Colleges and universities are supposed to teach students, opening their minds and getting them to think critically about the world around them. Often they do, but not always. A recent case is illustrative of the problem of thought control masquerading as education.
The setting is Rhode Island College (RIC). The atmosphere in the School of Social Work at RIC has transcended the realm of the annoying and has descended into what seems to be nothing more than intellectual despotism.
Last fall, Bill Felkner, a master’s student in the School of Social Work, wrote an e-mail to Professor James Ryczek objecting to the ideological imbalance of school’s teaching and to classroom exercises such as the screening of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911.” Ryczek’s response suggested that left-wing biases are necessary for social workers. He wrote, “social work is a value-based profession that clearly articulates a socio-political ideology about how the world works and how the world should be.” In other words, part of the role of training social workers is to disabuse students of any ideas that deviate from Ryczek’s narrow-minded worldview.
If this wasn’t bad enough, Felkner then had to endure a course called “Policy and Organizing.” In that class, students are required to lobby state legislatures for certain social policies as a part of a group and then write a group report on the topic and the experience. Professor Ryczek only assigned groups to lobby for social welfare policies and gay marriage, ideas Felkner was opposed to.
When Felkner asked if he could lobby against one of the policies instead, Ryczek refused and Felkner had to go along with his assigned group. Finally, when the lobbying assignment was finished, he wrote an individual dissenting opinion from that of his group. For that, Ryczek failed him. Essentially, Felkner was forced to work for a cause he was opposed to and then was punished through the grading system for speaking his mind.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) took up Bill Felkner’s case and wrote a letter to the President of RIC, John Nazarian [pictured], objecting to his treatment. Nazarian responded that in the course, “individual students are free to choose both a topic and a particular position.” That complete denial defense is apt to fall apart under the intense scrutiny that FIRE invariably brings to a case. There is little reason to doubt Felkner’s recounting of events or Ryczek’s forthright admission that the school does “take sides” ideologically.
A perusal of the graduate manual shows that the entire Social Work department is immersed in left-wing ideology and shields itself from any opposing view. Take, for example, the stated method for social work training – the “generalist approach.” This approach is supposed to teach students how to “intervene” to “more equitably distribute resources,” and includes the “promotion of social justice.” Now, for those unfamiliar with the Left’s rhetorical ability to beautify very ugly ideas, “social justice” simply means forced income redistribution and other leftist-approved social engineering.
Can’t someone who believes in freedom choose to pursue a career in social work? Not according to the faculty at RIC.
What is so bothersome about this situation is not that professors hold such views about the nature of social work, but that the objective of this taxpayer-funded training is to make sure only such views are held by students. College courses should impart a body of knowledge to students, not try to force on them a particular political ideology. It’s an abuse of a professor’s position for him to make conformity with his own worldview a condition of fulfilling academic requirements.
Allan Bloom once said that the most successful tyranny “removes the awareness of other possibilities, [and] makes it inconceivable that other ways are viable.” It is plain to see that RIC is trying to do just that. Never is there mentioned, in all the talk about government action and social justice, the fact that government, when it goes about trying to help people, often hurts them instead. Such a view, although many scholars have argued that government programs to help the poor are counterproductive, is apparently unacceptable for students to hold.
Another required course in the RIC Social Work program is “Human Behavior, Diversity, and Oppression.” Perhaps they should include their own school and its treatment of Bill Felkner as a case study for it.
This is just one case, but it’s indicative of the way many professors substitute thought control for teaching.
Steve Block is a senior at North Carolina State University. He wrote this article for the Pope Center.