Voting history discussion to continue despite library board rejection

UL Lafayette releases statement on Lafayette library LEH grant rejection

The ongoing controversy involving the Lafayette Parish Library Board of Control’s rejection of a grant to fund a discussion of voting rights has garnered the attention of State Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, the ACLU of Louisiana, the League of Women VotersStand Black, and the NAACP. The groups issued statements critical of the action.

However, ULL has secured the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities grant that the library declined, and the program will go on at  Edith Garland Durpre Library.

Theodore Foster, ULL professor

“I also want to applaud and commend Dr. Joseph Savoie and the entire faculty at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette timely assistance in coordinating the transfer of the Conversation on the history of voting in the United States from the Lafayette Public Library where the board has chosen politics over our people, culture and history….The actions, comments and decision by the Library Board of Control in rejecting a community grant to have a discussion of past voting rights issue is incomprehensible,” wrote Boudreaux.

The program, Conversation on the history of voting in the United States, is a book discussion facilitated by African American history professor Theordore Foster. The two books selected were: Bending Toward Justice by Gary May, a history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All by Martha S. Jones.  The books would have been purchased through the $2,700 LEH grant as part of the LEH’s “Who Gets to Vote?” library reading and book discussion program. The grant is part of the “Why it Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation” initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Lafayette library board decided to reject the grant, stating the speakers were “extremely far left” and not presenting “both sides” of the issue. Following public criticize for rejecting the grant, the library’s executive director abruptly retired. A new group has formed to support the library. (The Library Board also issued a statement on the controversy. Read that statement, here.)

The discussion is being scheduled at on the main campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette at Edith Garland Dupré Library. The event will be open to the public.

Here’s ULL’s full statement below from President Joseph Savoie, where he addressed the library’s refusal and defended Foster:

As you may be aware, the Lafayette Public Library’s governing board recently refused to accept a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities that would have funded a community book reading and discussion about the history of voting rights in the United States.

In rejecting the grant, a board member questioned the objectivity of a member of our faculty, Dr. Theodore Foster, an assistant professor of history who was to act as one of two facilitators for the book discussion.

Dr. Foster is a dynamic and thoughtful scholar of Black life, culture and politics in our nation. That he is qualified to facilitate this discussion and provide context to it is without question. The University, its students and our wider community are fortunate to have him here.

The University encourages faculty members to lend their knowledge to community dialogue. Like his colleagues, Dr. Foster maintains a high standard of professionalism and balance in his teaching and public intellectual contributions based on his scholarly expertise.

You’ll soon have the opportunity to hear that expertise for yourself. The University’s Edith Garland Dupré Library applied for and secured the LEH grant that the public library declined. In the coming days, we’ll announce how you can participate in this timely and important community discussion.

In the past year, researchers and scholars from our University mobilized to answer the challenges brought by COVID-19. They offered understanding and clarity as the nation grappled with issues of social justice and racism. And they provided perspective and calm before and after the presidential election.

The University inspires progress, both locally and globally, through the ideas and passions of its faculty and staff members, students and graduates.

Our researchers embody this principle of community service and give our academic mission its heartbeat. Their engagement over the past year, and in every year, is not defined by political motives. Rather, it is driven by an intense desire to do what scholars do – remedy confusion with clarity, counter intransigence with intellect, and offer fact in response to fiction.

That’s a scholar’s job. It’s a higher calling, one that Dr. Foster and faculty across campus answer every day – and I am proud of them for it.

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