No disclaimer for college graphic novel course

A course on graphic novels as literature at a California college won't carry a disclaimer after all, despite a statement by the school's president that one would be included in response to a student's complaint about adult content in some of the required reading.

According to Redlands Daily Facts, a Crafton Hills College spokeswoman said the disclaimer was never mandated, and Professor Ryan Bartlett, who teaches the English 250 course, ultimately decided against one.

"College is supposed to be a place where students can have real exchanges about sometimes difficult topics," Bartlett said in an email. "An English major will have to read works in the literary canon (for example Shakespeare, Chaucer and the Bible) which include similar issues present in the chosen graphic novels. If we put a disclaimer on this course, then we should put a disclaimer on all literature courses, and I do not feel comfortable going down that slippery slope."

The trouble began when Tara Shultz, a 20-year-old student at the Yucaipa, California, community college, asked the administration to ban four books that were required reading in the course: Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the first volume of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man, and Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg & Co.’s The Sandman: The Doll’s House. Shultz, who is working toward an associate's degree in English, complained that the graphic novels included nudity, sex, and violence and campaigned with to have the books excluded from the course and removed from the college bookstore. "I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography," she said.

Crafton Hills President Cheryl Marshall's initial response was to refuse to ban the books, saying, "I support the college’s policy on academic freedom which requires an open learning environment at the college," but she did say the school would place a disclaimer on the course syllabus "so students have a better understanding of the course content." However, she supports Bartlett's decision not include the disclaimer.

Bruce Baron, chancellor of the San Bernardino Community College District, also backs that stance, saying, "It really put the administration in a position of dictating academic standards and I think it would have been inappropriate and a violation of academic freedom." Charles Brownstein of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund praised the decision, saying, "“We commend them for thoroughly considering the issue, and affirming their respect for the professional judgment of their faculty and the agency of their students in the selection of course materials."

But Tara Schultz's father, Greg, who joined his daughter in her attempt to ban the book from campus, is not giving up. "I will take whatever means necessary to counter family disruption in all of its forms," he said.

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