documents,” CWA President Penny Nance said in a press release.
But USCU Chancellor Thomas Moore contends the overlapping events are a coincidence. Moore said university leaders were having preliminary discussions about where to make budget cuts when someone leaked the information about closing the center, forcing officials to make the announcement before completing their restructuring plans. In addition, the $17,000 being debated by lawmakers comes from a different pot of money than the funding for the center.
“The timing was most unfortunate, which led to some very inaccurate conclusions,” Moore told The State. “We never intended to eliminate the services or co-curricular programming of the center.” He insisted the school remains “fully committed to women’s and gender studies.”
The women’s and gender studies program was the only interdisciplinary minor to have it’s own center on campus. On Tuesday, Moore sent a memo to the school’s faculty announcing he would appoint a task force to create a new center that will incorporate the women’s and gender, African-American, and international studies minors.