Ideological Litmus Test in Social Work Schools
A former student at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work is suing the school and several of his professors for discrimination, saying he was persecuted by the school’s “liberal political machine” for being a conservative.While the Rhode Island College stonewalled (perhaps on advice of counsel), other social work faculty have spoken out on ideological biases.
William Felkner, 45, says the New England college and six professors wouldn’t approve his final project on welfare reform because he was on the “wrong” side of political issues and countered the school’s “progressive” liberal agenda.
Felkner said his problems with his professors began in his first semester, in the fall of 2004, when he objected in an e-mail to one of his professors that the school was showing and promoting Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” on campus. He said he objected because no opposing point of view was presented.
He said Professor James Ryczek wrote to him on Oct. 15, 2004, saying he was proud of his bias and questioning Felkner’s ability to “fit with the profession.”
“I think the biases and predilections I hold toward how I see the world and how it should be are why I am a social worker. In the words of a colleague, I revel in my biases,” he wrote.
Felkner’s complaint, filed two years ago, alleges that Ryczek discriminated against him for his conservative viewpoint and gave him bad grades because of it in several classes. It also alleges discrimination by other professors and administrators.
Felkner said he received failing grades in Ryczek’s class for holding viewpoints opposed to the progressive direction of the class.
Felkner says he was also discriminated against by Professor Roberta Pearlmutter, who he says refused to allow him to participate in a group project lobbying for a conservative issue because the assignment was to lobby for a liberal issue. He alleges that Perlmutter spent a 50-minute class “assailing” his views and allowed students to openly ridicule his conservative positions, and that she reduced his grade because he was not “progressive.”
The Rhode Island College School of Social Work did not respond to a request for comment.
Bruce Thyer, professor of social work and former dean at the College of Social Work at Florida State University, has written about discrimination against conservatives and against evangelical Christians in social work. He said discrimination hurts the profession.One can, in other words, add social work to education as professions whose gatekeepers (university programs providing necessary credentials) impose an ideological litmus test.
“I have seen students actively discouraged from perusing social work because of their politically conservative views. I’ve also seen it happen with students who have held strong religious views,” he said. “I think that the profession is a great and noble discipline and there are occasional episodes like this that cast a black eye, and it’s really unnecessary.”
Thyer said liberal and conservative social workers have the same goal — to help people — and that the school overstepped its bounds in Felkner’s case.
Social work schools have particularly expressed concern that conservative Christian students might have biases that would prevent them properly serving homosexual clients.
Of course this could happen. But it could also happen that homosexual social workers or atheist social workers might let their biases prevent them from properly serving conservative Christian clients.
And students who are professed feminists certainly raise questions as to whether they can be fair to men in things like child support or child custody issues.
So what we have here is not any real, legitimate concern with professionalism, but rather raw political bias.
And what is so appalling is that liberals in academia less and less even feel the need to claim to be unbiased.