By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - The South Carolina Senate on Tuesday eliminated punitive budget cuts of almost $70,000 against two public universities over assignments of gay-themed literature but required them to instead use the funds to teach the United States Constitution.
The Republican-controlled state House voted in March to cut the budgets of the College of Charleston over its assignment of "Fun Home," a lesbian memoir, to incoming freshmen. The University of South Carolina-Upstate in Spartanburg was penalized for its inclusion of "Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio."
Legislators called "Fun Home," a best seller that was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, "pornographic."
Critics said the measure amounted to censorship and legislative meddling in academic affairs. Students at the College of Charleston protested with marches, sit-ins and calls to lawmakers.
The Senate's debate on the punitive budget cuts and academic freedom took up almost a week.
The latest measure approved by the Senate requires the colleges to offer an alternative book to students who object to an assignment on grounds of "religious, moral or cultural belief." It requires them to use $70,000 in funding to teach "the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals," including the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist papers.
"That's not academic freedom. It's academic bartering," said Alison Piepmeier, a professor of women's and gender studies at the College of Charleston, a liberal arts college with about 11,000 undergraduates.
"They're saying you can teach what you want as long as you teach what we want you to teach ... LGBT issues are not radical to my students, even students from conservative households."
(Editing by David Adams and Andrew Hay)