Quick action at the University of Louisiana this week may save the Lafayette community from itself, in the wake of an indefensible political decision by the board of the Lafayette Public Library.
The local library’s governing board last week opted to not accept $2,700 from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities that would have paid for the library’s participation in “Who gets to Vote?”, a reading-and-discussion series that involves a timely topic.
The library’s governing board, apparently reluctant to anger conservative voters, opted to not take the LEH money and to forgo the public conversations. Theo Foster, assistant professor of African American history at UL Lafayette, would have been one of two presenters for the series and would have focused on two books for discussion purposes. One is about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — yes, more than 50 years ago. It is too controversial a subject for this board? During Black History Month?
Curiously, the library itself applied for the funding for the program, which its board later rejected. Library board Vice President Hilda Edmond said Mayor-President Josh Guillory advised her to not accept the approved funds, that the topic might displease local voters, who were apparently perceived as mostly conservative and perhaps unwilling to support the discussions. The board doubled down on its position Monday, suggesting that they want programs that give opposing viewpoints on a topic.
The history of voting in America is full of debates. Often, citizens put their lives at risk to vote.
Courage is in grievously short supply on the Lafayette library board. The library's professional director, a 38-year employee, retired abruptly under fire from the board.
Miranda Restovic, LEH executive director, said the Lafayette library was the only one of 10 Louisiana libraries awarded the grant and then declining. The board’s decision surprised her, but she said LEH would remain open to working with Lafayette’s library system.
“The program is designed to engage the public on the history of voting,” said Restovic, who said the LEH did not “recruit” the Lafayette library. She said the agency was “not involved in the inner workings of any of the libraries.”
Happily for Lafayette's image as an intellectually honest community, the UL Lafayette library was stepping forward this week to apply for the now available grant, as well as to pick up the check that the local library rejected. Their quick response deserves applause. If the LEH agrees, the campus library and its partner, the College of Liberal Arts, will present a series that includes review of Martha S. Jones’ “Vanguard” and “Bending Toward Justice” by Gary May.
Given the interest that this issue has generated over the past week, there may not be an empty seat at the library. That’s intellectually healthy.
“The free expression of ideas is the cornerstone of UL Lafayette’s environment of intellectual inquiry,” the campus said in an issued statement Monday. “Open and balanced dialogue is fundamental to the University’s academic mission of advancing the public interest through discourse about vital political and social issues.”
What a splendid intellectual cornerstone on which to rest a library — any library.